FWDB #3b: First Round Predictions

  • By John Comey, Day 171, 2022

4 Cincinnati Kings (53-29) vs 5 Miami Cyclones (50-32)
Season Series: Cincinnati 2-1
42: Miami 127, @Cincinnati 122 (OT)
105: @Cincinnati 123, Miami 114
154: Cincinnati 124, @Miami 111

The kids were all right this season; Latrell Mason and Victor Olojakpoke became the future in Cincinnati. But Rahmond Benson, Detrez Owens, and Christian Vickery are the present. The Kings ranked eighth in both points scored and allowed per game. They rank sixth in both offensive and defensive rebounds. Benson and Mason were a big reason for that, as both averaged over eight rebounds a game.

Miami, meanwhile, was sixth in offense, but 16th in defense. The Cyclones have more explosive scorers, namely in Jamaine Curry, Reggie Fortier, and Josh Gamble. But the Kings have the higher floor, so to speak. They are the more consistent team.

That was never more apparent than in their last meeting. Curry went for 30-4-11, Black 29 and 14 boards, and Gamble 24-5-10. Nobody else scored in double figures. The Kings had six in double figures, including 17 off the bench by Kierall Richardson, and four starters in double figures. The Kings’ bench outscored the Cyclones, 44-15. They outscored them 72-50 in the paint. The final was 124-111, and it really wasn’t’ that close. That game was in the CCC, which made it all the more impressive.

Now, add in that Miami was just 19-22 away from home, and that Cincinnati won in Miami in their last meeting, and you have a recipe for a Cyclone disaster. The Kings, for whatever reason, are able to score consistently inside against Miami’s bigs. This may be due to the ease of which Owens and Poke have in getting to the basket against Curry and Liu Jinghau, two poor defenders. Poke, especially, has been quite efficient against the Cyclones. In their last meeting, he had an ORtg of 195.7, and a TS% of 88.8%. If Owens and Poke are able to consistently attack the inside, it stretches Miami’s post defense, one of the more solid in the league, to its limit. The result is easy buckets for Mason and Benson. Mason went 9-13 in their last meeting, Benson 7-14. They can’t have those kind of nights, if Miami is to have any shot.

Prediction: One has to guess it will be more of the same, and that will propel them to an easier-than-expected victory. Cincinnati in five.

1 Seattle Thunder (62-20) vs 8 Denver Dragons (43-39)
Season Series: Seattle 4-0
5: Seattle 115, @Denver 109
35: @Seattle 127, Denver 110
80, @Seattle 122, Denver 111
139: Seattle 109, @Denver 101

The Dragons showed a dramatic improvement in their third season, going from 10 to 28 to 43 wins. Jevon Novak, who the team got from St. Louis last year, became a full superstar, going for 26.6 poitns and 8.0 assists a game, the latter his highest total since 2016. Odell Bracey was a solid backcourt sidekick in his second year, posting 19.1 points and 6.6 assists a game, along with two steals.

That is where the highlights for the Dragons end, unfortunately.

Denver allows points, to the tune of 22nd in the league. They were actually outscored on the year (9016-8977). They do play at a high pace, which seems to take a toll on their defense. They also play a very gambletastic defense. It resulted in the fourth-best steal figure in the league (9.7), but also resulted in far more overload situations for their opponents. Given that the Dragons do not typically get blocks (7.7, 23rd in the JBL), such an all-or-nothing defense has backfired against Denver more than not.

Against Seattle, that has proven to be fatal.

The Thunder scored the third-most points in the league, at 114.2 ppg. They were sixth in ORtg. They’re going to get their points. Against the Dragons, Seattle never scored fewer than 109. In that last game, won by eight in Denver, Seattle shot terribly (41.3%), and just 10-12 from the line, compared to 31-41 for the Dragons.

The key here, of course, is Seattle’s defense, which is ranked sixth in the league. Seattle is able to get their steals without selling out; they ranked fifth in the league in steals this season. In this one, they got thirteen steals, and force 21 turnovers. That negated their poor shooting and free throw disparity, as well a 56-52 Denver rebounding edge, and they pulled away as the game went. Denver scored just four points off of turnovers. Preventing the Dragons from getting out and running (Seattle also held Denver to just eight fastbreak points) is a way to slay the Dragons.

Prediction: It will be more of the same. Seattle’s brand of basketball is pretty difficult for Denver to overcome. There are simple matchup faults for the Dragons. Seatlte’s defense has Denver mostly figured out. Expect this to be a time of learning for Denver. Seattle in four.

