The NBA’s convention semifinals are in full swing. The Milwaukee Bucks simply saved their postseason with a nail-biting Sport 3 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz simply put the LA Clippers in one other 2-0 gap.
In Friday night time’s matchups, the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks wrestle for command of their collection in Sport 3 whereas the Phoenix Suns look to seize a commanding 3-0 lead on 2021 MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.
How a lot do the Nets want James Harden, who continues to be sidelined with hamstring tightness? What’s probably the most spectacular a part of the Suns’ 2-0 collection lead? What participant or adjustment will determine the Jazz-Clippers collection? Which potential Finals matchup would supply the juiciest storylines?
Our panel of specialists is answering a few of the playoffs’ largest questions forward of two huge Sport 3s.
MORE: Matchups, schedules and information for each collection
Truth or fiction: The Nets ought to be the favorites to win the NBA title, even when James Harden does not play once more this postseason.
Tim MacMahon: Fiction. Kevin Durant as soon as once more appears to be like like arguably the world’s finest participant and Kyrie Irving is a confirmed championship-caliber sidekick, however my intestine feeling is the Nets will want Harden to get previous the 76ers and/or whoever comes out of the West. Nets GM Sean Marks clearly thought as a lot when he pulled the set off on the picks-loaded deal to carry Harden to Brooklyn.
Kevin Pelton: Fiction. Harden’s absence is placing strain on Brooklyn’s different stars to play large minutes. After enjoying 44:35 in Sport 1, Irving was on the courtroom for 44:57 in Sport 3. Durant performed 40:06 and 42:52 in these two video games, respectively. Which may not be sustainable over three full rounds — particularly given their very own battles with accidents throughout the common season.
Jorge Sedano: Truth. Regardless of all their lineup shuffling, the Nets had a league-best offensive ranking of 117.3 this season. Curiously sufficient, when Durant and Irving had been on the courtroom collectively with out Harden, that quantity elevated to 120.6. Couple that with Blake Griffin’s reemergence and Joe Harris’ regular capturing and it is not out of line to suppose they will win all of it with out Harden.
Brian Windhorst: It is reality. Nevertheless it’s not an enormous reality. The Nets had been mainly a .500 staff this season when Harden did not play. They’ve nice expertise and their function gamers have been robust up to now, however it’s arduous to wager on them.
Royce Younger: Truth. The reason being fairly easy: Even with a slew of proficient celebrity gamers remaining within the postseason, Durant is in a category of his personal. He is one of the best participant enjoying proper now, a whole matchup nightmare who impacts each ends of the ground. Harden or no Harden, Durant goes to effectively dominate video games.
What’s been most spectacular in regards to the Suns’ 2-0 lead over the Nuggets?
MacMahon: Chris Paul has been in full management of the collection to date, however he has dominated playoff collection earlier than, regardless of by no means having superior all the way in which to the Finals. How Deandre Ayton would deal with his matchup with MVP Nikola Jokic was the Suns’ largest query going into the collection. The 22-year-old Ayton has greater than held his personal. He has averaged 17.5 factors and 10.0 rebounds whereas capturing 65.2% from the ground within the two wins. Extra importantly, Ayton has made life troublesome on Jokic, who’s 11-of-26 from the ground with solely 4 assists when Ayton has been the first defender on him, based on NBA Superior Stats.
Sedano: It is Paul. Let’s be actual, there weren’t many on the market who did not really feel he was snake-bitten once more after his damage within the first spherical. He battled via that and has regained his kind to take a commanding 2-0 lead over Denver. His Sport 2 efficiency was masterful. His 17-point, 15-assist, zero-turnover night time was the primary playoff recreation with 15-plus factors, 15-plus assists and no turnovers since 2014. The participant who achieved that feat in 2014? Chris Paul. Earlier than 2014, the final time it occurred was 2008 … by Chris Paul.
Younger: The poise of the younger Suns. Paul is a weighted blanket for the remainder of the roster, offering the safety the Suns want in tight conditions. However as regular as he has been — 26 assists to 1 turnover is absurd — the remainder of the Suns’ children have performed their components splendidly. Ayton is as much as the problem towards Jokic. Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson look snug of their roles. And Devin Booker seems constructed for any postseason second thrown his means.
Pelton: Ayton’s protection towards Jokic. Regardless of early foul hassle in Sport 2, Ayton has nearly matched the MVP minute for minute (Jokic has performed 4 minutes with Ayton on the bench, per NBA Superior Stats) and deserves the vast majority of the credit score for holding Jokic in verify as each a scorer (23 PPG on 47.5% capturing) and distributor (4.5 APG).
Windhorst: Phoenix’s depth. Paul has been otherworldly throughout the Suns’ five-game win streak and he is obtained an unimaginable 53-4 assist-to-turnover ratio in that span. However in each video games this collection, the Suns have had 5 gamers in double figures. Ayton is enjoying one of the best ball of his life, Cameron Payne is electrical off the bench and the Jae Crowder/Bridges 3-and-D combo has been good.
What has been the most important shock to date in 76ers-Hawks?
MacMahon: Simply how dominant Joel Embiid has been, regardless of the meniscus tear in his proper knee. It is spectacular to common 39.5 factors, 11.0 rebounds and a couple of.0 blocks within the convention semifinals below any circumstances. It is completely wonderful to do it regardless of nursing a knee damage that put Embiid’s availability in query till simply earlier than the Sport 1 beginning lineups had been introduced. And he is doing it towards one of many NBA’s finest defensive huge males in Atlanta’s Clint Capela.
