It’s Luka time again, Palawan. The sensational Mavericks sophomore sizzled with 42 points in a 118-110 opening-round playoff loss to the highly favored Los Angeles Clippers. This is quite a feat considering that this is just Doncic’s first ever National Basketball Association (NBA) playoff game. Breaks went the Clippers way after the ejection of Mavs center Kristaps Porzingis (2 technicals) in the second half. The game may have gone either way if the “Unicorn” stayed to finish the game.
It was a battle of attrition and the Clippers had their hands full against the young Mavs but at the end, the steadying hands of veterans Kawhi Leonard (29 pts, 12 rebounds) and Paul George (27 pts) towed the Clippers to the W.
As much as Doncic willed his way to trying to get his first ever playoff win, the deep Clippers are just quite a handful for the Mavs. I expect this series to still be a good one, perhaps the Clippers taking it 4 games to 2. The experience that the Mavs would get in this series, however, will be instrumental for their development next season. Dallas’ roster will be virtually intact next season and we only expect them to get better as Porzingis and Doncic matures more in the league.
The NBA playoffs is back and basketball is in the international limelight again. The first round opening matches ended with the favorites taking game one. As of today’s writing:
Denver Nuggets with a 1-0 series lead over the Utah Jazz
Toronto Raptors 1-0 over the Brooklyn Nets
Boston Celtics 1—0 over the Philadelphia 76ers
LA Clippers 1-0 over the Mavericks
I still foresee a final four finish between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics in the east and the Los Angeles Lakers and the Clippers in the west.
The Bucks would have an easier ride leading to the eastern finals as they just have to overcome the Orlando Magic in the first round (I predict this as a sweep 4-0 for the Bucks) and the winner between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat. I expect the Celtics to make the east finals as they are heavy favorites to win over the 76ers in the first round. They will face the winner of the Toronto Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets series in the second round.
Over in the western front, the Lakers path looks rocky as they are about to face a prime (and motivated) first round foe in the Portland Trailblazers. The Blazers, led by “Dame Time” Damian Lillard, are peaking at the right moment. Unlike the Lakers whose bubble performance was merely going through the motions since their spot in the playoffs is already secure, Portland had to literally make every game count in the seeding games. They even had to face the Memphis Grizzlies in a knockout match for the 8th spot. This series of games benefitted the Blazers more than the Lakers since Portland had to reactivate Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, both key starters, from injury. The 9 games they played in the bubble allowed them the right amount of games needed to build team chemistry since these additions forced Carmelo Anthony to also switch to the small forward spot.
The Lakers are still favorites to win it against the Blazers in the opening round but I expect this to be a 6 game series with a potential to even go to a deciding game 7. Lillard and backcourt teammate CJ McCollum can combine for 60 points at any given night. They definitely have the backcourt advantage against the Lakers. The latter would have the size advantage upfront with Javale McGee, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and of course Lebron James who will hog the point forward minutes.
After the Blazers, the Lakers still can’t rest their laurels because they would be facing the winner of the Houston Rockets and the OKC Thunder opening round match up in the western semifinal. I expect OKC to win in a game 7 over Houston in that series. The Rockets are simply too small to make a deep run in the playoffs. A small line up coupled by a very short 8-man rotation would simply be too taxing to the bodies of a playoff rotation that only has a 6’8 converted big man (Jeff Green) as tallest player in that line up. I expect Chris Paul to win it against the tandem of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. OKC has a formidable front court with the tandem of Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari. Height may win in this match up.
When it comes to who will face each other eventually in the Bubble Finals, I see Milwaukee advancing 4-2 against the Celtics while The Lakers- Clippers match up can stretch to a game 7 but I honestly feel the Clippers will get the better of the Lakers simply because the home court advantage negated whatever advantage the Lakers would have had if the season were business as usual.
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard will thrive more in a fan-less environment. The Clippers rotation defense is the best of the lot. They are also 12 man deep and hardly any of them are pushovers on the defensive end. Late additions Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson and Joachim Noah are quality add ons to an already deep Clipper nation.
If the Bucks face the Clippers in the final, Kawhi will again lead his team to the crown. He is simply too crunch when it comes to this level. His finals experience in San Antonio and Toronto will be in full display and the Bucks would have a hard time trying to break the Bucks’ rotation defense. Marcus Morris is the main man who will defend Giannis Antetokounmpo with Paul George and even Montrezl Harrell giving him relief rotation minutes playing D against the Greek Freak.
If the Clippers eventually win it all, they will be the ultimate Cinderella team winning inside the bubble. No fan fare, no none-sense defense, blue collar workers playing solid D every night. What a way to revive Clippers basketball culture, a culture haunted by bad decisions and poor management in the past … perennial lottery pick participants only to lose their blue chip players to free agency after their rookie deals are done. New owner Steve Balmer is making a change in Clipper land. I expect his investments to pay off inside the Disney bubble in Florida.
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)