NBA PlayoffsNBA Playoffs 2017: Complete Monday TV Schedule, Odds and PredictionsChris RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2017Kawhi Leonard and San Antonio headline Monday's playoff action.Brandon Dill/Associated Press
A pair of superstars finished off the first round and got the second started Sunday night.
To conclude a thrilling first round of NBA playoff action, Gordon Hayward dropped 26 points on the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 7 as the Utah Jazz advanced.
This isn't any normal occurrence, but a culmination of years of smart rebuilding with sweeping effects on the rest of the Association. The failure might encourage the Clippers to blow it up—and the win might convince Hayward it's worth sticking with one of the league's upstart teams.
To usher in a sure-to-be thrilling second round, Isaiah Thomas won the first dance with John Wall, getting his Boston Celtics a 123-111 victory against the Washington Wizards. The series doesn't have as many sweeping leaguewide factors at stake, but it represents two franchises on solid ground in the Eastern Conference and hungry for the demise of a LeBron James.
The King headlines a loaded Monday, though the Western Conference brings out some big guns as well. Let's take a look.
2017 NBA Playoffs Monday Schedule
|Raptors vs. Cavaliers (-6.5)||Game 1||7 p.m. ET||Quicken Loans Arena||TNT|
|Rockets vs. Spurs (-4.5)||Game 1||9:30 p.m. ET||AT&T Center||TNT|
|ESPN.com. Odds via OddsShark.|
Odds via OddsShark.
Raptors vs. Cavaliers (-6.5)
A photo posted by Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs)
LeBron played nine games in the month of April. Four of them were playoff contests.
It's something to keep in the back of the mind for this series. Add it on top of the fact the Toronto Raptors couldn't handle the Cleveland Cavaliers over six games last year. Or while losing three games against the Cavaliers this year except the season finale, which James missed.
So no, it isn't hard to see why Las Vegas oddsmakers like the Cavaliers so much here.
Toronto just struggled with the Milwaukee Bucks, which isn't meant to bash the Bucks—they're one of the league's rising young teams built the right way and made serious noise without their second-best player, Jabari Parker.
But the Raptors couldn't slow 22-year old Giannis Antetokounmpo—so they aren't stopping LeBron.
Dylan Buell/Getty Images
On paper, the Raptors look like a team better built to stop the Cavaliers this year, in large part thanks to the addition of Serge Ibaka, who can bang down low or go out to the perimeter and put a body on stretch forwards like Kevin Love and Channing Frye.
But it doesn't matter if the Raptors aren't scoring points. It's not an exaggeration to call Kyle Lowry one of the worst playoff performers of all time, and his scoring four points in Game 1 against the Bucks says it all. He averaged 14.3 points and 5.2 assists against Milwaukee compared to season averages of 22.4 and 7.0, respectively. DeMar DeRozan is one of the best scorers in the game, but his live-and-die approach from midrange created an eight-point dud and only two games north of 30 points against the Bucks.
It's a long way of saying the Cavaliers will come out of the gates well rested and blow past the Bucks. Something else to keep in the back of the mind—the Raptors are 1-11 all-time in Game 1 of a series.
Prediction: Cavaliers in four
Rockets vs. Spurs (-4.5)
Most clamored all season for a James Harden-Russell Westbrook playoffs showdown.
But James Harden-Kawhi Leonard might be even better.
Thank the supporting casts around the superstars. Harden dropped 34 or more points in four of five games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but timely shots by Lou Williams or stout defense by Patrick Beverley is why the Rockets advanced in five games.
Same story for the San Antonio Spurs. Leonard was downright jaw-dropping, even looking like Kobe Bryant while dropping 43 points in a Game 4 overtime thriller and posting 28 or more in five of six games. But he wouldn't have moved past the Memphis Grizzlies without Tony Parker running the offense or LaMarcus Aldridge's spotty big performances.
Something has to give.
Houston averaged 112.8 points per game in the track meet with Oklahoma City but doesn't figure to come close to that figure against San Antonio, as the Spurs only permitted 98.1 points per game during the regular season.
And the Spurs know a thing or two about slowing Harden. Leonard and his title-hungry team had to deal with the criminally underrated Mike Conley in Round 1 and took three of the four games against the Rockets during the regular season.
For Houston, the focus actually seems to center on the defensive end of the court, as Beverley summed up, according to Stats LLC (via ESPN.com):
This team is improving throughout the postseason. Our defense is kind of setting a tone. Last game, we kept an explosive team under 100 points. That always puts us in position to win basketball games. If you think about our defense, being where it is now, and our offense when it comes, the sky's the limit with this team.
But there's a catch—the Rockets shut down a one-option team as Westbrook lobbed up misfire after misfire without involving his guys.
That's not Leonard's game.
The Rockets don't really have anyone they can stick on Leonard with confidence. And the one time he scored less than 28 points against the defensive-minded Grizzlies, Leonard's bench kicked in 52 points.
San Antonio is deeper and can control the pace of this series. This opens in San Antonio, where Leonard will set the tone.
Prediction: Spurs in six
All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.