(1) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Utah Jazz
Series: Houston leads 1-0
Houston has defeated the Utah Jazz already this postseason with a convincing final score of 110-96. The Jazz were down 25 points at halftime, and despite winning both the third and fourth quarters, they still lost by 14. It proved to be a frustrating game for Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell, who came in shooting exceptionally great against the Thunder.
This series is about a powerhouse in the Houston Rockets versus an up-and-coming Utah Jazz team. It was impressive for the Jazz to beat the more talented Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, but I wouldn’t think that to be the case here. Despite Houston slightly struggling against the Timberwolves in round one, they still managed to win the series in five games. The Jazz are a great defensive team, but they will be playing against a team that moves the ball more and shoots more efficiently from three than the Thunder.
In order for the Jazz to win this series, they will need to play outstanding perimeter defense and contain James Harden. If Harden continues to score around 41 points, then the Rockets will most likely sweep the Jazz. It hurts the Utah that they will be missing Ricky Rubio for a majority of the series. His presence on the court would do a lot for this team in this series. He was coming off a great first round against an MVP point guard and seems to be playing some of the best basketball of his career.
Most people want to see this series go at least six games. Utah is a tough environment to play in and it would be great for the NBA if this young team could still compete with the one seed. I’m not sure how likely that is though. Houston had the best offensive rating in the regular season to go along with the sixth-best defensive rating. Although the Jazz were second in defensive rating, they were only average when it came to offensive rating, finishing 16th in the league. If Houston wants to win this series, they are going to have to get some bench help. Luc Mbah a Moute needs to score more than three points if he is playing over 20 minutes. I am also going to point out that Eric Gordon only had seven points in Game 1, and all of those points came from the charity stripe. Gordon shot 0% from the field, going 0-6. If these two can add some extra help for Harden and Chris Paul, then this series is going to be over before we know it.
Prediction: Houston in 5
(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans
Series: Warriors lead 1-0
Game 1 was competitive for a little over a quarter before the Warriors outscored the Pelicans by 20 points in the second. The biggest concern for Golden State coming into this series was that Steph would miss a majority of the games. He did miss Game 1, but the timetable for his return seems to be here. Steph will most likely play in Game 2 for his first game of the postseason. That’s something you don’t want to hear if you’re a Pelicans fan.
If the Pelicans want to win this series, they will need to outwork the Warriors on the glass and in the paint. No matter what, the Warriors will most likely beat any team in this league from three-point range, except the Rockets. So, it is extremely important that the Pelicans control the paint. Not only do they need to score in the paint, but they need to protect it even more. The Warriors managed to get ten blocks in Game 1, and New Orleans only had three. Golden State’s 13 offensive rebounds in Game 1 is unacceptable if the Pelicans want to have any shot at even winning a game in this series. Lastly, the Pelicans need to move on offense and create better shots. One of the reasons why this game was such a blowout was because their first-round star Jrue Holiday only shot 4-14 and finished with 11 points. Nikola Mirotic only had nine points and Ian Clark played nearly 30 minutes and finished with only seven.
Controlling the pace of the game and moving on offense should be the biggest adjustment when attacking the Warriors. Golden State can get lazy at times, and by New Orleans doing this, it could create a better flowing offense to take advantage of that lazy defense. This is especially important because it could get New Orleans comfortable early. If the Pelicans can get attacking early, then look for their free throw attempts too much higher than in Game 1.
The key to success for the Warriors is their shooting. It has been their trademark since becoming one of the most elite teams in NBA history. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson combined for 53, while Draymond Green added 16. Andre Iguodala put in 12, which doubled his season average. Let’s not forget their bench, as they got 36 points, which matched the Pelicans’ bench. All season long one of the biggest questions for the Warriors was whether or not their bench would be productive enough. If the bench can match opposing teams’ benches, then it comes down to the starters. I’m willing to bet that the Warriors starters would beat any other starting five in this league with Durant, Thompson, Green, and soon to be back Curry.
Defensively, the Warriors have to be on alert. If they get lazy, especially once they get on the road, the Pelicans may be able to battle with them scoring wise. Locked in, that’s how the Warriors need to be on defense in order to close this series out early. Convert defense into offense by getting Durant, Curry, and Thompson running. It is a scary thing when the Warriors run in transition and they need to focus on that to dominate New Orleans.