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NBA playoffs: Second-round series previews

Brandon Clark

Brandon Clark

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The last of the first-round series ended Friday as Memphis wrapped things up with Minnesota in Game 6. That means no NBA action on Saturday, but fortunately, we’ve only got a day between series, and Boston-Milwaukee kick off the second round Sunday.

The first round featured no Game 7’s and no upsets, as the higher seed won each and every series. We got one sweep (sorry, not sorry KD and Kyrie), two gentleman sweeps and three six-gamers. Young stars like Tyrese Maxey, Jordan Poole, Desmond Bane and Jalen Brunson shined, while the Point God Chris Paul showed why he’s leading a title favorite into the Western Conference semifinals on the eve of his 37th birthday.

With no games to reflect on, we’ve got a perfect opportunity to preview the conference semis. Read on for my breakdown of the four second-round series set to tip off over the next week.

Bucks-Celtics: Superstars clash in epic Giannis vs. Tatum matchup

Regular-season records

Celtics: 51-31

Bucks: 51-31

Head-to-head matchups: The Bucks and Celtics split the season series 2-2, and the home team won all four games.

Key injuries

  • Khris Middleton is out for the series due to a knee injury that sidelined him for the final three games of Milwaukee’s first-round series against Chicago.
  • Robert Williams (knee) returned from a nine-game absence and played 30 total minutes in Games 3-4.

First-round leaders

Points: Giannis Antetokounmpo 28.6, Jayson Tatum 29.8

Rebounds: Giannis Antetokounmpo 13.4, Al Horford 7.5

Assists: Giannis Antetokounmpo 6.2, Marcus Smart 7.0

3-Pointers: Grayson Allen 2.8, Jayson Tatum 3.8

What to watch for

  • Battle of elite defensive guards: DPOY Marcus Smart and perennial DPOY contender Jrue Holiday will square off in what should be an epic matchup. This will be just one of several key matchups to watch in the series including…
  • Giannis vs. Tatum: These superstars led their teams to easy first-round wins, but there won’t be anything easy about this second-round matchup for either player. Since 2019, Tatum has averaged 24.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.4 dimes in nine matchups with the Bucks, while Giannis has averaged 26.6 points, 11.8 boards and 5.1 assists in that span. The odds favor the Celtics to win the series, but this is more like a Pick ‘Em. I won’t be surprised no matter who wins this one.
  • Filling in for Khris Middleton: Who will pick up the slack for Middleton in Round 2? Bobby Portis started for him over the Bucks’ last three games (more on him below), but Pat Connaughton, Wesley Matthews and Grayson Allen all played well in that span.

X-Factor: Bobby Portis fell off for a bit after Brook Lopez returned to the starting lineup and sent him to the bench, but Big Bobby P has re-entered the starting five and balled out without Khris Middleton. Portis double-doubled in four of five first-round contests against his former team and averaged 15.3 points, 14.3 boards and 2.3 triples over the final three games (all starts). Portis was one of fantasy basketball’s biggest values in 2021-22 thanks in large part to BroLo’s extended absence. It seems the two can co-exist, and their tandem play will be crucial for Milwaukee in a matchup with one of the Association’s best teams.

76ers-Heat: Will Philly melt without Embiid?

Regular-season records

76ers: 51-31

Heat: 53-29

Head-to-head matchups: The teams split the season series 2-2.

Key injuries

  • Joel Embiid is out indefinitely with an orbital injury and a torn ligament in his thumb.
  • Jimmy Butler missed Game 5 against the Hawks due to a knee issue but is expected to play.
  • Kyle Lowry missed Games 4-5 against Atlanta due to a hamstring injury, and he’s a GTD for Game 1 against the Sixers.
  • Tyler Herro is dealing with a non-COVID illness but is expected to play in Game 1.

First-round leaders

Points: Jimmy Butler 30.5, Joel Embiid 26.2

Rebounds: Bam Adebayo 8.0, Joel Embiid 11.3

Assists: Jimmy Butler 5.3, James Harden 10.2

3-Pointers: Duncan Robinson 2.0, Tyrese Maxey 2.5

What to watch for

  • Will James Harden step up? Harden had a great first-round series, but he’ll have his work cut out for him against a Miami team that absolutely suffocated Trae Young in Round 1. Harden is prone to high-turnover, low-efficiency games, but he can ill afford to have those against the Heat.
  • Can Jimmy Butler stay hot? Butler missed Game 5 due to a knee injury, but he’s fully expected to play in Game 1. Jimmy Buckets was masterful against Atlanta, posting ridiculous averages of 30.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.8 triples.

X-Factor: Tyrese Maxey erupted for 38 points in Philly’s Game 1 victory over Toronto in Round 1 and finished the series with averages of 21.3 points, 4.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.5 triples while shooting elite 51/41/95 splits. With Joel Embiid out for Game 1 and potentially as long as the entire series, Maxey will surely see his usage spike. During the regular season, Maxey averaged 16.0 points on 12.4 shot attempts in 61 games with Embiid. In 14 games without the big man, Maxey averaged 23.7 points on 17.0 attempts - a huge difference! Can he keep it up against a stifling Heat defense?

