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The Four Defining Observations (and Predictions) for the Second Round of the NBA Playoffs

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

Can the Hawks shoot the 76ers out of the playoffs? Can Jokic continue to carry the Nuggets to the conference finals? The Circuit dives deep into each second-round series and predicts who will advance in the 2020-21 NBA playoffs.

Getty Images/Circuit Artwork

Before diving into the second round, let’s take a look at how my first round predictions played out:

76ers defeat Wizards 4-1

Nets defeat Celtics 4-0

Bucks defeat Heat 4-2

Hawks defeat Knicks 4-2

Jazz defeat Grizzlies 4-0

Lakers defeat Suns 4-2

Blazers defeat Nuggets 4-3

Mavericks defeat Clippers 4-2

Over .500! But not great, particularly in how many games each series will be. Let’s hope this second round will be better.

1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. 5 Atlanta Hawks

Both these teams are coming off of relatively-easy 5 game series victories in the first round, although the arrows seem to be pointing in opposite directions. Trae Young evolved like a Pokemon in the first round, going from a star to a superstar, knocking out the Knicks far easier than anyone imagined. The 76ers, however, have the Embiid injury looming over them (stop me if you’ve heard that before), and have a coach who can’t seem to get out of the round they’re heading into (last time Rivers coached a team to the conference finals was 2012).

The Hawks have other-worldly shooting with Young, Heurter, Bogdanovic, Gallinari, etc... but the defense is rather suspect. Philadelphia has perhaps the best defender in the league in Ben Simmons, and it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the near 7-footer to guard the undersized Trae Young to try and slow his sizzle.

I was impressed by the Hawks, and how Young was able to channel his inner Reggie Miller and play the MSG villain. But can he continue that against the Beast of the East? Injuries will play a factor in that, but I don’t think he can. And whether or not Embiid plays 5 games or just 1, I’ll still take Philadelphia 76ers 4, Atlanta Hawks 1.

2 Brooklyn Nets vs. 3 Milwaukee Bucks

This is the big one. This series is riddled with intriguing plotlines. Kevin Durant vs. Giannis; two of the few players to capture MVP awards in the LeBron James era, and who have each laid a claim as the best player in the world at one point in time. Who will claim the throne in this series? James Harden vs. Giannis; two players who have greatly underachieved in the playoffs. Who will break through and prove they can shine brightly in the biggest moments?

The Nets have virtually no defense. That saying, “the best defense is a good offense”? Hopefully that’s true, because the Bucks could have a field day on that end of the court.

Unlike the other series in the East, injuries should impact this one. DiVincenzo is out for Milwaukee, and that should be huge. That’s one less shooter the Bucks have to try and put up points and keep pace with the Nets, but also takes a big wing defender off the court, which can only benefit Brooklyn. Because of that, give me Brooklyn Nets 4, Milwaukee Bucks 3.

1 Utah Jazz vs. 4 Los Angeles Clippers

If you’re a fan of defense, this series is just for you. Rudy Gobert, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, oh my! This series should be fairly low scoring, assuming that Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson don’t keep up the ridiculous shooting clip they were on against the Mavericks.

The Clippers finally outlasted the Mavs, surviving a grueling 7 game series in which Luka Doncic torched them. There were both encouraging and discouraging elements to their win; their role players shot the lights out, especially in game 7. If that keeps up, the Clippers could easily win the title. The bad news? It took Kawhi Leonard 6 games to get going, and 7 games to decide he should guard Luka. For supposedly being the best wing defender since Pippen, Kawhi often shys away from tough assignments. If Leonard and George don’t find a killer instinct, they will struggle against a Donovan Mitchell who most definitely shoots to kill.

Despite all that, and despite the fact that the Clippers have literally NEVER made the conference finals (see last years spectacular flameout against Denver when Paul George dented the side of the backboard), give me Los Angeles Clipper 4, Utah Jazz 2.

2 Phoenix Suns vs. 3 Denver Nuggets

What a ride both these teams took to get here. The Suns were able to knock out the defending champion Lakers (although a healthy Lakers team beats them, but I’m not bitter), and the Nuggets survived a Damian Lillard explosion to advance to the second round.

Denver is severely shorthanded, missing their starting backcourt in Murray and Barton, and relying on Austin Rivers provide scoring bursts (not ideal). The Suns meanwhile are operating at relatively full strength, assuming Chris Paul can get his shoulder right.

While Phoenix doesn’t have anyone on the level of Lillard (few teams do), they have a cast of players who can kill you from three and one of the greatest point guards of all-time. Give me Phoenix Suns 4, Denver Nuggets 2.

Here’s a recap of my second round picks:

76ers defeat Hawks 4-1

Nets defeat Bucks 4-3

Clippers defeat Jazz 4-2

Suns defeat Nuggets 4-2

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