Windhorst: How good Embiid has been regardless of having a reasonable knee damage. The concept that he’d play in Sport 2, a lot much less put up 40, appeared wild just some days in the past. That mentioned, the way in which the Hawks performed within the first half of Sport 1, leaping out to an enormous lead, was fairly stunning and deserves particular point out.
Younger: Embiid. Clearly, it is not a shock Embiid would play nice in a playoff collection. However below these circumstances, his well being was the most important query going into the collection. It appeared admirable he was going to attempt to play via a meniscus tear, however how restricted he is likely to be, or the challenges he may face, was a key storyline. As an alternative, after two video games, the one query round Embiid is, how on Earth are the Hawks going to cease him?
Sedano: How poorly the Sixers’ bench has performed. Philly was a middle-of-the-pack bench scoring unit this season, however it’s been downright unhealthy this collection. (And the numbers would look quite a bit worse had Shake Milton not given the Sixers an enormous enhance within the second half of Sport 2.) Their bench gamers all had a damaging plus-minus in Sport 1 and had zero factors within the first half of Sport 2 previous to Milton setting the tone. That is not a sustainable recipe for fulfillment.
Pelton: In addition to Atlanta stealing Sport 1 on the highway, I might say the efficiency of Kevin Huerter off the bench. Huerter has made greater than half his 3-pointers (6-of-11) and is an ideal 8-of-8 from contained in the arc, an enormous cause the Hawks are plus-12 with him on the courtroom and minus-24 with him on the bench via two video games.
What is going to most decide the winner of Jazz-Clippers?
MacMahon: Can the Clippers work out a option to cool off Donovan Mitchell? LA has no likelihood on this collection if Mitchell retains scoring within the 30s or 40s effectively. The Jazz aren’t as reliant on Mitchell because the Mavs had been on Luka Doncic — and Utah is a significantly better defensive staff than Dallas — so the Clippers aren’t going to outlive this collection in the event that they by no means discover a sustainable answer for the opponent’s go-to man.
Sedano: Mitchell’s success — or lack thereof — will decide who wins this collection. Significantly, how efficient he’s within the pick-and-roll. For the Clippers to succeed, they must comprise the perimeter with a mix of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Nicolas Batum or Terance Mann. Luke Kennard definitely helps them on offense, however he was being focused on protection by Mitchell. If Mitchell is allowed to feast, then the Jazz will win the collection.
Pelton: The power to create off the dribble. The belief was that might favor the Clippers, however I feel Utah’s means to attain self-created buckets is wildly underrated. Actually, the Jazz’s 50.3% efficient area objective proportion on pictures with greater than two seconds of contact time — sixth within the league throughout the common season, per Second Spectrum monitoring — was truly higher than the Clippers’ 49.4% mark (eleventh). Taking part in towards the Clippers’ junk defenses, Utah had simply 15 assists on 40 area objectives in Sport 2 however gained anyway thanks largely to Mitchell’s creation.
Windhorst: The Jazz within the fourth quarter. They’ve blown some leads (do not ask about final 12 months) however, whoa, have they regarded like a championship staff within the fourth quarter throughout this six-game playoff win streak. Video games 3 and 4 within the Memphis collection and Video games 1 and a couple of towards the Clippers had been all broad open within the fourth and the Jazz’s mixture of lively protection, nice capturing and Mitchell have secured 50/50 video games repeatedly. It is championship stuff.
Younger: George. The key of the story of Playoff P is that he is truly fairly much like Common Season P. George’s complete historical past as a star participant is a capability to achieve a peak degree, on par with the best possible on the planet, however then observe that with a puzzling, wandering efficiency two nights later. The Clippers want one of the best model of George solely 4 instances, and if they will get it, they will beat the Jazz.
The Finals matchup with one of the best storyline is …
Younger: Suns vs. Hawks. After we obtained past all of the big-market handwringing that might go on, the main focus might shift towards the truth that the league would have a chance to showcase two stars who could possibly be featured gamers for the subsequent decade. Giving Trae Younger and Booker the massive stage might pay long-term dividends for the NBA. And I am additionally a significant sucker for overcoming lengthy title droughts, or profitable your first, and seeing Paul within the NBA Finals simply appears lengthy overdue.
Pelton: I like Brooklyn’s huge three vs. Utah’s homegrown core as a storyline, however I feel the reply needs to be Nets vs. Clippers for the chance to see Durant vs. Leonard in a battle with each of them enjoying at a excessive degree. Kawhi wasn’t fairly there but in 2016 when Durant’s Thunder upset Leonard’s Spurs, and we had been denied this matchup within the 2019 NBA Finals by Durant’s accidents. This could be a becoming fruits for KD’s unimaginable comeback.
Sedano: It is any collection that entails Paul. The one issues lacking from his résumé are a Finals look and subsequently a championship. Significantly, if the Nets had been the opponent. CP3 vs. Kyrie? A dream level guard matchup. To not point out doubtlessly squaring off versus his outdated teammate in Harden. Having him and this younger/enjoyable group of Suns face a Nets staff that appears like a juggernaut can be must-see TV.
MacMahon: Suns vs. Nets. Do not rely on Paul and Harden going out to dinner between video games in the event that they face one another within the Finals a few years after their two-year tenure as Rockets teammates ended. Harden wasn’t the one one in Houston who needed to commerce Paul and a bundle of picks for Russell Westbrook, however that deal would not have been executed except Harden pushed for it. Paul has proved past any affordable doubt that it was a nasty transfer, and main the Suns to an upset over Harden’s superteam can be the sweetest revenge. (One other storyline: Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni making an attempt to lastly win a title on the Suns’ expense.)
Windhorst: Suns vs. Nets with Harden and Paul wholesome. The Rockets can cry within the nook.