NBA Playoffs 2019: Conference Finals Predictions
The 2019 NBA Playoffs are on to the third round, the Conference Finals.
After several tight six or seven game series and the emotional plight of a Boston Celtics’ team surrounded by many unanswered questions, we are now down to the final four teams who will battle it out for a spot in the NBA Finals. Some of the teams have deep rosters poised for a championship while others are dealing with injury woes at the worst possible time. But, the matchups are still primed to be exciting and competitive.
Two number one seeds will look to defend their supremacy atop their respective conferences with one of them looking to defend their championship title against two teams who are hungry to change the narrative in the NBA.
Here are the matchups and things to watch out for:
Eastern Conference Finals: Toronto Raptors (2) vs Milwaukee Bucks (1)
Game 1: Wednesday, 15 May 8:30 PM ET
For the first time in their recent stretch of deep playoff runs, the Toronto Raptors are in the Eastern Conference Finals and will not have to face their weakness in LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Under first year head coach Nick Nurse, who took over from long time head coach Dwane Casey last season, the Raptors finished the season at 58-24 and after two series victories over the Orlando Magic and the Philadelphia 76ers are back in the ECF. Led by Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry and supported by a bench with its share of depth, the team from the north are looking to finally make the push into the NBA Finals.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Raptors had a solid starting who can each put up double figures, as seen in Game 5 against Philadelphia, and the bench is nothing to sleep on with players such as Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet. Leonard and Ibaka are two of the best defensive players on the team, as Leonard, with his defensive player of the year history, pressures the opposing offense well and averages nearly 2 blocks per game. Ibaka on the other hand cleans up the glass with 8.1 boards and 1.4 blocks per game.
Toronto’s opponent for the Eastern Conference Finals this time are the 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks. Following their Eastern Semifinals series win over the Boston Celtics, the Bucks look to come out of the East and, as many will predict, take on the Golden State Warriors.
The Milwaukee Bucks have one of the best depth rosters in the league. They have bench players who can put up points as much as the starters. Led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 24-year-old from Greece who will be the difference maker for Milwaukee, the team puts up 118 per game which is 1st in the league. A good percentage of their points can come from fast break opportunities thanks to being the 2nd ranked team in pace due to the speed and athleticism of players such as Antetokounmpo.
Defensively, their team is much better than the rankings say. Although they were ranked 11th in average opposition points per game (109.3), the Bucks have the studs to protect the paint and their defensive rating is 105.2, the best in the league. The players to look out for include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, and Khris Middleton, three of the Bucks’ top rebounders and turnover forcers.
This series could very well be about defense as much as it will be offense, as both teams bring the defensive flare. A key for the Toronto Raptors will be preventing Giannis from running the court and getting easy layups or dunks and controlling the fouls.
The last time these teams met in the regular season, Milwaukee walked away with a 105-92 victory in Toronto, and in that game the Bucks led in the major categories. However, Pascal Siakam had one of his standout performances with 28 points.
It’s going to be a difficult series to predict. The Bucks look like the favorites to win the East, but not before at least 6 games.
Western Conference Finals: Portland Trail Blazers (7) vs Golden State Warriors (1)
Game 1: Tuesday, May 14 9:00 PM ET
The Western Conference Finals will see a familiar face looking to defend their title and a newcomer which was eliminated from last year’s playoffs far too early and who has so far claimed vengeance. More notably, it will feature a battle between two brothers for the first time in an NBA playoff series.
After getting shut out in the first round by the New Orleans Pelicans last year, the Portland Trail Blazers have played with a head of steam through the first two rounds and have defeated the OKC Thunder and Denver Nuggets to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Despite losing star big man Jusuf Nurkic in the regular season to a serious knee injury, the Trail Blazers haven't lost a beat. Filling in for Nurkic at center after coming over from the Knicks, Enes Kanter has been a great, energetic addition to the Portland starting five and even views his signing with the team as a fresh start. Together with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, the team ranks 3rd in points per game (115) and its been big baskets late in games that have propelled the Blazers to the WCF.
Defensively, Portland relies heavily on players such as Kanter and Zach Collins for their rebounding and blocks at the glass, but Lillard does come in and average a steal per game to add to the paint protection.
One player not mentioned to watch out for in this series is Seth Curry. Despite coming off the bench for Portland, Curry will be facing his brother Steph so there will be more than just bragging rights on the line.
The Warriors need very little of an introduction or a team description. Offensively, they are tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for 1st in points per game at 118 and their field goal percentage is also ranked 1st at 49.1%. Steph Curry leads all scorers with 27.3 points per game, but the team is also elevated by Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson who average 26 and 21.5 respectively. Forward Draymond Green and center DeMarcus Cousins help tremendously with rebounds and assists.
The defensive side of the ball is an entire team affair. Golden State has at least three players who average at least one steal per game (Green, Curry, Cousins) and three that average at least one blocked shot per game (Cousins, Green, Durant). The defense to offense turnaround for the Warriors is what makes them one of the best in pace and offense as well.
One notable thing to look out for in this series is the status of Kevin Durant. Durant suffered a serious calf sprain in the West Semifinals against the Houston Rockets and some accounts have predicted him to miss at least some time in the Western Conference Finals. His absence brings a loss of an offensive weapon and key game closer at the free throw line. While Cousins is also recuperating from an injury, he is expected to be available some time during the series.
Also notable is Portland’s recent history with the Warriors. In their last meeting, Seth Curry and the Blazers defended home court and defeated Steph and the Warriors 129-107, a certainly notable margin that could be seen again this series.
A safe prognostication has the Warriors taking this series even if Durant is out the whole way, but the Trail Blazers could make it an interesting series with a couple of wins.