Sports Cui-sine: NBA Conference Semifinals Predictions

by Mark Cui | 4/29/19 2:00am

Sports Cui-sine: NBA Conference Semifinals Predictions

Well, RIP to my first round predictions: I picked five of the eight winners and predicted the correct amount of games played (with the correct winner) in just three of the matchups. Despite a few upsets in the first few games, no lower-seeded team won its series. However, the results from the first round have laid the groundwork for an absolutely riveting second round. Here are my previews and predictions for the next round. 

Eastern Conference:

Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Boston Celtics (4) — Bucks in 6

“Bucks in 6” has officially reached peak memedom six years after Brandon Jennings, a Bucks guard at the time, infamously declared his prediction. The No. 8 Bucks were promptly swept by LeBron and the Miami Heat on their way to winning the championship. Last year, when the Bucks faced the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, Bucks fans again chanted “Bucks in 6” only to watch their team lose in seven games. However, this Bucks team is significantly better than last year’s — coach Mike Budenholzer’s system has proven to be a massive upgrade over that of Jason Kidd, Giannis Antetokounmpo has made the jump from star to superstar and the additions of several critical role players have elevated the team’s play. This team wasn’t really tested in the first round by a Detroit team led by a hobbled Blake Griffin, but they should still be ready for their upcoming opponents. While the Bucks have improved, the Celtics are different this year too, as all-stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are healthy and playing this year. Perhaps Hayward is finally beginning to return to pre-injury form, scoring double-digits in three of the four games against the Pacers while pouring in a cool 20 points on seven-for-nine shooting to close the first round out. Both teams will enter the matchup with injuries to key players — the Bucks without Malcolm Brogdon and the Celtics without Marcus Smart. Smart would have been key to slowing down Khris Middleton, who averaged 19 points per game on 46 percent shooting last round and 45 percent from three. The Celtics certainly have some advantages at key positions, but I simply don’t see anyone stopping Giannis. The Bucks are taking this in six.

Toronto Raptors (2) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (3) — Raptors in 6

Kawhi Leonard was an absolute machine in Game 1 for the Raptors, pouring in 45 points on just 23 shots, embarrassing Jimmy Butler, a star player regarded as a top wing defender in the league. Leonard’s partner in crime, Pascal Siakam, was equally efficient, chipping in 29 points on just 15 shots. Down low, Marc Gasol locked down Joel Embiid, as he only scored 16 points on an inefficient 5-18 shooting. Butler and Tobias Harris were unable to pick up the slack on offense, as they made a combined 10 out of 29 shots. With key reserve Mike Scott out for Game 1, 76ers rookies Jonah Bolden and Furkan Korkamz failed to step up in his absence, scoring just eight points between them on 2-12 shooting. Ben Simmons was the lone bright spot for 76ers, who went for 14 points and nine rebounds on 7-8 shooting. The result of this matchup comes down to whether the Raptors can continue their strong play after the 76ers make lineup adjustments. I think they will — the Raptors take it in six. 

Western Conference: 

Golden State Warriors (2) vs. Houston Rockets (4) — Warriors in 7

For the first time in a while, the Warriors looked vulnerable. In what many thought would be an easy sweep for Golden State, the Clippers pushed the matchup to six games. Major credit is due to the Clippers for playing with so much heart and giving the Warriors a run for their money. Meanwhile, the Rockets dominated against the Jazz, dropping just one game. The question is whether Houston superstar James Harden has entered his infamous post-season slump or whether the Jazz’s gimmick defense of pushing him to the right every time actually worked. In the first round, he averaged 27.8 points on an inefficient 36.7 percent from the field after putting up 36.1 points on 44.2 percent shooting in the regular season. That’s still a ton of points per game, but his efficiency leaves much to be desired. The Rockets pushed the Warriors to seven games last year and would’ve perhaps won if they hadn’t missed 27 consecutive 3s in game seven. The Warriors may not have a perfectly healthy Klay Thompson and just lost Demarcus Cousins to a season-ending injury, but the Rockets roster is arguably slightly worse than last year’s. I predict the Rockets push the Warriors to seven again.

Denver Nuggets (2) vs. Portland Trailblazers (3) — Nuggets in 6

The Nuggets defeated the Spurs on Saturday following a hard-found seven game series. The Trailblazers just came off an epic buzzer-beater from Damian Lillard and have all the momentum. If Jusuf Nurkić was healthy, I could see the Blazers pulling off the “upset,” but with both Nurkić out and reserve center Enes Kanter playing through a separated shoulder, I have to go with the Nuggets. 

TLDR: I’m picking all the higher seeds this time.