Diehlman at Halftime: An NBA Weekly Column

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The NBA playoffs are off to a fine beginning. This is the time for players to prove their dominance and put away old narratives. For example, will the L.A. Clippers get it right this year, or will they flop as usual?

It’s also the time to laugh at our playoff brackets. One of my early errors was putting the Jazz against the Warriors. Golden State lost to Memphis in the play-in game, so the Grizzlies are currently in Utah. But all is not lost. The league is revealing this season’s award winners. My picks for the respective sixth Man and Most Improved Player, Jordan Clarkson of Utah and Julius Randle of New York, were correct. I hope yours were, too.

So, who’s raising eyebrows at the moment?

1 Highlight, 1 Lowlight, 1 Random Stat

Highlight: Milwaukee and Miami started the playoffs strong with an overtime thriller. The Bucks won 109-107, but not without ups and downs along the way. Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was basically trying to lose the game for Milwaukee. Missed free throws galore, a 10-second violation (from a free throw), and a brief injury from a screen set by Miami’s Bam Adebayo were concerning obstacles.

Meanwhile, for the Heat, picking up late fouls and Jimmy Butler building a brick house from the three-point line killed them. In the end though, Khris Middleton lifted the Bucks to victory with a clutch midrange jumper that left the visitor 0.5 seconds left. This game went back and forth, but game two didn’t. The Heat were obliterated. My prediction is the Bucks in six. This will be a treat to watch.

Lowlight: The Knicks were close. Oh, so close. Game one of their anticipated series was theirs… and then Trae Young happened.

The game between New York and Atlanta was one that fans wanted to see. Madison Square Garden was electric. The Knicks didn’t get as much of a scoring load from the starters as they probably wanted, but the bench came in handy when needed.

Derrick Rose, who isn’t the same player that he once was, even hit the game-tying shot. However, giving Frank Ntilikina the assignment of guarding Young on the last possession might not have been a smart move. Young crossed up Ntilikina and hit the floater that iced the game. If I were a Knicks fan, I wouldn’t panic just yet. A close game means that there were opportunities to win.

[Update: The Knicks did go on to win game two, 101-92]

Random Stat: The Nuggets have finished two games in their series with the Trailblazers. Each team has won once. Now, the home court will be in Portland for two games. The “Random Stat” this week is that Nikola Jokić only recorded one assist in Game 1!

Although it may not seem like a big deal, it’s certainly interesting because “the Joker” is a center almost averaging nine assists per game this season! Denver has now played three consecutive games against the Blazers, since they played against one another in the regular season finale and twice so far in the playoffs. Jokić is averaging just 2.7 assists in those three games.

If Damian Lillard and the Blazers have any desire to advance to the next round, which Portland fans are praying for, keeping the Serbian native in check would be a good start. When I say “in check,” I mean keeping Jokić from dropping monster triple-doubles like we’ve been accustomed to seeing from him. On to Game 3!

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