SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt breaks down the Cavs’ Game 7 win over the Pacers and looks ahead to their next series against the Raptors.
USA TODAY Sports
That should happen in the opening round of the playoffs, theoretically the easiest to predict.
But with a round of added knowledge and an idea of what each team looks like in its playoff distillation (the Cavs are still LeBron James and the others), USA TODAY’s NBA desk took a crack at predicting the second round.
Keep in mind that second-round series Golden State vs. New Orleans had started before the first round was entirely over. We assure you that our picks were in before the start of any second round games.
Below are picks from USA TODAY’s Sam Amick, Jeff Zillgitt, Michael Singer and AJ Neuharth-Keusch.
No. 1 Raptors vs. No. 4 Cavs: Not all of us believed that the Cavs would win Game 7 in Cleveland, and yet after LeBron James scored 45 points to win his fifth consecutive Game 7, not all of us believe the Cavs will advance to the conference finals. The Cavs made a shrewd, risky decision that may have saved their season, and it’s possible that Cavs coach Ty Lue has discovered a recipe for success. Whether he leans on Tristan Thompson again is yet to be seen. On the other side, the top-seeded Raptors fought for homecourt advantage this year (tied for an NBA-best 34-7 at home) and are trying to avoid being knocked out by the Cavs for a third consecutive year.
- Amick: Cavs in 7
- Zillgitt: Raptors in 7
- Singer: Cavs in 7
- Neuharth-Keusch: Cavs in 6
No. 2 Celtics vs. No. 3 Sixers: Left for dead after Kyrie Irving was announced out for the playoffs (or at least not seen as a serious playoff threat), the Boston Celtics stymied the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7. Rookie Jayson Tatum and PG Terry Rozier (who?) played with a veteran’s savvy, not unlike Al Horford. An injury to Jaylen Brown’s hamstring bears watching. Their counterparts, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, made impressive postseason debuts in dismantling the Heat in five games. These two franchises have history, and given how young and talented each squad is, the bet is they’ll be meeting for years to come.
- Amick: Sixers in 6
- Zillgitt: Sixers in 6
- Singer: Sixers in 6
- Neuharth-Keusch: Sixers in 6
No. 1 Rockets vs. No. 5 Jazz: The buzz surrounding Donovan Mitchell’s stirring Game 6 against Oklahoma City had barely waned before the Rockets took it to them in Game 1. We believe Chris Paul is about to shake his second-round demons.
- Amick: Rockets in 6
- Zillgitt: Rockets in 6
- Singer: Rockets in 6
- Neuharth-Keusch: Rockets in 7
No. 2 Warriors vs. No. 6 Pelicans: All four of us see the Warriors moving on, but all of us felt – at least at the beginning of the series – that it might be more of a challenge than what the Pelicans showed in Game 1. First-round star Jrue Holiday was swallowed up by Kevin Durant’s defense, and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green got their playoff legs under them. Not to mention, Steph Curry is expected to return for Game 2, making this potentially an even more lopsided series.
- Amick: Warriors in 6
- Zillgitt: Warriors in 5
- Singer: Warriors in 7
- Neuharth-Keusch: Warriors in 6