2020 NBA Playoffs preview: Eastern Conference Semifinals

Photo via USA Today

The second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs will kick off with Game 1 of the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors on Aug. 31. Following the first round, which saw three sweeps, I expect to see much closer series and some great basketball from the remaining teams. Here is how I see these series playing out.

  • (1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (5) Miami Heat
    • Matchup preview: Who would’ve thought the Heat would come into this series losing fewer games than the Bucks in round one? Not me. The Heat showed great poise against Indiana, ultimately winning four tight games with great play down the stretch, timely defense, and a barrage of three-point shooting. In the regular season, the Bucks allowed the ninth most three-point attempts, and the 15th highest percentage on these shots. They drop back and dare teams to shoot, which will be a problem with this Miami team full of shooters. Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro were both inconsistent in the first round, but if one of them gets hot, they can really do damage to the Bucks. This series should contain slow, methodical play dictated by the incredible defense of the Bucks. Milwaukee may drop an early game in this series, but they have two of the three best players in the series which should prevail in the end.
    • Prediction: Bucks in 6
    • Betting Angles
      • Bucks 4-2
        • The lines on series exact scores aren’t out yet for this matchup, but I expect this or Bucks 4-1 to be the favored outcomes. The Bucks haven’t looked great in the bubble yet, but they are the title favorites for a reason. The Heat are a tough team that match up well against the Bucks, but the Bucks have by far the best player in the series, and if Khris Middleton plays to his ability, they might have the second-best player as well. The Heat will shoot well in a few games and steal some games this way, but the Bucks will win. I expect the Heat to win one of the first two games, prompting Milwaukee to raise their level and take control of the series.
      • Khris Middleton over in points
        • This is the series where Middleton needs to prove he can be the second star the Bucks need. There has been much speculation about Giannis and if he would like out of Milwaukee and the pressure is on Middleton to give him a reason to stay. I’ve seen postseason series where Middleton is very effective, and with this series likely to have a ton of half-court possessions and walls built to stop Giannis, it will be up to Middleton to shoulder the scoring load. He averaged 13.5 points against the Magic, a number that needs to double in this series. He can’t afford any two-point scoring efforts against this team.
      • Bam Adebayo over in assists
        • In Miami’s first round series, Adebayo averaged over five assists a night, with four being his fewest. I’ve seen his line set around 3.5 most games, so expect more assists from him. Not to mention he’ll be primarily guarded by Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo, so he should be looking to get others involved.
      • Under in total points
        • The Heat saw three of four games hit the under against the Pacers, while the Bucks had two of five go under, with one game landing exactly on the line. The Bucks are ultimately a defensive team, and I expect them to dictate the pace of this matchup. The lines will probably be somewhat low because of this, probably between 215 and 220 most games. In the games the Heat win during this series, I expect it to go over the total with some great shooting efforts from the Heat, but because I anticipate a Bucks win, I see most of the games going under the line.
  • (2) Toronto Raptors vs. (3) Boston Celtics
    • Matchup preview: This is probably the most intriguing matchup of the second round, depending on how you see the potential Lakers-Rockets series. The defending champions are looking to get back to the top of the sport, and man have they looked good doing it. They put away a really tough Nets team in four games, capping it with a 150-point explosion in the clinching game. They have gotten balanced contributions from their roster, and they have arguably the deepest eight-man rotation of any team left. Here’s the funny thing about this team: last year, in their series with the Philadelphia 76ers, I thought Philadelphia would win because they had three of the four best players in the series. The problem for Philly was the Raptors had the best player, Kawhi Leonard, and he single-handedly won a few games, including Game 7. This year, you could argue that the four best players in the series are Jayson Tatum, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and Fred VanVleet. Unfortunately for the Raptors, Tatum is the best of them by a mile. The Celtics are also coming off a sweep, a professional series where they took care of business each night. Tatum averaged 27 points per game, Kemba Walker worked himself back into shape coming off injury, and Jaylen Brown gave key contributions. The loss of Hayward hurts, but honestly not that much when they can get scoring from so many different players. In my opinion, this is a series that will come down to the best player, and for that reason, I’m picking the Celtics to win in a highly entertaining series.
    • Prediction: Celtics in 6
    • Betting Angles
      • Celtics 4-2 +500
        • Celtics 4-3 is also +500. I will definitely be putting money on both of these. Most people are expecting a seven-game series. To me, if the better team gets up 3-2 and there is no homecourt, there should be no reason to go to seven. It could definitely happen, but once the Celtics get rolling in this series and Brad Stevens has seen all of Nick Nurse’s tricks, I think they will be able to finish it off in six.
      • Jayson Tatum over in points
        • I’m placing a big bet on Tatum being the best player in this series. This honestly pains me. I’ve never been the biggest fan, and I felt pretty vindicated by his subpar sophomore campaign. But I can admit when I am wrong. Jayson Tatum is a star in this league, and he certainly can’t be stopped by anyone on the Raptors. Toronto has a great defensive system, but who will they put on Tatum in a one-on-one scenario? I don’t think they have the personnel to slow him down, and I think Tatum’s rise to stardom will continue in this series.
      • Fred VanVleet over in points
        • Is VanVleet the best player on the Raptors? How did this happen? He has turned into a someone who shoots the ball, and it feels like it’s going in every time. He gets to the rim and finishes in a way someone his size just shouldn’t be able to. In the first round, his points lines were set at around 18.5, and he scored over 20 in every game but the last, where he played just 19 minutes. I’m riding this guy until his shot fades. He’s an incredible story and I genuinely believe he is the best scorer on this team.

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