Photo Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Sound the alarm, Warriors fans. Prepare the lifeboats, Memphis. Don’t bank on Barclays buoyancy, Brooklyn.
Early stages of the NBA playoffs have a few fan bases in panic mode, but not all of the worry is justified.
Defending champion Golden State should be sweating, down 2-0 to the Sacramento Kings and headed home to play without Draymond Green.
We’ll help stomp out some concern and set the tiers of playoff fear for the full field entering Wednesday’s games, starting with the safest picks for the second round all the way to our league leaders in buckets of perspiration.
–(SECOND-ROUND) RESERVATION CONFIRMED
16. Boston Celtics
Eastern Conference No. 2 seed
Series score: Lead Atlanta Hawks 2-0
Outlook: If officials could throw in the towel in the NBA, it’d be raining laundry in Atlanta before Game 3. With Jayson Tatum in complete control and the Hawks unable to counter Boston’s defensive approach, we’re calling it early.
15. Philadelphia 76ers
Eastern Conference No. 3 seed
Series score: Lead Brooklyn Nets 2-0
Outlook: Joel Embiid and James Harden are thriving and took the first two games by an average of 16 points. Most convincing was the steely-eyed rally in Game 2, a combination of grit and calm not always evident with past Philly iterations. The 76ers were 25-16 on the road this season and destroyed the Nets at Brooklyn (134-105) their last time through town.
14. Denver Nuggets
Western Conference No. 1 seed
Series score: Lead Minnesota Timberwolves 1-0
Outlook: Dominance in Game 1 was a great start to the second season for Denver in a series shaping up as a potential sweep.
–WIN ONE MORE, THEN DESTINATION IS ON YOUR RIGHT
13. Sacramento Kings
Western Conference No. 3 seed
Series score: Lead Golden State Warriors 2-0
Outlook: No sleep til San Fran? Sacramento looked like the better team and De’Aaron Fox is a definite problem the Warriors appear to have no answer for to date. Taking a 3-0 lead on Thursday means it’s time to break out the sweet dreams memes for Steph & Company.
12. Los Angeles Clippers
Western Conference No. 4 seed
Series score: Tied 1-1 with Phoenix Suns
Outlook: Playoff Kawhi elevates confidence in the Clippers getting another win even if Paul George doesn’t play in the series. If L.A. wins Game 3 on Thursday, will George slide in for a cameo Saturday? Russell Westbrook has largely been a positive despite shooting 34.3%. He’s averaging 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds. 6.5 assists and 2.5 blocks per game in the first two games of the KD reunion series.
11. Los Angeles Lakers
Western Conference No. 7 seed
Series score: Lead Memphis Grizzlies 1-0
Outlook: LeBron James helped steer but the Lakers didn’t overburden their star while scoring a road victory aided by Ja Morant’s hand injury. Load management helps keep panic present for L.A. given the health woes of James and Anthony Davis.
10. Miami Heat
Eastern Conference No. 8 seed
Series score: Lead Milwaukee Bucks 1-0
Outlook: Without Tyler Herro (broken hand) the Heat still have the edge over Milwaukee by virtue of swiping Game 1 on the road. Momentum shifts the other direction if Giannis Antetokounmpo plays in Game 2, but Miami’s history against Mike Budenholzer indicates a long series ahead.
–SOME CLIMBING REQUIRED
9. New York Knicks
Eastern Conference No. 5 seed
Series score: Tied 1-1 with Cleveland Cavaliers
Outlook: They won on the road, a saving grace helping camouflage the reality this easily could be a 2-0 deficit. Still, advantage Knicks with Friday and Sunday games at MSG affording New York the opportunity to erase lingering playoff ghosts.
8. Phoenix Suns
Western Conference No. 5 seed
Series score: Tied 1-1 with the Los Angeles Clippers
Outlook: Devin Booker (32 ppg this series) dominated Game 2 for stretches and Kevin Durant has done a little bit of everything, shifting to facilitator when Kawhi Leonard goes Klaw mode.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers
Eastern Conference No. 4 seed
Series score: Tied 1-1 with New York Knicks
Outlook: Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland are going strong and Caris LeVert has emerged as the potential X-factor in the best first-round playoff matchup. The edge? Miniscule. Multiple series projection models give the Cavaliers a 51-54% chance of winning the best-of-seven series.
–BACKS AGAINST THE WALL
6. Milwaukee Bucks
Eastern Conference No. 1 seed
Series score: Down 1-0 to Miami Heat
Outlook: Antetokounmpo averages 18.3 points per game against the Heat in his career not including the cameo in Game 1. But his presence is vital to the offense and floor spacing. If his bruised back allows his return for Game 2, the Bucks are back as well. Sportsbooks continue to believe in the East No. 1 seed, which is a consensus -300 pick to win the series even after losing the opener.
5. Golden State Warriors
Western Conference No. 6 seed
Series score: Down 2-0 to Sacramento Kings
Outlook: Andrew Wiggins returned, but now Draymond Green bowed out to serve a suspension that thins the ranks of the defending champions. But Steph Curry and Klay Thompson won’t go lightly. A win Thursday and Green’s return Sunday tilts the advantage Golden State’s way. Even down 2-0, oddsmakers aren’t yet certain of the Warriors’ demise. Sacramento is -150 to win the series.
–OFFSEASON OFF RAMP AHEAD
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
Western Conference No. 8 seed
Series score: Down 1-0 to Denver Nuggets
Outlook: Dysfunction feels palpable for the Western Conference’s last team in, and Denver is now 35-7 at home this season.
3. Brooklyn Nets
Eastern Conference No. 6 seed
Series score: Down 2-0 to Philadelphia 76ers
Outlook: Like most of the league, the Embiid matchup presents a domino effect of problems. The Nets aren’t getting to the line (10 free throws made per game in the series) and outside of 48 points per game in the first two games from Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, Brooklyn is coming up empty.
2. Atlanta Hawks
Eastern Conference No. 7 seed
Series score: Down 2-0 to Boston Celtics
Outlook: ESPN’s BPI projections after two games provide this perspective: Atlanta has a 1% chance of rallying to win this series after being dominated by Boston in two games at the Garden.
1. Memphis Grizzlies
Western Conference No. 2 seed
Series score: Down 1-0 to Los Angeles Lakers
Outlook: Losing the opener at home put the Grizzlies in the scratch-and-dent bin. But dire straits await with Ja Morant unlikely to play in Game 2 and, even if he does, possibly extremely limited using his right hand when he does suit up.
–Field Level Media