Mavericks-Suns: Can Luka lead a takedown of the NBA’s top team?

Regular-season records

Suns: 64-18

Mavericks: 52-30

Head-to-head matchups: Phoenix won all three matchups, but Luka Doncic didn’t play in two of them.

Key injuries

  • Devin Booker is off the injury report. He missed Games 3-5 against New Orleans due to a hamstring injury but returned for Game 6.

First-round leaders

Points: Luka Doncic 29.0, Devin Booker 23.0

Rebounds: Luka Doncic 10.7, Deandre Ayton 9.8

Assists: Luka Doncic 5.7, Chris Paul 11.3

3-Pointers: Luka Doncic 3.7, Devin Booker 4.0

What to watch for

  • Can Jalen Brunson stay hot? The breakout fourth-year guard balled out in the first round to the tune of 27.8 points, 4.8 dimes, 4.2 boards and 2.0 triples while shooting 48.4% from the field and 84.6% from the charity stripe. Brunson scored at least 23 points in each of the six games against Utah and became the first player in team history with 40 points and no turnovers when Dallas won Game 2. He was a candidate for Most Improved Player in the regular season and parlayed that success into a magnificent series. How will he follow it up in Round 2?
  • Can Dallas contain Deandre Ayton? Ayton was unstoppable against New Orleans, putting up 20.5 points per game on an eye-popping 70% shooting. He added 9.8 boards, 2.5 dimes and 1.9 stocks while coughing it up just 1.2 times per contest. The big man will play a major role in Phoenix’s playoff success, and the Mavs’ frontcourt will have its hands full.
  • Devin Booker’s health: Booker missed three in a row in the first round with a hamstring injury but returned in Game 6. He had a lackluster showing in that one, going for just 13 points on 12 shots. He averaged 27/6/5 in last year’s playoffs, and the Suns will need him fully healthy and playing in peak form if they hope to make a deep playoff run.

X-Factor: Spencer Dinwiddie - Doncic and Brunson will be matched by Booker and Paul, but who will be Dallas’ third reliable option? Dinwiddie had a solid first round despite his poor shooting, and the Mavs went 3-1 in the four games he scored at least 17 points. He’ll need to be at his best if the Mavs hope to take down the NBA’s top-seeded team.

Grizzlies-Warriors: Young guns and veteran studs collide

Regular-season records

Grizzlies: 56-26

Warriors: 53-29

Head-to-head matchups: Memphis won 3-1 in the regular season. Stephen Curry didn’t play in one of those, and Klay didn’t play in two of them. Only one of the games was a blowout when Memphis won 123-95 on March 28 with Curry, Klay and Draymond all on the sidelines.

Key injuries

First-round leaders

Points: Stephen Curry, Desmond Bane 23.5

Rebounds: Draymond Green 5.4, Brandon Clarke 9.0

Assists: Draymond Green 7.4, Ja Morant 10.5

3-Pointers: Klay Thompson 4.4, Desmond Bane 4.5

What to watch for

  • Ja Morant’s scoring and ball security: Morant nearly averaged a triple-double in the first round, but he was pretty average in the scoring department, posting 21.5 points per game on just 38.6% shooting. He also turned the ball over 4.2 times per contest, a trend that was pretty conspicuous among his teammates, too. Average scoring and sloppy turnovers might’ve been enough to take down the Timberwolves, but that brand of basketball won’t cut it against the three-time championship-winning trio of Curry, Klay and Draymond. Oh, and they’ve gotten some help from Jordan Poole, which brings us to…
  • Splash Brothers 2.0: Poole was spectacular in the regular season and kept that momentum going in the first round, averaging 21.0 points, 5.4 dimes, 3.0 triples, 2.4 boards and 1.4 steals against Denver. Poole, Klay and Steph combined to go 56-of-126 (44.4%) from beyond the arc in the first round. My goodness.
  • Desmond Bane’s long-range accuracy: If anyone can attempt to go toe-to-toe with the Splash Bros., it’s Bane. The second-year man out of TCU averaged 3.0 triples per game and set the Grizzlies’ single-season record for attempted (523) and made (228) three-pointers. His 43.5% career three-point percentage is the second-highest by any player through his first two seasons behind only Curry (43.9%). He led Memphis with 4.5 triples per contest in the first round. Bombs away.

X-Factor: Brandon Clarke had a tremendous impact on the first-round series with Minnesota, averaging 16.5 points, 9.0 boards and 1.8 stocks across 29.3 minutes per contest. Steven Adams was phased out of the rotation entirely, and while Xavier Tillman got the starting nod, Clarke was the most impactful big man on the floor for the Grizzlies. He made his presence known in Games 5 and 6, posting back-to-back double-doubles and averaging a healthy 19/13/4 with two swats.