1. Sixers-Heat is…
Chris Hering: Total 180 than it was before. While we can technically say that about Suns-Mavs as well, Sixers-Heat feels different. Miami doesn’t have a clear answer for how to guard Joel Embiid as she struggles from the depths, which was her lifeline at one time. The heat badly needs adjustments.
Robin Lundberg: Good condition for Joel Embiid as the best player. We already know that Jokić would win the award, and I personally would have voted for Giannis (who proves to be the best player in the league). However, it’s a pretty stark difference seeing the Sixers go from unlucky to evening with Embiid playing injured.
Rohan Nadkarni: New series. You still need to dig into the numbers, but it’s clear that Joel Embiid has made life easier for his teammates. While Jimmy Butler was amazing, Pam Adebayo and Tyler Hero were inconsistent. And the more Embiid he played, the more likely he was to find an MVP-caliber MVP. But I think this streak will come down to any players hitting their shots. The three-point shooting fluctuations in this match were pretty intense.
Michael Pena: The theater masterpiece from Jimmy Butler. With Joel Embiid still outstanding but not the same thanks to his facial and thumb injuries, Butler is the best player in the series – a very encouraging sign for the Heat that they need to be what they were in the bubble. Through four games, Butler averages 27.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 2.0 steals. When The Heat couldn’t buy three points in Game 4, Butler’s 40 Points kept the competition from being competitive. He only has seven turns to match 23 assists and plays two feet like everyone else in recent memory. Miami should step up if he continues with this.
Michael Shapiro: Go seven games. Joel Embiid’s return has turned this series into the ultimate barnburner, and this could become another La Sixers-Raptors round two classic in 2019. Miami struggles to generate open triples with handicapped Kyle Lowry. DeAndre Jordan’s trial ended mercifully for Philadelphia. I’ll give a slight advantage to the 76ers here as James Harden approaches himself in the Houston era, but regardless, we should be in store for another heart-stopping series for the Philadelphia faithful.
2. Mavs-Suns are…
salted fish: Very entertaining, and complex. But part of me still expected Phoenix to commit to getting the job done. It was unprecedented to see Chris Paul flip it seven times in half and never before seen to see him miss out with a full quarter remaining. If he can get things right, and Phoenix can beat his attack, the Suns will be fine.
Lundberg: It’s close to being Luka Dončić’s signature moment. Luca has already put in some great performances in the playoffs, but upsetting the Suns in the second round will bring his stats back. Ironically, the best way to gain his individual recognition would be by continuing to trust his teammates.
Nadkarni: Tale of Two Cities. Phoenix’s offense turned cold in Dallas, as the Suns struggled with ups and downs. Mavs will get triples regardless. Chris Paul and Dunder Eaton should be better offensively after two ineffective games on the road. If the Dallas defense really caught them, the Suns couldn’t win this series. I wonder if Phoenix starts conceding Luka twos in exchange for staying a few steps away from the Mavs’ bowlers in the ocean.
Bina: Arithmetic problem for Phoenix. Of course, the best team of the regular season can bounce back with two wins in their next three games. But it would be difficult if the Suns continued to allow many three-point attempts from the Mavericks attack feeding behind the arc. Dallas has tried 57 more triples than Phoenix and made 40.5% of them (Luka Dunjic is 12 for only 38 too). The three-point streak can lead to some reductive analysis in a seven-game series, but Dallas can generate good looks whenever he wants. And when they drop at a decent clip, the ripple effects extend to Phoenix’s special ability to create an effective attack.
Shapiro: An exercise in contrasts. The Suns sit close to the top of the league in terms of efficiency and size from within the arc, however they are now tied 2-2 against Dallas after being defeated by Luka Donči & Co. of three. The Mavericks hit +33 in the three-point margin on Sunday. They are at +60 across the entire series. Phoenix’s roster is designed to punish teams from the middle and in the paint, and it’s hard to criticize a system that delivered a Final Round and 64-win season later over the past two years. But while Chris Paul struggles to score, Dallas finds an opportunity to steal the series.
