NBA Betting Preview: Warriors and Rockets on Western collision course
The top two seeds in the West progressed with ease through the first round, and are rewarded with two victorious underdogs. It will take a lot more for New Orleans and Utah to claim another higher-ranked scalp, write Mark Kirwan...
"Golden State showed against the Spurs they can do more than just survive without Curry, but opponents will get tougher from here."
NBA Playoffs 2018 - Western Conference Second Round
Live on Betfair Video and BT Sport
New Orleans Pelicans v Golden State Warriors
The Pelicans were the sensation of the first round, sweeping a strong Portland team in four games and making a near consensus pick among pundits look downright ridiculous.
No one doubted the Louisiana club's top talent, but Portland's Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are as intimidating, yet they were humbled by the relentless flock from the south. Two players were central to the upset.
Anthony Davis is the MVP-level talent everyone knew he had, only now he's doing it really when it matters. He scored 47 points in game four, a franchise record, with his size and athleticism proving too much for the Blazers.
Guard Jrue Holiday wasn't far behind Davis in that series clincher, dropping 41 points - that's 88 points between two players for those who aren't great at maths.
Holiday stifled All Star Lillard throughout the series as well, and, along with a rejuvenated Rajon Rondo, helped deliver scoring opportunities to Davis.
They've actually improved since DeMarcus Cousins went down, which not many would've predicted. This was a signature series win for a New Orleans team that's had a lot of promise but not much progress.
Their last appearance in the first round ended with a 4-0 whitewashing by their next opponents.
The Warriors comfortably dispatched an under-strength San Antonio, Kawhi not emerging from his self-imposed exile as some had hoped.
As noted before, the Bay area side have one major absence of their own.
Rumours are swirling about their leader Stephen Curry, who missed the entire five-game series. There was talk he could make this series' opener, but he didn't. Coach Steve Kerr says he will play in game two, but it's hard to know what shape he'll be in when he gets back from the sprained left knee that's kept him out since March.
It's also not certain his health will hold up once he reappears.
Golden State showed against the Spurs they can do more than just survive without him, but opponents will get tougher from here. With Curry, the Warriors were 41-10 in the regular season, scoring at 120 points-per-100 possessions. Without him, they were 17-14, including a 7-10 skid going into the playoffs.
Kevin Durant did step up in the last round, averaging 28 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists through the series.
Those numbers are encouraging, and, if Curry can return during this series, Golden State should handle the Pelicans in five games or fewer despite their first round heroics.
Utah Jazz v Houston Rockets
Houston capably dealt with Minnesota in the first round, dropping one game against a team making their first playoff appearance in over a decade.
Alongside the likes of James Harden and Chris Paul, centre Clint Capela has been a surprising asset to the Rockets this season. That continued against the T'Wolves, as he top-scored in the fifth and decisive game, and averaged 16 points throughout the series.
Harden is obviously the focal point of their offence, but Capela's performances underline Houston's strength in depth. Like Golden State, they can score from everywhere.
They are likely to welcome back Luc Mbah-a-Moute in this series too, which helps them when they don't have the ball.
The Jazz have no issues on that front. They've one of the stingiest defences in the league, and that gives their limited offence a platform to compete.
One problem for the Jazz is point guard Ricky Rubio's hamstring. He was averaging 18 points and eight assists against OKC in the first round, and could miss this entire series, though they're hoping he'll return sooner.
Is the Utah defensive front good enough to shutdown the offensive powerhouse of the Rockets? The regular season suggests not, as Houston won four from four of their games by an average of 17.5 points.
It should be noted that three of those games were before Christmas and the Jazz's great 2018 run, but still, it's not encouraging.
Hopes in Salt Lake City hinge almost entirely on rookie Donovan Mitchell continuing his spectacular debut season, where he's averaged 28 points per game. He is an interesting price in the Series Top Points Scorer market on the Sportsbook just because so much of the Utah offence rests on him.
If he's shutdown by the Rockets, the Jazz will fizzle out in this series. If he isn't, they could push the Rockets to a game five or six, but Houston should still have too much firepower here.
1pt on Golden State Warriors 4-1 in the Series Correct Score market @ (Sportsbook)
1pt on Houston Rockets 4-1 in the Series Correct Score market @ 7/5 (Sportsbook)
1pt on Donovan Mitchell in the Series Top Points Scorer @ 11/5 (Sportsbook)