As the May weather runs, este, heats up, so does the action of the 2015 NBA Playoffs. The second round is already underway, with the Golden State Warriors and the Washington Wizards (that’s no typo) already drawing first blood against the Memphis Grizzlies and the Atlanta Hawks, respectively—as did the LA Clippers and the Chicago Bulls against their Game 1 victims, the Houston Rockets and the Cleveland Cavaliers, earlier today.
You can expect no less than a hang-on-to-your-seats mix of beautiful and brutal basketball, as each matchup is driven by bad blood, each team with something to prove. Here’s the lowdown on the things you must watch in each series.
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIS
(1) Atlanta Hawks vs (5) Washington Wizards
Regular Season series: 2-1, in favor of Atlanta
What We’ve Learned from the First Round about Both Teams: You can sum it up in one word: surprise. The Hawks came in as an overwhelming favorite, not just to demolish the Brooklyn Nets, but to get to the Conference Finals. The Wizards, meanwhile, were already counted out against the Toronto Raptors, who swept them in the regular season. But, again, surprise. The Hawks showed some signs of vulnerability against the Nets while Washington swept (!) Toronto, thanks to stellar coaching (!!!) from Randy Wittman. The twists—Paul Pierce at the 4, Otto Porter becoming a serviceable wing on both ends, and of course the brilliant playmaking of John Wall—even left the Hawks dazed in a come-from-behind victory for Washington in Game 1.
What to Expect Going Forward: You can blame fatigue and unfamiliarity for the Hawks losing homecourt advantage temporarily. But Hawks fans can trust Coach of the Year winner Mike Budenholzer to make the necessary adjustments to counter Wittman’s schemes. Besides, Bradley Beal, the top-scorer of the Game 1 Wizards win, will be hobbled by a nasty ankle sprain all series and Wall banged up his wrist. Then again, Playoff Wittman already burned plenty of NBA Playoff brackets. Who’s to say what kind of tricks he still has in his head?
You Need to Watch this for: Vintage Pierce sightings; the offensive symphony that the Hawks starters play when they’re together for a short period of time (they average 16 minutes together on the floor in the regular season, and they played dominating basketball for 18 minutes in Game 1); Wall’s blitzing speed and mid-air acrobatics.
Kanino ka pupusta? ESPN Stats&Info reports that the chance of the Wizards to win the series is at 56 percent. But numbers fail to recognize the impact of injuries. Go with the Hawks. Over/Under: 6 games
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (3) Chicago Bulls
Regular Season series: 3-1, in favor of Cleveland
What We’ve Learned from the First Round about Both Teams: Cleveland and Chicago faced young, pesky teams in the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks, respectively. To dispatch their foes, both also used what we call gulang—with same but different outcomes. Let us explain: Chicago was stretched into a 6-game opening round because the long, athletic Bucks kept disrupting their offensive flow. What clinched that series for the Bulls was when they started cashing on the inexperience of young guys, getting under the skin of players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Michael Carter-Williams in Game 6. On the other hand, the Cavs swept Boston but the panggugulang they displayed cost them vital cogs like Kevin Love (out for the rest of the Playoffs, and maybe out of Cleveland and into the loving arms of LA) and JR Smith (2-game suspension for swiping at Celtic Jae Crowder’s head).
What to Expect Going Forward: Soon as the Playoffs were set, people were already looking forward to this matchup. The reason is clear: there is undeniable hatred between each squad’s stars, namely the Bulls’ Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah against long-time rival LeBron James. Rose and Noah find the most potent group behind them this time, while LeBron and Kyrie Irving face an uphill battle in leading their depleted team against the tough Bulls. This just might be the matchup old school basketball fans have been dreaming of. Because one thing is certain here: There will be blood.
You Need to Watch This For: Well, there’s really no reason not to watch this. It will not be as fun as the LA Clippers-San Antonio Spurs series, but it will be as epic.
Kanino ka pupusta? The two games without Smith are crucial. But LeBron’s dealt with having no legit third wheel on offense before. Cavs in a tightly contested Game 7.
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIS
(1) Golden State Warriors vs (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Regular Season series: 2-1, in favor of GSW
What We’ve Learned from the First Round about Both Teams: The Warriors are legitimate title favorites. They’re scary good that they rendered the superhuman efforts of New Orleans’ star Anthony Davis useless. The Grizzlies also looked dominant in the opening round, but that was against a banged up Portland squad. Mike Conley’s injury woes continue, this time recovering from facial fracture surgery, dampening whatever swagger the Grizzlies got from the first round.
What to Expect Going Forward: A taste of another gentleman sweep, aka the Griz might win one game. That’s only if the guns of the Warriors—NBA MVP Stephen Curry, fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson, and even Draymond Green—go cold all at the same time. That’s as likely to happen as a day without an MRT train malfunction.
You Need to Watch This For: the greatness that is Chef Curry cooking; or Klay goin’ Kray; the smashmouth matchup between Zach Randolph and Green; Marc Gasol playmaking at the elbow like no big ever can.
Kanino ka pupusta? You know that FM radio tagline already. The one that starts with “Kailangan pa bang…” and ends with “i-memorize yan?” Warriors. Over/under: 5 games.
(2) Houston Rockets vs (3) LA Clippers
Regular Season series: 2-2
What We’ve Learned from the First Round about Both Teams: Two of the most underappreciated, underrated, and even hated teams proved their mettle in the opening round. The Rockets and their blisteringly boring style of play (threes and freebies) were supposed to have it tough against a playoff-tested Dallas Mavericks squad bolstered by big names. Alas, Playoff Rondo died, and so did whatever hope they had against the effective and deep Rockets team, led by James Harden, a healthy Dwight Howard, and a rejuvenated Josh Smith. The Clippers were supposed to fold in a 7-game series against the defending champs, the San Antonio Spurs. But Blake Griffin matched Tim Duncan quite well, and nobody was going to beat Chris Paul. He made sure of it up until the dying seconds of Game 7.
What to Expect Going Forward: The big question for LA is, “Is there still something left in the tank for the Clippers?” As for Houston, “Do they have what it takes to win four games against the team that toppled the mighty Spurs?” Both teams have humongous chips on their shoulders, driven by an “us against the world” mantra. And there’s no greater spectacle to watch than two such squads in that tug-of-war for universal respect.
You Need to Watch this for: Lob City and whoever Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan murder in the Internet; free throw airballs from freebie masters Jordan, Howard, and Smith; the gigantic clash of competitive egos between Paul and Harden.
Kanino ka pupusta? Up in the air, really. But if there’s a gun pointed to your head and you have to make a choice, go with the Clippers in 7.