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3. Bucks-Celtics are…
salted fish: challenge. I just wrote a book about the Knicks in the ’90s, and even I’m a little surprised at how physical this series is, especially with so many missed calls. Monday night’s fourth game is the biggest game of the season so far, with Milwaukee having a chance to take over and Boston a chance to tie things up again.
Lundberg: Close! The margin of error in this series is very thin, as evidenced by the difference in Game 3 by about a tenth of a second. Giannis continues to show he can’t be stopped even if the shooting is slowed down, but the Celtics will need the same to be said to Jason Tatum if they want to win the series.
Nadkarni: Lots of fun. What an exciting series! Giannis was out of this world considering he was playing without Khris Middleton. The Celtics will likely be on an emotional roller coaster after their impending comeback in Game Three. I still think Boston is the better team. Meanwhile, Giannis is by far the best player in this player. I really don’t know what to do with this. Milwaukee seems to be having a harder time getting looking good. Giannis is able to make that irrelevant.
Bina: It is difficult to analyze. Giannis Antetokounmpo found a way to hack Boston’s defense in Match 3, scoring 42 points from 30 shots, deft touch, great footwork and the ability to turn his shoulder into a punch. But Milwaukee’s half-court attack continued to be awful – a mediocre 756 points per game – and the Celtics were well positioned to lead 2-1, with a pair of good looks behind their deferred three-point streak. All things considered, Boston should still be satisfied with the situation it finds itself in.
Shapiro: Rebound. Game 3 between Boston and Milwaukee featured the best basketball in the playoff, with a heart-stopping intensity paired with a physique and toughness not seen in the regular season. Both teams play distinct defensive pieces, and neither team is guaranteed to break 100 points on a given night. This is the best second-round streak for my money given the talent and demonstrated perseverance.
4. Warriors-Grizzlies is…
salted fish: Maybe it’s over, assuming Morant is out of Game 4. Yes, Memphis has heart and has been a 20-5 star without her star player this season, in part because of how much better defensively she does when Morant is away from the ground. But scoring in the playoffs is different, and no doubt about the fact that Morant’s 38.3 points per game would help against a loaded club like Golden State.
Lundberg: bitchy. There seems to be controversy after every game in the series, the last of which of course revolving around Ja Morant’s injury. However, I don’t expect the conversation to last much longer as the Warriors will likely wrap this up sooner rather than later.
Nadkarni: annoying. Grizzlies fans’ complaint about Jordan Paul Ja Morant’s play was too embarrassing. I hope Morant can play. Meanwhile, there is probably no team better equipped to play without its star than Memphis, which went 20-5 without the Ga during the regular season. I mostly want to see the focus here come back to the hoops. It’s also possible that the Warriors put him on a bit after Dillon Brooks’ mistake. Speaking of which, Brooks’ return for Game 4 should help Grizz. But I don’t see them scaring the Dubs unless Morant can go.
Bina: drain test. This series has been marred by expulsions, suspensions, injuries and accusations of malicious intent. Ja Morant is unlikely to participate in Game 4 after Jordan Ball’s hand touched his knee. Gary Payton II left for weeks with a broken elbow after Dillon Brooks slapped him in the head, in the air, on a quick break. Without Morant, the Grizzlies would need Tyus Jones, Desmond Bane, Brooks, and Jaren Jackson Jr. To withstand their attack in at least one match. (The Warriors, on the other hand, will likely have a harder time scoring than they did in their first three matches.) That streak appears to be over, but don’t count Memphis out just yet.
Shapiro: plot loss. What must be a pleasurable contrast between a feisty, feisty brooding dynasty has turned into a mess of dirty mistakes, unfortunate injuries and press conference complaints, with Steve Kerr and Taylor Jenkins more than happy to continue the exchange of fists. Let’s hope we see Morant back on Earth for Game 5, and perhaps Gary Payton II can return before the end of the post-season period.
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