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NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference Round 2

With the first round out of the way, the Eastern Conference might just start to heat up, and who’s to say what teams will be standing tall come the Conference Finals. The first round felt almost rushed with all of the series ending in either 4 or 5 games, but the level of competition only gets higher as each team is eliminated. The best of the best have come together for round 2 and it could be some of the best basketball we’ve seen all year. Let’s get into it.

Toronto Raptors (2) vs Philadelphia 76ers (3)

Toronto looks like a real threat this time around, and they should. Adding Kawhi Leonard has caused the team no harm yet, and though he may or may not re-sign come the postseason, he’s still a Raptor for now. Speaking of players who may not re-sign, the Philadelphia 76ers and Jimmy Butler remain valid contenders in this second round matchup, with a top notch batch of talent surrounding them.

History

These two teams are not all that familiar with one another. That being said, very few teams have history with Toronto, considering they were only founded in 1995. Regardless, these teams have played only 92 regular season games and 7 playoff games. The Raptors take the regular season head-to-head, winning 54 of those games, though their lead holds up mostly because of a relentless 14 game winning streak against Philadelphia spanning from November 2013 until their next loss in January 2017. They have a similar winning percentage during the regular season this year, beating out Philly in 3 of their 4 games, but by only a combined total of 15 points. All 7 of their playoff games came in a 2001 Eastern Conference Semi-finals series, where the 1st seeded 76ers led by season MVP Allen Iverson topped the 5th seeded Raptors then the 2nd seeded Bucks, only to go on and lose to the Lakers in 5 games.

What to Watch

This is an exciting defensive matchup, but the real key to winning this series for the Raptors lies on the offense. Kyle Lowry’s inconsistency during the playoffs has often been a point of ridicule, and it still is today. Going 0-7 shooting in the Raptors game 1 home loss to the Orlando Magic (including 0-6 from range) was likely a low point for Lowry, and though he bounced back for 8-13 in game 2 (leading to a series high 22 points for Lowry) he still has a lot to prove. It total he went 21-48, averaging 11.4 PPG (8-25 from the 3-point line) and not at all doing his part. He will need to step up in a major way this series, with Philadelphia looking much scarier than the Magic were.

Philadelphia was also shocked in game 1 at home during the first round, dropping a dismal 3-25 from range and embarrassing themselves. They went on to win the next four games and advance but it shows that they have at least one area to improve on. After game 1’s disastrous shooting effort, the 76ers upped their efforts from behind the 3-point line and ended up averaging .336 on the series, controlling the scoring and letting their role players step up when necessary. If Philadelphia can consistently shoot 3’s against a Raptors defence which allowed the 10th worst 3 point shooting in the league this season, then they can win this series.

Prediction: Raptors in 7

Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs Boston Celtics (4)

A potentially explosive matchup, Celtics vs Bucks has been highly anticipated since last season. The Celtics are going into this series a lot healthier than they were in the first round a last year’s playoffs, but the Bucks have developed a lot since they were a lowly 7th seed.

History

Two of the most storied franchises in the NBA, the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks have played in 213 regular season games and 34 playoff games over the course of the 50 years since the Bucks were founded. Of those 213 games, the split is only 109 wins to Boston and 104 to Milwaukee, both teams trading the top spot over a number of generations. Milwaukee took the season series this time around, with 2 of the 3 matchups going their way and toppling the Celtics by just 10 points. The playoff history is a little more one sided, despite Boston only leading with 20 wins to the Bucks 14, where the Celtics won all but 1 of their 6 series. Of those 5 series wins, the Celtics went on to win a championship from 3 of them (In 1974,1984, and 1986). Perhaps some of these two teams most exciting history has been recent, however, with a seven game first round series last season getting out of hand in many ways. Jayson Tatum capped off an incredible rookie year, Giannis Antetokounmpo gave the world a good taste of what he’s like in the playoffs, Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier went blow for blow all series, and much more.

What to Watch

Most of the Boston Celtics team in nearly identical to last years. A few minor changes were made but the only significant difference is that nearly everyone is healthy. Without Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, and with many others playing injured, the Celtics beat out the Bucks to advance past the first round, but they’ll need both Kyrie and Hayward to step up into the roles they were brought in to play if they expect to beat this newer, far more fearsome Milwaukee team. Terry Rozier needs to regain his form from last postseason, Jayson Tatum needs to improve his shot selection, and the entire roster needs to box out Giannis Antetokounmpo. With all this in mind, the Celtics are still a serious contender for a pass into the next round.

The Greek Freak isn’t the young up-and-comer that he was a few seasons ago. He’s developed into a fully-fledged superstar right before everyone’s eyes and it’s been a sight to behold. Giannis’ career year is amplified by improvements in almost all the major statlines, including an increase in efficient shooting, assists, and rebounds (12.5 per game). He was third in the league in scoring at 27.7 PPG and had the top efficiency rating in the entire NBA. Giannis Antetokounmpo may be the Bucks entire starting 5, but he needs to rest, and if the Bucks can hold onto a lead whilst he takes his limited bench minutes then they might be able to put the Boston Celtics away.

Prediction: Bucks in 6

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