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Storylines, stats and stars to watch in every Round 2 matchup

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A wild first round gave us two Game 7s, a shocking sweep and a near-elimination of the defending Eastern Conference champs.

So what's next?

Here is everything you need to know as these binge-worthy NBA playoffs hit the conference semifinals.

(1) Houston Rockets

2017-18 record: 65-17
Round 1: Def. Wolves 4-1
BPI odds vs. Jazz: 86 percent (80 percent entering series)

The Rockets cruised past the Timberwolves in five games despite rarely firing on all cylinders during the first round. Coach Mike D'Antoni's concern about losing rhythm while occasionally resting key players late in the regular season reared its head early in the series, as the Rockets won the first two games in relatively ugly fashion and lost Game 3 on the road. The Rockets returned to form and then some by putting up 50 points in the third quarter of Game 4 and got hot after halftime again in Game 5, scoring 67 points in the second half to send the Timberwolves on vacation.

Round 1 MVP: James Harden
It's tempting to go with center Clint Capela, a rising star who outplayed Karl-Anthony Towns by averaging 15.8 points, 14.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks while shooting 67.3 percent from the floor. But the probable regular-season MVP gets the nod here, too. Harden did have a 44-point night in Game 1 and a 22-point quarter in Game 4. A 2-of-18 outing in Game 2 sunk his efficiency for the series (41.1 field goal percentage), but Harden led the Rockets with 29.0 points, 7.4 assists and 2.4 steals per game. Harden had a terrific defensive series, also averaging 1.2 blocks and consistently holding his own in the post on switches, which wasn't a surprise to those who have watched the Rockets closely all season.

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Crowder says Jazz need to make Harden 'uncomfortable'

Jae Crowder acknowledges how tough James Harden is to defend and describes the difference in how Utah defended him in the second half.

What to watch in Round 2:
Chris Paul vs. Donovan Mitchell. Paul has served as a mentor for Mitchell since they met a year ago at a pre-draft camp conducted by CAA, the agency that represents both players. Mitchell paid his own way to the camp to maintain his college eligibility, but Paul helped convince him he was ready for the NBA after working out with and watching him. Now Mitchell stands in the way of Paul's first trip to the conference finals, a rookie wise beyond his years up against one of the NBA's smartest veterans.

What the stats say:
Including the Rockets' Game 1 win Sunday, Harden has hit 27 3-pointers this postseason, the second-most through six games of a postseason in NBA history. Of those, 11 have been on step-back jumpers, seven more than anyone else.

-- Tim MacMahon


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(5) Utah Jazz

2017-18 record: 48-34
Round 1: Def. Thunder 4-2
BPI odds vs. Rockets: 14 percent (20 percent entering series)

It was a slugfest, with the Jazz overcoming a furious charge from Russell Westbrook to finish off the Thunder in six games. The Jazz had a pretty standard formula, mostly consistent with the way they won throughout the regular season: Play great half-court defense, play together and, when it doubt, give it to Mitchell. It was striking how the Jazz wore the Thunder down. But then again, that's what the Jazz do maybe better than any team in the league.

Round 1 MVP: Donovan Mitchell
Mitchell tried to deflect attention and praise all series long, pointing out how great head coach Quin Snyder is, how Derrick Favors' screens were excellent and how Ricky Rubio engineered the offense. But Mitchell was the unquestioned star of the series, using his toe-to-toe showdown with Westbrook as a platform to take a step into the superstar stratosphere. Mitchell was a monster in the six games, averaging 28.5 points, including 38 in a closeout game. Rookie?

What to watch in Round 2:
Rudy Gobert vs. James Harden. Obviously, they won't be matched up directly, but they are going to find each other plenty. The Jazz don't switch all that often, but the Rockets will try to force mismatches, and there will be plenty of attacks in which Harden is churning downhill at Gobert. Harden loathes a midrange jumper, preferring to step back from 3 or get all the way to the rim, but that's what Gobert specializes in. Gobert was able to frustrate Westbrook with his stunts and drops, but Harden's ability to draw help and drop off a pass to a cutter or big man is better than anyone in the league.

What the stats say:
While Mitchell faces the daunting task of taking on Harden and Paul, be on the lookout for how he fares against Trevor Ariza, as well.

During the regular season, Ariza matched up defensively with Mitchell on 101 possessions, nearly three times as many as any other Rockets defender.

-- Royce Young


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(2) Golden State Warriors

2017-18 record: 58-24
Round 1: Def. Spurs 4-1
BPI odds vs. Pelicans: 92 percent (88 percent entering series)

Golden State received the ideal first-round matchup with Stephen Curry sidelined with an MCL sprain; a Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs squad was unable to compete with the defending champs over the course of a series. Warriors coach Steve Kerr experimented by tinkering the offense to suit the playing style of Kevin Durant, and the Spurs still couldn't extend the series past five. It was a perfect tuneup and, more importantly, bought time for Curry to get back.

