2017 NBA Playoff Preview: East, Part Two (Raptors-Bucks and Wizards-Hawks)
(3) Toronto Raptors vs (6) Milwakuee Bucks
Overly Simplistic Storyline
We-The-North Raptors Hoping to Lowry and DeRozan (and Ibaka!) Their Way Past Upstart, Feel-Good, Long-Limbed Bucks!
Simplistic subplot: Lowry played the last four games of the season after having “loose bodies” removed from his wrist in late February. I wonder how many people have bodies on the loose in their wrist, they just don’t know it.
Simplistic subplot#2: If he stays healthy, Giannis will become the face of the NBA by 2022.
Since Kyle Lowry reshaped his body (summer before the 2015–16 season), strengthening his core, and increasing his stamina, the Raptors offense has annihilated opponents…especially in the regular season. The Raptors were on a historic offensive pace this year during the season’s first 35 games, and finished 6th overall in offensive rating. Why is this a weakness? It allowed them to coast from time to time on defense. To a lesser extent than the Cavs and the Wizards, the Raptors have to “flip the switch” and play 48 minutes of defense on a consistent basis.
The Bucks, have the opposite problem, though it self-corrected a bit after Khris Middleton’s return from a hamstring injury. Second-year man Jabari Parker was having a solid offensive season when he went down with a season-ending ACL tear (his second). Middleton’s return coincided with the injury. For the past three years, Middleton’s value has been enormous to Milwaukee’s success. The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks wrote an excellent breakdown of why Middleton is so essential. Basically, he does everything well. He covers up mistakes on defense with intelligent reads, and his helpful wingspan and lateral quickness allows him to defend everyone except 7-footers. Can the Bucks keep pace with the Raptors offense? No. Can the Bucks make the Raptors uncomfortable on offense? Yes.
A brief note about Giannis: He is incredibly athletic, unbelievably long, and mentally strong. He is Kawhi, waiting to become Kawhi.
Will the Bucks have enough depth to compete with Toronto’s 9-deep crew? Jason Terry is very old. Michael Beasley is unpredictable. Mirza Teletovic isn’t playoff-worthy.
Big Picture Questions
Toronto got over the hump and made a nice run last year, before falling to Cleveland in 6 games. You may remember it went 6. You may not remember that the Cavs blew out the Raptors in all four of their wins. One close game in six does not a dramatic series make. Here’s hoping that Toronto and Cleveland have a closer, more dramatic meeting in this year’s East Semifinals. The physicality of new additions P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka may help.
The Bucks are still very young. Malcolm Brogdon’s excellent rookie year should be noted. He has a legit rookie of the year case, after being picked 36th. Will Lowry expose Brogdon’s physicality and get a few calls? Relying on Matthew Dellavadova for offense is not recommended. Can Giannis make THE LEAP…in the playoffs…from the foul-line…over the top of Serge Ibaka?
Prediction: Raptors in 6.
(4) Washington Wizards vs (5) Atlanta Hawks
Overly Simplistic Storyline
Fast-paced, Exciting Wizards versus Slow-Paced, Frustrating Hawks!
Not-so-simplistic subplot: Otto Porter will be a free-agent after the season and will be in high-demand after shooting the proverbial lights out in December, January and February. Porter led the league in 3-pt shooting (46% through February) until late in the year. He finished fourth overall, though Kyle Korver (who finished first) found himself wide open most of the time after the trade to Cleveland. Somewhat concerning, though, is Porters’s post All-Star break 3-PT percentage: 34%. The Wizards need Porter to heat up if they are hoping to make a legit playoff run.
The Wizards defense cratered after the All-Star break. Much like the Cavs, they simply wore down (or got bored…or both) during the somewhat meaningless games of March. They were also incorporating two offensive-minded bench players into their rotation (Brandon Jennings and Bogdan Bogdanovic). Washington’s starting five was playing so well in February, that the lack of a bench wasn’t even a problem at the time. On the other hand, Marcin Gortat clearly ran out of gas right around the All-Star break. Gortat played 35 minutes per game at a breakneck speed (John Wall says “Let’s Go! and you say “Yessir!”) That breakneck speed is the issue. Can Washington play within a slowed-down, mucked-up half-court?
Atlanta, revamped behind Dwight Howard and Dennis Schroder, is a predictably moody crew. At their best, Tim Hardaway Jr. is pouring in clutch threes, Schroder is slicing through the defense with his Rondo-like spinning lay-ups. Millsap is forever Millsap, out-smarting defenders, setting great picks and making the snap-decisions that it takes to bend the defense. Howard is such a liability at the free-throw line that one wonders if he’ll even be on the court in the 4th quarter. These games could get ugly.
Big Picture Questions
This sounds too simple, but: Which Wizards team will show up?
The team that started 2–8? The team that went 18–3 during a 21-game stretch from mid-January to mid-February? The team that finished the season 8–9 over its last 17? John Wall and Bradley Beal are so much fun to watch when they’re feeling it. Beal is still only 23!
Will this season be considered a success for a Hawks team that somehow managed 60 wins only two years ago? The wheels haven’t completely fallen off. The defense is very good, but they’re not much fun anymore. Not nearly as much fun as the Wizards.
Prediction: Wizards in 6.