Washington Wizards- Philadelphia 76ers
The Washington Wizards have been impressive since John Wall went down. The ball is moving like crazy, and their shot selection has been great. To do damage in the playoffs, they need Wall, and they need him at full strength. The Wizards will be a tough opponent for a lot of teams, but if they had their pick, they would want to avoid the Philadelphia 76ers.
Philadelphia’s defense would take away a lot of the easy looks the Wizards usually get. That is why Wall is so important in the playoffs you need start who can make tough shots. Wall will also help in forcing turnovers, and the Wizards can get easy points off the Sixers that way.
Besides that, it will be tough sledding. The biggest key for the Wizards will be on defense and if they can keep the Sixers off the free throw line. Philadelphia is fifth in free throw attempts, and the Wizards are 25th in allowing free throws. Hopefully, fewer whistles in the playoffs will benefit the Wizards in this regard.
Like the Indiana Pacers, the Wizards will have trouble keeping the Sixers off the glass. Washington is only 22nd in defensive rebounding. When the Wizards go small with Markeiff Morris at the five, can they match up with the Sixers bigger lineups? The Wizards themselves rely on offensive rebounds a lot, but the Sixers are a pretty good defensive rebounding team.
Another strength of the Wizards is finishing at the rim, but the Sixers are great at protecting it with Joel Embiid. Getting him in foul trouble would be huge for the Wizards. The Wizards again have the Pacers problem of protecting the paint, and that is where the Sixers live. Marcin Gortat is going to have to play huge in this series for the Wizards to win.
The Wizards are an excellent 3-point shooting team with Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoransky, and Otto Porter Jr. Philadelphia is fourth in 3-point defense. The Wizards ability to hit threes will decide the series as the Sixers will take away lots of their opportunities at the rim. Washington is the best in the league at defending the three, but that is not Philly’s thing. It is more now with the additions of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.
This will be a competitive series, and home court will be huge. Whoever has it could be the winner. If Philadelphia has it, the Wizards are in some trouble. Even though they are young, they present the Wizards with a lot of problems especially inside. I would pick the Sixers in seven.
Philadelphia 76ers – Toronto Raptors
The Sixers would cause a lot of teams problems but they better hope they don’t drop to eight. They are only 1.5 games ahead of the eight-seeded Miami Heat right now. If they play the Toronto Raptors, the Sixers are in some trouble. I would have picked Boston if they were fully healthy, but since they are not, Toronto is a bad match-up for the Sixers.
Philadelphia would have a tough time scoring against Toronto’s third-ranked defense. There are not a lot of match-ups to exploit, except JJ Redick running DeMar DeRozan through a million screens. The Philly shooters will have to step up in this series. Then there is Philly’s weakness of turnovers that Toronto can exploit as they are 10th in forcing turnovers. Plus, Toronto will live at the line in this series. They are seventh in free throw rate, and only the Memphis Grizzlies hacked more than the Sixers this year.
DeRozan will have a massive series for that reason. He had a 45-point game against the Sixers earlier in the year. Philly doesn’t have an answer for them. The other tough part of this series is the Sixers strength of finishing at the rim, will be negated by the Raptors rim defense. Serge Ibaka is still a very good rim protector, and Jonas Valancuinas is better than you think.
Toronto should win the transition game as well; they are better on both ends in that area. Philadelphia doesn’t have the personnel or experience to exploit Toronto’s weaknesses, and their strengths don’t match up well either. Toronto would win this series in a tough five-game series.
Milwaukee Bucks – Cleveland Cavaliers
Man, that was an ugly loss for the Milwaukee Bucks to the Orlando Magic the other night. They just can’t find any consistency this season. Also, Malcolm Brogdon‘s injury is getting magnified as of late. They have Giannis Antetokounmpo, which helps in any series, but they also have several holes. One team, they do not want to see is the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Giannis will eat in this series, but the Bucks don’t have the firepower to put constant pressure on Cleveland’s defense. Sure they will score, but not enough to make up for their 19th-ranked defense trying to stop LeBron James and Kevin Love assuming he’s back.
The Bucks best strategy in this series is forcing turnovers. Cleveland can get sloppy at times, and that is the Bucks strength on defense. It could be their best chance to get easy points because Cleveland does an excellent job of keeping teams off the line, a strength of the Bucks. On the flip side, Cleveland lives at the line and the Bucks foul a lot, that is the most significant problem for the Bucks in the series. I don’t think they are capable or sound enough to defend without fouling.
Both teams are bad at rebounding, so that shouldn’t hurt the Bucks, although Love’s return will cause some problems for the Bucks. The bigger question is can the Bucks protect the rim well enough against James and crew? My thought is no. John Henson and Thon Maker are decent shot blockers, but bring more flaws than strengths especially Maker. Henson will have to step up in this series for the Bucks to have a chance.
If Milwaukee overloads at the rim, that can open up things for Cleveland’s snipers. The LeBron surrounded by Love, Kyle Korver, Rodney Hood and George Hill lineup may run the Bucks off the floor at times if they’re hot.
Milwaukee may stay competitive due to Giannis being amazing and some easy buckets in transition, but the Cavs offense will wear them down. It’s a pick your poison scenario in defending LeBron drives and 3-point shooting, and Milwaukee doesn’t have the personnel or discipline to do both. Also, will Brogdon be healthy in time is a huge question, and it will be tough to find a safe hiding spot for Jabari Parker on defense in this series. Cleveland should win in five, six at most.
Miami Heat – Toronto Raptors
I would have picked the Boston Celtics if they were healthy, but they aren’t. I think Miami matches up well with them as I detailed earlier. I will go with Toronto even though Miami has played them tough this season. To be clear, Miami will play anyone tough, they are a pain in the ass to play. That being said, the Raptors would present the Heat with some problems that will be more evident in the playoffs.
Scoring will be tough for the Heat. Toronto is sound on defense, and their best match-up may be Josh Richardson going at DeRozan. Kelly Olynk will need to be brought in for offense, and that will hurt the Heat’s defense. Coach Erik Spoelstra will have to get creative with rotations in this one for balance.
The Heat will slow down the Raptors offense, they have in the regular season so far, but they don’t force turnovers. The Raptors protect it anyway, which is why it is crucial the Heat don’t turn it over themselves; every possession is vital for them in this series.
Miami has to defend without fouling, something that has been a problem for them. Toronto can exploit that. Toronto also fouls a fair amount, but the Heat don’t have a lot of players who draw fouls. Advantage once again goes to Toronto.
The Heat should limit Toronto’s second-chance points off the glass, but they won’t get any of their own because it is not their thing. Maybe it should be a little more in this series because Toronto is vulnerable there. Hassan Whiteside needs to get a few and play up to his ability in this series for the Heat to have a chance. He also needs to protect the rim against Lowry and DeRozan.
Both teams are average 3-point shooting teams and slightly above average in defending it. One shooter getting hot can tilt a game; keep an eye on Wayne Ellington and C.J Miles. Miami may need to win that battle to have a chance because Toronto presents the Heat problems in transition. Miami’s weakness on defense is their 21st ranked transition defense, and Toronto lives off transition points. Miami doesn’t get any of their own either.
The Heat can muck things up and make it hard on the Raptors, but the Raptors firepower and defense should win out. The Heat will struggle to score, and they will struggle to keep Toronto off the line. Toronto will win the transition game, so the Heat will have to hit some threes to keep up. I don’t think they do and the Raptors win this series in a tough five.