T-MONEY’S HOT SHEET
Eastern Conference Playoff Rundown
by Tracy Graven
Senior NBA Analyst
Due to a jaunt to New Orleans last week to watch the Pelicans play the Spurs and the eventual - and much needed - side trip to bake on the white sands at Gulf Shores, I’m running a game behind in my assessment of the Eastern Conference Playoff picture.
My apologies. Had to see A.D. and the end of an era (Spurs) in person.
Be that as it may, I stand by my original assertions and posts on social media about where I think things will shake out in the East.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS - TORONTO RAPTORS
I firmly believe that this series will be the undoing of Washington head coach Scott Brooks. I could be wrong, but it seemed from the outside that Brooks was hired ahead of Kevin Durant’s free agency to lure him back to his hometown, a la LeBron James.
When that didn’t happen, the Wizards were stuck with Brooks and he has done a formidable job. But he also did a formidable job in Oklahoma City. And, yes, he took the Thunder to the NBA Finals - with Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden. And couldn’t get even a second win against James and the Miami Heat at the time.
No disrespect, but John Wall and Bradley Beal are no Westbrook and Harden by any stretch of the imagination. And Ibaka showed Toronto fans exactly why the Raps exchanged Terrence Ross and a future first rounder for the Sergeant of Swat. Ibaka would lead Toronto to the victory with 23 points and 12 rebounds, playing like the Ibaka of OKC days.
Toronto ‘Raps’ this up in five games.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS - BOSTON CELTICS
2017-18 has been the Giannis Antetekounmpo coming out party. He is playing MVP-like basketball.
Boston, on the other hands, has become injury central, with Gordon Hayward out for the season after the first game and Kyrie Irving - who led the team all season with 24.4 points per game, led the team in assists at 5.1 per - is out for the C’s playoff run after having knee surgery. Not to mention steals leader Marcus Smart is out for at least the first round after surgery for a torn tendon in his thumb.
Easy peasy for the Bucks, right?
Not so fast. Despite Antetekounmpo’s 35 point, 13 rebound, 7 assist and 3 steal performance yesterday, the Celtics managed to push the Deer to overtime behind a Khris Middleton buzzer-beating three-pointer and come out victorious behind an unlikely cast of crew members that possess a never-say-die attitude.
While that creates momentum in this series and continues to propel Jayson Tatum into the Rookie of the Year conversation, I still believe that without Smart and Irving, the Bucks will find a way to make this a seven-game series and come out victorious.
Bucks in 7.
MIAMI HEAT - PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
This may end up being the most-watched series in the entire playoff picture right now.
Joel Embiid went down with an ocular fracture in late March, caused by teammate Markelle Fultz, who at that point, hit the only shot he’d connected with - Embiid’s face - and it was unintentional.
At that point, the Sixers were 42-21 with Embiid starting. They averaged 111.4 points and allowed only 99.7 points. Without Embiid in the game to that point, they only scored 101.8 per game and allowed opponents 105.7 points per outing.
Season over, right?
With Brett Brown in the running for Coach of the Year, the Sixers finished out the season winning their final eight straight and carried that momentum to blister the Miami Heat in Game One by 27 points behind J.J. Redick’s 28 points, Ben Simmons’ 14 assists, and Eryan Ilyasova’s 14 rebounds.
Former Cleveland General Manager David Griffin pointed out yesterday on Twitter “how huge it was that Bryan Colangelo was able to steal both (Marco) Belinelli and (Eryan) Ilyasova with buyouts. Ben … struggle to shoot range J, but … can play to the full bandwidth of their off-bounce gifts.”
That kind of insight demonstrates what a student of the game Griffin is and has always been, and why it’s a travesty how things went down in Cleveland and how he should be one of the most sought after and rewarded free agent … ahem, GM candidates this summer.
But he’s dead on. The Colangelo DNA is evident in Philly and it added to the Process already in place. Who says tanking doesn’t work?
Either that, or God is a huge Philadelphia sports fan this year (see Eagles, Villanova). I have the 76ers in six games.
INDIANA PACERS - CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
I said from the get go last week that this is the most dangerous position for the defending Eastern Conference champs to be in right now.
LeBron James doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m down 0-1 in the first round. I was down 3-1 in the Finals. I’m the last guy to ask about how you’re going to feel in the next couple of days,” James retorted at the podium after the Game One loss to the Pacers in Cleveland last night.
That’s not to take away from the magnificent job that head coach Nate McMillan has done with the Indiana Pacers this year.
Step back to the earlier statement about the Ibaka acquisition that Toronto exercised with the Orlando Magic.
Ibaka was in Orlando because Oklahoma City traded him there for Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis’ draft rights and the aforementioned Ilyasova (76ers). Oladipo and Sabonis were sent to Indiana for Paul George - yes the same Paul George that dropped 36 points on Utah last night.
I’ve said all along that Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers got the better of that trade.
Kehinde Babatunde Victor Oladipo was also the best pick in the top 10 picks of that draft.
Same draft the Cavaliers overlooked Oladipo to select Anthony “Where Am I Now?” Bennett.
They overlooked him in 2013 and they overlooked him last night as the former Indiana Hoosier torched the Cavs with 32 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals and even a block en route to the 18-point ousting on the Cavs home court.
Betting James would have rather have had Oladipo to come back to Cleveland to than C.J. Miles and Jarrett Jack. Thanks Chris Grant.
Meanwhile, LeBron James passed Michael Jordan on the all-time playoff field goals list. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ahead of him now.
James, in his 15th year, is playing MVP-like basketball. Like a fine wine, he seems to get better with age. But he’s going to need a lot more help than the nine points that Kevin Love offered him the single digits (Love, George Hill, Rodney Hood) and goose egg (Jeff Green) that his starters gave.
The Pacers win puts a huge chip on the shoulders of LeBron James and that’s potentially lethal for Indiana. The caveat is if he can bring the other players along with him or of this is an early exit and finger-pointing begins anew in Cleveland.
It’s LeBron’s last run in The Land. Enjoy it. He will. I think the Pacers have a chance to put a scare into the Cavs - maybe already have. But Cavs take this in six games, maybe even five if James can get the rest of his team engaged.
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