NBA Roundtable: Gearing up for Round 2

NBA Roundtable: Gearing up for Round 2

This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.

Welcome to the Round 2 edition of the RotoWire NBA Roundtable.

Each week, our NBA staff gets together to answer questions about the biggest topics of the week, both in fantasy basketball and the league overall.

This week, we break down the storylines heading into Round 2 of the NBA postseason.

Biggest surprise of the first round: San Antonio taking Denver to 7 games, Boston sweeping Indiana, OKC losing in 5, or the Clippers taking Golden State to 6?

Nick Whalen: The Clippers taking two games from Golden State. We've seen the Warriors have lapses in Round 1 before, but this Warriors team dropping two home games to an eight seed was a shock.

James Anderson: Biggest surprise is the Clippers taking the Warriors to 6 games.

Alex Barutha: The Clippers taking Golden State to 6. Everyone knew that the Clippers were the definition of the scrappy underdog, and everyone also knew the Warriors have a tendency to get complacent in some situations. But neither of those things should have combined into a six-game series considering the talent and playoff experience disparity.

Mike Barner: I'm surprised the Thunder lost to the Blazers in five games. Without Jusuf Nurkic, I thought the Thunder would win this series. The fact that they not only didn't win, but lost in five games, was a major disappointment.

Jeff Edgerton: The Clippers beating the Warriors twice was the biggest surprise. Golden State's lack of interest defensively could cost then against the Rockets.

Adam King: The Clippers taking a couple of games from the Warriors. On paper, there is no way this series should have extended beyond four games and I think it says a lot about the attitude and culture in Los Angeles. It may be the wake-up call the Warriors have been looking for and certainly makes their upcoming battle with the Rockets very interesting.

Alex Rikleen: I wish I could say the biggest surprise was all of the media/Twitter overreactions to the surprising Game 1 upsets (Nets, Magic, Spurs), but that was actually perfectly predictable. The Trail Blazers not only winning, but winning in 5, was shocking. Lillard, who somehow stays under the radar despite being a consensus top-15 player for roughly half a decade, once again asserted his dominance. We knew he was good, but the Thunder probably had the second, third and maybe even fourth-best players in that series, and it ended up not mattering. 

How much did the Blazers/Thunder series impact your opinion of both Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard?

Whalen: It didn't necessarily change my personal opinion, but that series felt like a public referendum on Westbrook. He's still a no-brainer Hall-of-Famer who will be remembered as an all-time great, but it's clear he's a rung or two below the top-tier players in the league who can single-handedly carry their teams in the playoffs, when necessary. Not that there was much doubt, but for Lillard, the series solidified his place as a top-10 player in the league and probably the third-best guard behind only Harden and Curry.

Anderson: It didn't affect my opinion of either player, but it confirmed my belief that Lillard is the clear third-best guard in the league and that Westbrook is not a winning player and shouldn't be strongly considered for an All-NBA team.

Barutha: In the last Roundtable, I said that Westbrook had the most to prove in Round 1. Falling short of that confirms the beliefs of an ever-increasing circle of basketball fans that he might not be a winning player. He's still a star, but not someone that can do it on his own, or even with a fringe MVP candidate next to him. I think he needs more of a balanced team around him, but, ironically, that won't happen because of his bloated contract. As far as Lillard goes, I think he's clearly moved into the discussion for one of the top-10 players in the league. He's proven now that he's in the elite tier of players that can elevate their game in the postseason, which wasn't the case before.

Barner: My outlook on Lillard remains the same. He's a great player who just happened to draw a tough matchup against Jrue Holiday in the first round last year. However, Westbrook's struggles in this series surprised me. The Blazers were vulnerable without Nurkic, so the Thunder should have been able to take advantage. Westbrook might need more help than I thought if he is ever going to make a deep run in the playoffs.

Edgerton: Lillard's last shot to send the Thunder packing will go down as one of the best last-second buzzer beaters ever. He's etched his place among the league's best point guards. Westbrook was clearly outmatched in the series and despite his numbers, Westbrook's best years may be behind him. He also displayed a lack of sportsmanship in the playoffs.

King: It didn't alter my opinion a great deal as I think I might be lower on Westbrook than some other people. It really highlighted his inefficiencies on the offensive end as well as his struggles as a leader. For Lillard, it simply reaffirms his status as an elite point-guard and closer, atoning for what happened during last season's unflattering loss to the Pelicans.

Rikleen: A medium amount. I've had Lillard in the bottom of my top-10 players right now ranks for a few years, so there wasn't a lot of room for him to improve his standing in my NBA hierarchy. Barring a growth spurt or a catastrophic injury, I don't see him ever joining the top-6, though. As for Westbrook, the series has absolutely zero impact on my perception of his legacy. Three straight seasons averaging a triple-double does matter, and it is the most unbreakable record in all of sports. But it tells me he might be closer to his end than I anticipated. A player like Westbrook is who he is. He won't change his mental approach, and he would never have gotten as good or been as effective without it. His decline, when it comes, will probably be fast and steep. I was hoping it was closer to five years away. This series told me it might come in half that time. 

How, if at all, does the Warriors (somewhat) struggling to dispatch the Clippers change your opinion or confidence level in them going forward?

