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NBA Playoffs Prove You Can’t Trust the Process, Yet

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The Be the Man, You Got to Beat the Man.

We’re now into the second round of the 2018 NBA playoffs and the common trend amongst the series is simple. As your dad would say…son, you have some growing up to do. The four top seeds, the Rockets, the Warriors, the Celtics, and the Cavaliers are playoff veterans. The opponents, the Jazz, Pelicans, Raptors, and Sixers have much less playoff experience or haven’t been able to advance deep into the second season of the NBA. Let’s review some of the most provocative storylines and observations heading into the conference championships. We predict the losers will look very different next season. We are looking at you, Sixers and Raptors. Props to Ric Flair for reminding us that before you put on the crown, you have to dethrone the king.

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Ric Flair, via Instagram

Boston Celtics (3-1) vs Philadelphia 76ers

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Terry Rozier (#12 of the Boston Celtics) goes in for a layup against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in Pennslyvania. (Jesse E. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images.)

We trusted the process too soon. After the Sixers beat the Miami Heat in five games and effectively ended Dwyane Wade’s NBA career, we hopped on the 76ers’ bandwagon. We believed the big three of Simmons, Embiid, and Reddick would defeat last season’s number one seed, the Celtics. Especially with the Celtics battling injuries to key players and coming off a tough series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Unfortunately for the 76ers, Celtics’ HC Brad Stevens and his defensive schemes have contained Ben Simmons. Joel Embiid has struggled in the series, but he isn’t blaming injuries for his poor play.  He told the media, “Everything I’ve been able to do in the series, I won’t put that on the mask,” Embiid said after practice Sunday as the Sixers trail 3-0. “It’s just on me.”

When the Sixers are running and pushing the tempo, they’re a fun team to watch. But against the Celtics, fast breaks opportunities are limited. In the half court, Simmons jump shot isn’t consistent enough for defenders (particularly Marcus Morris) to back off.

It will be virtually impossible for the Sixers to come back to make this a competitive series, even after Monday nights win. The Sixers are young and this playoff run will help them for seasons to come. The real heat is being felt by head coach Brett Brown. According to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, Brown is specifically to blame for the team’s first three losses. Could the Sixers move on from Brown in the off-season?

Cleveland Cavaliers Sweep Toronto Raptors (4-0)

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LeBron James hits a game-winning runner as time expired in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland defeated the Toronto Raptors 105-103 and lead the series 3-0.

2018 was supposed to be Toronto’s year. The Raptors won 59 games during the regular season and clinched the number one seed. The OVO special edition Raptors uniform debuted and Drake trash talked opponents from his courtside seat. The Raptors should have made a deep playoffs run. Toronto defeated the Wizards 4-2 in Round 1 and then ran into the LeBron James buzzsaw.

In Game 1, James didn’t shoot well, but messed around and got a triple-double. In Game 2, his stat line was 43 points (19-28 FG), 8 rebounds and 14 assists. Most of LeBron’s points came in the third quarter when the Cavs pulled away. Game 3 featured the James’ game-winning runner as time expired.

The Cavs/Raptors series ended with that back-breaking shot, so Game 4 was a mere formality. The King’s final stat line in Game 4 was 29 points (12-19 FG), 8 rebounds, and eleven assists. Toronto became “LeBronto.” The Cavaliers will move on to take on the winner of the Celtics/Sixers series, but more importantly, we predict big fallout north of the border. There can only be one winner and one loser in these series, but the Raptors were dominated by a Cavaliers team that was pushed to seven games by the Indiana Pacers. It’s time to break up the backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The duo has taken the team as far as it can go. If they don’t change the makeup of the team, Head Coach Dwane Casey could be fired.

Houston Rockets defeat the Utah Jazz (4-1)

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May 6 – Hoston Rockets’ James Harden squares up on Jazz guard Royce O’Neale during Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals. (Andrew D. Bernstein via NBAE Getty Images)

Besides the Golden State Warriors and possibly the Cavaliers, no team can stop James Harden and the Rockets. His ability to penetrate, his euro-step, the step back jumper and long-distant shooting is too good right now. Defenses are so spread out when they play the Rockets, wide open paths to basket open up like barn doors. Plus, what makes this Rockets team different, it’s not only Harden. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capella, and Chris Paul lessen the offensive burden on the beard. Plus they’re able to make up for Harden’s poor defense. Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo offense runs opponents out of the gym.

The question for the Rockets is can they overcome their past playoff failures to threaten the Warriors? Can they play enough on the ball defense to stay with the Splash Brothers? Finally, can anyone on the Rockets contain Kevin Durant? For the Jazz, how good is Donovan Mitchell? Can the Jazz add one or two elite players around Mitchell to propel the team to the next level

Golden State Warriors Beat the New Orleans Pelicans (4-1)

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Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30), Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23), and Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrate a play against the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half of game 3 of the conference semifinal NBA playoffs in New Orleans, La. (Photo: Advocate Staff Photo By MATTHEW HINTON / The Advocate)

Once Stephen Curry returned from injury in Game 2, the Pelicans were on borrowed time. NBA playoff teams simply haven’t figured out how to consistently beat Dub City. In the semifinal closeout game, Golden State’s “Big Four” (Curry, Thompson, Durant, and Green) led the team to their fourth straight Western Conference finals by defeating the Pelicans, 113-104.

Klay Thompson had 23 points. Kevin Durant finished with 24 points. Stephen Curry added 28 points, while Draymond Green messed around and nearly got a triple-double. Steve Kerr often deployed Golden State’s “Hampton Five” lineup often during the series. The Hampton Five is the Warriors’ Big Four plus Andre Iguodala. The five-man group was given the moniker after their full court press of Kevin Durant during a visit to the Hamptons in the summer of 2016. Now the two best teams in the West all season, Houston and Golden State face off for a finals appearance. Game 1 in on Monday 5/14 in Houston.

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