2 Houston Lightning (61-21) vs 7 Mexico City Jaguars (49-33)
Season Series: Mexico City 2-1
68: @Mexico City 114, Houston 100
133: @Mexico City 127, Houston 125 (OT)
164: @Houston 119, Mexico City 105

One should not discount Mexico City’s chances in this series. They were 33-8 at home, and defended The Temple twice against the Lightning. The thing Mexico City does great against Houston, which a lot of teams have difficult doing, is scoring in the paint. They outscored Houston inside in every game they played this season. The Lightning, which were third in oPPG this season, had fits trying to stop the Jags’ attack.

Of course, this is due to Kahlil Hooker’s 20.6 ppg, at a 57.6% clip. It’s also Jordan Carstensen, who averaged 18.0 ppg at a 48% clip, along with a 66.5% rate at the rim. Cedric Freeman was 63% at the rim this year. Jamaal Adams, who shot 44.8% from the field, was 60% at the rim. The success of the Jags in attacking the rim was a big reason why they had more field goals made than any team in the league.

It is also why they have a shot in the series. Their ability to score bucks in volume, while not playing at a terribly fast pace (13th), meshes quite well with Houston (14th in pace). The Lightning are just 14th in field goals made, and 20th in attempts. The Jags were third. Now, Houston makes up for this at the line, where they were 4th/6th/4th. The Jags can not equal that.

The point remains, though. Houston has had difficulty figuring out a way to consistently stop Mexico City. Maybe something was gained in the last game, where Houston was able to surprise Mexico City by running more. The Lightning do have spurts where they get out in a run, but they gained 22 fastbreak points, the most they got in the three meetings.

The key for Houston, it appears, is the bench. In the 164 game, they outscored Mexico City’s reserves, 43-24. It was a major difference in the fourth, when they pulled away from the Jags after being down for most of the game. Kane Thomas was particularly effective, going for 18 on 8-11 shooting. But Kendrick Lee had eight on just three shots. Asumah McDaniel had seven on two shots. The key was getting to the line. Houston’s reserves were a perfect 12-12 from the line in that win. That kind of scoring, where you’re controlling pace, and getting valuable rest for Sowder, Clarkson, Swayda and company, is huge for the Lightning. It was a recipe for success all year.

That may be the blueprint necessary for the Lightning to get by an opponent that has answers against them.

Prediction: This will be a hell of a series. Mexico City can do a lot of things right against the Lightning, especially if they get Clarkson in foul trouble. In the end, the Lightning will get by…but barely. This should be the most entertaining series to watch. Houston in seven.

3 Las Vegas Scorpions (60-22) vs 6 Oakland Tritons (52-30)
Season Series: Tied 2-2
117: Las Vegas 106, @Oakland 94
144: @Las Vegas 100, Oakland 85
159: @Oakland 105, Las Vegas 89
164: Oakland 128, @Las Vegas 117

This series shifted rather drastically on 150, when Wesley Sherman sprained his ACL in Cincinnati. He will not be able to play int his series, as he is not expected to be back for another two weeks.

So let’s throw out the first two results, and focus on the last two games, which is how we’ll see this teams in this series. Las Vegas was still trying to figure it out when they went to Oakland on 159. Jason Sutton, a solid reserve but not much more, filled in admirably for the Tank, a swiss-army knife of a forward who posted 9.5 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.0 bpg, and 1.30 spg. Sutton put up 7-14-3 with six blocks and a steal, and earned a 21.2 game score. But the Scorps, who do not shoot well to begin with, struggled against Oakland’s defense and slowed down pace (91.5). The result was 41.6% shooting on 89 attempts (LV averaged 93 attempts per game), and a runaway win.

Sherman’s loss obviously hurts the depth of the Scorps, which was evidenced in this game. Tomas Bullard, who averaged 10.9 mpg this year, was pressed into service for 29:08 in this game. The stretched interior was taken advantage of by Oakland, who outscored Vegas 52-46 in the paint, and 17-6 on second chance points.

It was not in the last meeting, where Vegas outscored Oakland 64-58 in the paint, and 15-6 on second chance points. Still, though, the pace was more suited to Oakland’s pace. And the loss of Sherman was definitely felt on the defensive end, as Oakland shot 58.5% from the field, including 12-26 from three. Antoine Peeler went for 36, leading six players in double figures. The killer was Dimitri Karacic, who went for 17 from the bench. This was where Bullard and Sutton’s defensive deficiencies were most exposed; the two had a DRtg of 134.0.