Whalen: Not at all. The lack of focus is a little disconcerting, but at the end of the day, talent almost always wins out, and the gap between the Warriors and the next-best team is large enough that even their B+ game will be good enough on most nights.

Anderson: I was picking the field over the Warriors heading into these playoffs, but even I thought they'd sweep the Clippers, or at worst drop one game. They still have the highest ceiling of any team in the playoffs, but it's pretty clear that they can be beat by a handful of teams in 7-game series if they don't play their best.

Barutha: I still think they'll win the title, so, my confidence hasn't wavered too much. But I really think this Houston matchup is tough for them, as demonstrated by last year's playoffs and Warriors only being able to take one game from the Rockets in this year's regular-season series.

Barner: I think the more concerning thing for the Warriors is their injury situation. With DeMarcus Cousins out and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson both battling ankle injuries, they could be significantly compromised. This is the worst-case scenario for them having to face the Rockets in the second round. I can see the Rockets pulling off the upset.

Edgerton: The Rockets ended the regular season in top form, and i think the Warriors' dynasty has a good chance to fall in this series.

King: My opinion of the Warriors chances does not change all too much given I did not see them as a certainty to win the title, to begin with. The Clippers were able to highlight an element of vulnerability in the Warriors and the Rockets will fancy their chances of at least going the distance once again.

Rikleen: Not even a little bit. After months of noise about how this team didn't feel like a cohesive unit, and concern over their ability to flip the switch, people predicting a first-round sweep were behaving counter-intuitively. The second loss was, admittedly, surprising, but was still more likely than a four-game sweep. Only two series matter for these Warriors: the Rockets and the NBA Finals. Until those games are played, we have no reason to change our opinions. 

Which star has the most to prove in Round 2: Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Damian Lillard or Kyrie Irving?

Whalen: You can make a case for any of the four, but it's probably Giannis, given that the Best Player in the World title could very well be at stake and he's yet to win a competitive playoff series. There are obviously some legacy implications at play for Harden, and while a win over Golden State would be monumental, it shouldn't be viewed as a disappointment if Houston comes up short against that roster.

Anderson: Giannis has the most to prove, because if he's the best player in the world, he should lead the Bucks to a win in this series. I don't think winning in seven is enough. I think the Bucks should win in five or six games. A lot of that hinges on Giannis being the dominant force he was in the regular season. If the Rockets, Celtics or Blazers lose their series, it won't affect my opinion of those three players (unless Harden has a terrible series).

Barutha: James Harden. Kyrie has made one of the biggest shots in Finals history, Lillard has done enough by decimating Westbrook and OKC, and this is the first time Giannis has made it to the second round -- a loss isn't ideal, but the argument is easy to make that it's part of "the process." This season marks Harden's seventh time in the playoffs with the Rockets, and he's yet to make it to the Finals. In the previous six years, he's shooting only 41.2 FG%, 31.5 3P% and has a worse than 2:1 assists-to-turnover ratio.

Barner: Harden, hands down. The Warriors are on the ropes. If he can deliver the knockout punch, it would be tremendous for his playoff resume.

Edgerton: There's definitely pressure on Harden to put it all together and get past the Warriors. They gave Golden State trouble before Chris Paul went down last season, so this is the first chance for a fully healthy -- fingers crossed -- Houston squad to make a statement.

King: I think it might be James Harden who was not at his best during the series win over the Jazz. The Rockets were awfully close to dethroning the Warriors last season with an injury to Chris Paul possibly the only thing standing between them and the title.

Rikleen: Harden. The outcome of the second round may have a massive impact on Kyrie Irving's future employment, but his reputation is not really on the line. At 24, Antetokounmpo's best years are still ahead of him. But Harden has always been criticized for failing to rise to the occasion in the playoffs. Many, myself included, who don't buy into that narrative, but we are a clear minority. To put that criticism to rest, Harden needs to play well in this specific series.

Predictions for each series:

Whalen: Milwaukee in 7; Toronto in 5; Portland in 7; Golden State in 5

Anderson: Milwaukee in 6; Toronto in 5; Denver in 7; Golden State in 7

Barutha: Milwaukee in 6; Toronto in 5; Denver in 6; Golden State in 7

Barner: Milwaukee in 6; Toronto in 6; Portland in 6; Houston in 7

Edgerton: Milwaukee in 5; Toronto in 6; Portland in 5; Houston in 7

King: Milwaukee in 5; Toronto in 6; Portland in 7; Golden State in 7

Rikleen: Boston in 6; Toronto in 5; Portland in 6; Golden State in 6

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
Now in his 10th year with the company, Nick is RotoWire's Senior Media Analyst, a position he took on after several years as the Head of Basketball Content. A multi-time FSGA and FSWA award winner, Nick co-hosts RotoWire's flagship show on Sirius XM Fantasy alongside Jeff Erickson, as well as The RotoWire NBA Show on Sirius XM NBA with Alex Barutha. He also co-hosts RotoWire's Football and Basketball podcasts. You can catch Nick's NBA and NFL analysis on VSiN and DraftKings, as well as RotoWire's various social and video channels. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @wha1en.
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