Breaking down all four NBA conference semi-final mathcups

Titus Perez, Courier Staff

The NBA playoffs have entered the conference semifinals round. This year, the semis are competitive as ever. All four of the match-ups in this round feature teams in the top-four of their respective conference standings. Furthermore, this looks like a year where all eight teams in this round have a shot at reaching the NBA championship. For many, the defending champion Golden State Warriors are still the favorite. But after the up and down first round that resulted in a 4-2 series win over a severely less talented Los Angeles Clippers team, the Houston Rockets must be seen as a threat to their throne in the semis. Let’s take a closer look at the conference semifinals match-ups and try to figure out not only who will advance, but who has the best chance at making it all the way to the title series.

The Philadelphia 76ers hold the third seed in their match-up against the second seeded Toronto Raptors. The series is already off to a terrific start, tied at 1-1 after the first two games in Toronto. This should be an advantage to Philly since they have taken over home court advantage with their game two win. However, I think this is a series where home court advantage won’t mean much. Toronto will likely take one of the next two games on Philly’s floor, leaving the series tied at 2-2 going into game five. My initial prediction was the Sixers would take this series in seven, but after watching the first two games, I feel the Raptors could take it in seven, with my gut feeling telling me six. Sixers young core of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid don’t seem to have what it takes to get past this round just yet. Embiid has been completely covered up by Marc Gasol, and Simmons’ refusal to shoot any type of jump shot has made it hard on him to score in this series. The Raptors’ length and physicality has bothered the Sixers. Jimmy Butler will have a great series, but he cannot outplay Kwahi Leonard who is averaging 40 points compared to Butler’s 20 in the first two games. My final prediction is that the Raptors will walk away with the 4-2 series win.

The next series features the first seeded Milwaukee Bucks and the fourth seeded Boston Celtics. The Eastern Conference is wide open this year without the presence of LeBron James, and because of that, the match-ups are more compelling. The Bucks were dominant in game one on their own floor, and the likely MVP this year, Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo, didn’t play well at all. Even with the terrible loss, I think the Bucks can win this series. Their length and defense will tighten up on Boston as the series goes along. The Celtics played unbelievable defense in game one, defense that I don’t think will be sustainable throughout the entire series. Boston has no one that can guard “The Greek Freak,” but if they do a better job on Kyrie Irving, they should be okay in this series. The only thing that bothers me about the Bucks is that they are in unfamiliar territory. Without the deep playoff experience, they might collapse against a more experienced Boston team. The Bucks will still take it, 4-3.

The Western Conference features two exciting match-ups as well. The first being a rematch of last years conference finals between the fourth seeded Houston Rockets and first seeded Golden State Warriors. The Warriors won in game one, but this series is far from over. James Harden appeared to be fouled while shooting on four different occasions in that game. Three of those were from the three point line. Those foul shots would have likely changed the outcome of game one, but the Rockets can’t cry about it and need to focus all their attention on the Warriors. I really don’t think these two teams are as close as many believe they are, though the series went to seven games last year, I still see the Warriors as the easy favorite. Most people believe this is a seven-game series, I happened to think that the Warriors can get rid of the Rockets in five if they are consistent. Had the Rockets gotten game one the story may be different, but I think that loss will be a major blow to their chances. Kevin Durant is starting to hit another level in these playoffs. He’s scoring whenever he wants and even though Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are banged up, I just don’t think the Rockets have a chance. Harden still doesn’t look like he has solved his playoff woes and the Rockets don’t have much scoring when he’s not rolling. The Warriors are still very inconsistent in their dominance this year, therefore, this series will be long again. My final prediction for this series is the Warriors, 4-3.

The last semifinal match-up is between the Portland Trailblazers who earned the third seed and the second seeded Denver Nuggets. Both teams earned surprising round one wins. They were both considered underdogs despite being the higher seed entering into their round one series. Neither can be satisfied though, being this close to the conference finals for these two franchises doesn’t come around often enough for them to take the opportunity for granted. Denver hasn’t made the conference finals since 2009 when they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers. For Portland, they haven’t made the conference finals since 2000, they also lost to the Lakers that year. This series is tough to judge, without seeing a game, I figured the Trail Blazers could win 4-2 behind a heroic performance from Damien Lillard. After seeing game one, I think the series will go a bit different than that. Portland must find a plan for Denver’s star center Nikola Jokic, as he was superb in the game one win. Already leading 1-0, Denver has proven they have what it takes to compete with the Blazers. Lillard has already admitted Denver is a tougher task than their last round opponent because of their variety of shooters. Since this is the case, I think Jokic and company will end up being too much for the Blazers. My last prediction in this conference is the Nuggets, 4-2.

With my prediction, the Conference Finals matchups will be the Nuggets squaring off against the Warriors, and the Bucks against the Raptors. My initial winners for these two match-ups are the Raptors and Warriors. All this can change, however, these playoffs have been intense so far and I expect the same for the next coming weeks.