With Jack Donlon, an up-and-down player since coming over from Louisville, abusing Mehdy Brown (13-3-14 for Donlon, 135.1 DRtg for Brown), the absence of Tank in the interior, and his 99.1 DRtg, was absolutely crushing to the Scorpions. A big part to the Vegas puzzle is the duo of Sherman and Omar Grant protecting the paint. It turned opponents into jump shooting teams, which isn’t a recipe for beating the Scorps.

Sutton can make up the rebounds, but he is nowhere near the defender Tank is. Case in point: In the first meeting between the two teams, Oakland was held to 38 points in the paint. Vegas won the rebounding battle in the first two meetings, when Sherman was healthy. Without them, Oakland won the third game on the glass, and the two teams tied in the final meeting.

Given that Vegas was the second-best team on the glass in the league, and Oakland was 28th, one could say this is a major change.

Prediction: This is the most difficult series to predict. Many think the loss of Sherman will sink the Scorps. Can they figure out a way to quicken the pace on Oakland. It is no secret that Oakland would rather slow things down. Would playing faster tire out their bigs, and stretch things out further? This is a rather bad time to have to figure this out. We do think, with a tighter rotation, Vegas should shore up some of these holes. The key is Sutton; if he can stay out of foul trouble, and make enough plays on defense to keep Grant from having to hold up a house of cards, the Scorps will be fine. If Zeke Boreczky can get inside and be disruptive, the series shifts to Oakland’s side. Peeler and Marcus Ivory will get theirs. But Boreczky has to be more of a scoring option for the Tritons in this series.

In the end, by the thinnest of margins, we’ll stay with chalk. Las Vegas in seven.

4 Kansas City Knights (58-24) vs 5 Phoenix Vultures (55-27)
Season Series: Tied 2-2
65: @Phoenix 119, Kansas City 116
108: @Kansas City 121, Phoenix 103
117: Kansas City 126, @Phoenix 107
150: Phoenix 117, @Kansas City 107

Questions abound about the final game between the two teams, where Kelvin Hawes played just 19:15, and scored 17 points. The story as to why he barely played is unknown. The Knights haven’t said anything, and moved on from it. So, can Phoenix take anything from it? Without Hawes there, Phoenix outscored the Knights, 74-48, in the paint.

The Knights outscored the Vultures inside in every other meeting this year. So, one probably has to consider this a blip.

Phoenix does a lot of things effective. Fifth in PPG, third in ORtg, ninth in Net. Fourth in field goals made, fifth in FG%. They are seventh in assists per game, and eighth in offensive rebounds per game. With a diverse offense that goes through Drayton Banks (22.4 ppg, 14.7 rpg) and the backcourt duo of Rasheem Fisher (17.7 ppg, 11.4 apg) and Kendell Nash (17.5 ppg), along with swiss-army knife Vidmar (15.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 5.2 apg), the Vultures present numerous problems for the Knights.

The knock on the Knights is based on a slight misperception: They are two players. Yes, Hawes is a MVP frontrunner, if not THE frontrunner. Aaron Honeycutt is a superstar. Together, they are the most devastating 1-2 punch in the JBL. But the Knights don’t get to fourth in ORtg and fifth in DRtg with just those two. Rahmond Thompson became a solid player in his third year (though he faltered in the second half). Davydov doesn’t have the stats, but he’s been a revelation in his rookie year, producing solidly in the second half, especially on the defensive end. Juan Maurice has been very effective in spelling Hawes. When Curtis Price went down, Dyron Mays, an offseason signing, played well enough to keep the starting role when Price returned. Price, ever the leader, has stepped into a reduced role and played as well as they expect. Yates has stepped up and has been surprisingly good on defense (DRtg of 106.7, on part with McWilliams). This team is more than the sum of its parts. In short, the Knights had a lot to figure out around their two supernovas. And they picked up 58 wins.

But…are they playoff ready? That is the question.

The key to this series is whichever defense steps up. If the Knights continue to do their thing of Hawes and Cutt and an assortment of guys who step up each night, they’ll roll. If the Vultures slow down The Other Guys (as the Knights’ supporting cast has been called), it’ll be tough sledding for the two stars. Likewise, if Banks has a slow go against the Knights’ interior, the Vultures offense will be disrupted. Can the Vultures slow down the Knights on the boards, and keep them from getting to the line? That’s the other key.

Prediction: This really is a toss-up. These teams are near-mirror images of one another. The key to this one, in the end, is the rebounding advantage the Knights should employ. We think this goes seven, but we think the Knights will squeak by. In all honesty, we originally had the Vultures in six. But we’ll take Knights in seven. We will say this, however…if Phoenix gets either Game 1 or 2 in Kansas City, they *will* win in six. Mark that down.