/ 25 August 2020

African Blogtable: Upsets and flukes in the NBA playoffs

Orlando Magic V Milwaukee Bucks Game Two
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - AUGUST 20: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 scores over Gary Clark #12 of the Orlando Magic during the second half of an NBA basketball first round playoff game on August 20, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.(Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images)

Every week, some of the top basketball minds from across the continent will answerpressing questions related to the ongoing NBA restart posed by the NBA itself. We’re calling it the African Blogtable.

Contributors are as follows: Refiloe Seiboko, Mail & Guardian (South Africa), Amine El Amri, Le Matin (Morocco), Njie Enow, Cameroon Radio TV (Cameroon), Sharon Allela, Capital FM (Kenya), Rotimi Akindele, Beat FM (Nigeria), Nicasius Agwanda, Clouds Media (Tanzania) and Woury Diallo, Le Quotidien (Senegal).

This week we’re talking flukes and upsets in the first round of the playoffs: 

With the red-hot Orlando Magic’s Game 1 win against the Eastern Conference number one Milwaukee Bucks and the explosive Portland Trail Blazers taking care of business in their playoff opener against the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers, are we in for a surprise in any of those two series?

Refiloe: Are we in for surprises? Yes. Are either the Trail Blazers or the Magic going to win the series? No. It’s always fun to see an upset by a much lower-seeded team, but the odds just aren’t in their favour. Definitely not in the Magic’s anyway. The Bucks will get it together and get them out of the playoffs. But the Trail Blazers? Now, they could do something. I think the series is going to go long and with the Lakers playing such uninspiring basketball, Trail Blazers can definitely win at least a couple more games.

Amine: Blazers v. Lakers: There is no doubt that there is more at stake in this matchup than a playoffs first-round series. The talent these two teams’ leaders have shown, not only in the bubble, is not debatable. Nevertheless, this is a team sport and as such, the supporting role players must deliver. This is exactly what happened to the Lakers in Game 1. The strategy was good, but the easy misses and the Blazers defence changed everything. I think the Lakers will shake off that first punch and eventually go through.

Bucks v. Magic: Now this is a surprise! Not so much for the fact that Orlando Magic won, but rather the way Bucks lost. For a team that has topped the Eastern Conference two years in a row, a strategy such as the one shown versus the Magic was off the mark. Taking early shots in the beginning of the second half and giving Nikola Vucevic  so much space to shoot was fatal. Let alone the underperformance from Giannis, Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton, who needed so many shots to score so little. For this one, I’m sensing a huge surprise, unless The Greek Freak pulls out his real game that made him the most valuable player (MVP) and a prospect for even greater things.

Nicasius: To be honest, there is a feeling in me that doesn’t want to trust the Bucks that much as I am always skeptical on how dependable and consistent the two most important pieces after Giannis (Middleton and Bledsoe) can be. I am not sold on them coming up big when it matters the most. I still believe the Bucks will eventually take care of business but I am worried how far the Bucks will reach going forward as the matchups against Toronto or Boston shall be very tricky and competitive.

On the other side, Lakers fans: get your seat belts on. This Blazers team is the wrong team to end up number eight. You just have to understand that if Zach Collins and Nurkić were healthy from the start of the season then they would’ve been somewhere in the top four in the West. This is a crazy matchup for the Lakers. Two different team set-ups and two different strengths. The Lakers need LeBron and Anthony Davis to really turn up and dominate, but also find answers on how to defend that scintillating Blazers backcourt. Just like the Clippers-Mavericks series, this one can end up as something most wouldn’t like to see. I can sense the “We Believe” Warriors led by Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson against the top-seeded Mavs back in 2007…

Njie: The Bucks beat the Magic on all four occasions the teams clashed during the regular season, and that Orlando was able to overpower Milwaukee is a testament to its growing confidence, but also of the Bucks’ defensive mishaps. In Game 1, the Bucks’ resilient trademark defence was simply absent as the Magic shot 49% from the field with their players driving into the rim unperturbed. The Magic must be commended for its victory, but it’s hard seeing the Bucks lose this series. Make no mistake, the Magic will provide a good challenge, but with a strong roster led by reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and some proper defending, the Bucks could win it in six games.

Damian Lilliard is amazing and the basketball universe knows this, but he’s bringing some incredible leadership to the court and it’s paying off for Portland. It was evident that the Lakers prior to the playoffs had to work on their shooting. It doesn’t seem like they’ve improved on that. The Lakers shot 32 times beyond the arc and made just five shots. Portland shot 34 three-pointers and made 13, collecting 39 points. The Lakers are a top team, but if their shooting, especially beyond the arc, doesn’t improve, they’re in for trouble. LeBron James understands that a chunk of his basketball legacy hinges on whether or not he can drive the Lakers to championship glory. These two factors and more should provide ammunition for a great series.

Rotimi: The thrill of the shock of Game 1 will be the wakeup call as the series progresses. I had predicted correctly the outcome of Game 1 between the Lakers and Blazers, based on the disturbing run being exhibited by the Lakers lately. They (Lakers) are in a danger zone. They have got to ring out adjustments that will ensure their best legs get more minutes in the series and consciously ensure that Lillard is stopped. That automatically means that an upset is in the cards here.

The Bucks for their part looked like they can overturn this one but they’ve got to provide answers to Giannis’ situation whenever he’s being prevented from getting to the rim. They  have got to get their defence back and they stand a good chance of winning the series, but the big question will be what happens when teams with better defenders start building their walls against the Bucks side. Can they crack it? 

Sharon: The 2020 Playoffs so far are as entertaining as it could get. The Lakers being the number one seed in the Western Conference and the Bucks being a favorite for many for the finals doesn’t seem to make a difference at this point. The unpredictability we are witnessing with a fierce, confident Portland squad and a world-class leader in Damian Lillard, a shaky offence from the Lakers despite having arguably the best player in the league is a true testament to what the playoffs is made of – surprises. I’m truly looking forward to the teams going into the next games with both curiosity and excitement. Anything could happen. The Lakers could start playing like we expect them to, the Trail Blazers might slow down or not, the Bucks might step on the gas … Who knows! 

Woury: I believe that in these series the camera can be somewhat more favorable to the underdogs, like the Orlando Magic or the Portland Trail Blazers. With less pressure from the fans, in a less hostile environment, they definitely have a card to play. Will they be able to achieve the same outcome as in Game 1? I am not sure.

This was just one game. The Lakers and the Bucks are still the favorites in both series. We are still bound to witness the awakening of LeBron James, an author of a triple-double punctuated by 23 points, 17 rebounds and 16 assists, and Giannis Antetokounmpo (31 points, 17 rebounds and 7 assists). The two NBA stars have a big responsibility on their hands. I can’t wait to see what happens next in both series, knowing that each defeat will have serious consequences.

African Blogtable articles will be published once a week. Follow @GoldenHoops_SA  for more information and updates.