Round 1 MVP: Kevin Durant
KD played the point-forward role in the absence of Curry and averaged 28.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists in those five games. He did it all while accepting countless double-teams at the top of the key and still managed to leave a big handprint on the game by taking what the defense gave him. He was by far the best performer in the series, and San Antonio simply didn't have an answer.

What to watch in Round 2:
New Orleans suffocated Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum with defensive traps that got the ball out of their hands. That tactic worked, as the Trail Blazers' supporting cast was unable to pick up the slack. It will be interesting to see if the Pelicans apply the same tactic on Curry or Durant. They were highly successful eliminating pick-and-roll action last series. New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry is known for implementing bold strategies and going all-in with them. What will he try this time around, and how will Golden State adjust?

What the stats say:
Golden State's biggest challenge is stopping Anthony Davis, who steamrolled Portland in Round 1. During the regular season, Draymond Green guarded Davis on 58 plays whenever the now-sidelined DeMarcus Cousins was off the floor, by far the most among any Warriors player. On those 58 matchups, the Pelicans posted an offensive rating of 131.0, according to Second Spectrum research.

-- Chris Haynes


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(6) New Orleans Pelicans

2017-18 record: 48-34
Round 1: Def. Blazers 4-0
BPI odds vs. Warriors: 8 percent (12 percent entering series)

The Pelicans stunned the higher-seeded Trail Blazers, taking two close games in Portland to start the series and routing the Blazers in Game 3 before hanging on to win a high-scoring Game 4 for the sweep. Sending two defenders at Lillard and McCollum got most of the attention, but the Pelicans won this series with their offense. New Orleans shot a playoffs-best 52.2 percent on 2-pointers and 40.0 percent on 3s for the best offensive rating of any team in the first round (114.7 points per 100 possessions).

Round 1 MVP: Anthony Davis
There were no shortage of options: Nikola Mirotic shot 46.2 percent on 3s and nearly averaged a double-double; playoff Rajon Rondo emerged with 13.3 assists per game; and Jrue Holiday dominated the Blazers' highly touted backcourt at both ends of the floor. Yet the answer has to be Davis, the fulcrum of the Pelicans' pick-and-roll attack. Davis was nearly unstoppable in the paint, making 61.2 percent of his 2s and averaging 33.0 points per game, and his mobility and length were crucial to how the Pelicans defended.

What to watch in Round 2:
Davis was equally great in a 2015 first-round matchup with the Warriors, averaging 31.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game ... in a series Golden State swept anyway. The Pelicans have spent the past three years trying to get Davis the help he needed to contend with the West's best teams, and the opening-round sweep was the first time they've looked capable of that kind of success. We'll find out soon whether New Orleans has added enough, and whether Curry's potential absence could open the door to another Pelicans upset.

What the stats say:
If there's a team that dares to run with Golden State, it might be New Orleans. Since the Cousins injury, the Pelicans rank first in the NBA in both pace and fast-break points per game. According to Second Spectrum research, the Pelicans "sprinted" 37 percent more often on offense than the Blazers did in Round 1.

-- Kevin Pelton


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(1) Toronto Raptors

2017-18 record: 59-23
Round 1: Def. Wizards 4-2
BPI odds vs. Cavs: 88 percent

With the exception of a two-game lull in Washington when they departed from the newfound flow and execution they showcased this season, the Raptors looked very much like the team that chalked up 59 wins. Toronto ran up 110.2 points per 100 possessions, with 11 different guys playing significant crunch-time minutes. DeMar DeRozan, who has traditionally struggled in the postseason, enjoyed a couple of breakout performances. When the defense zeroed in on him, he successfully moved the ball in the team's wins and occasionally reverted to his isolation tendencies in the losses.

Perhaps the promising developments for Toronto occurred in the final two games, when the Raptors rediscovered their stingy, versatile, defensive edge and welcomed guard Fred VanVleet back to their dominant second unit, which helped closed out the series with a spirited fourth-quarter performance in Game 6.

Round 1 MVP: Kyle Lowry
The numbers weren't gaudy, and DeRozan deserves ample consideration, but Lowry's steady two-way play stabilized the Raptors. The All-Star point guard averaged 17.2 points, 8.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds, with an impressive 61.2 true shooting percentage. Lowry was a model of efficiency and a poised game manager on the offensive end, while turning in strong work against the Wizards' All-Star duo, John Wall and Bradley Beal, throughout the series.

What to watch in Round 2:
The Raptors utilized multiple coverages and everyone from Lowry to Pascal Siakam to slow down Wall -- to decent effect. They'll need the same kind of versatility, resourcefulness and brawn to contend with LeBron James. The Raptors do everything in their power to avoid defensive rotations, and that generally means laying off double-teams. But the LeBron Rules might demand that OG Anunoby and Siakam have some helpers.

What the stats say:
The biggest question for the Raptors: How do they stop LeBron? With Second Spectrum as our guide, their best hope might be the rookie Anunoby.

During the regular season, Anunoby spent nearly twice as much time guarding LeBron than any other Raptors player. He's a good bet to get the first crack at King James. Although Anunoby himself didn't exactly shut down James, the Cavaliers offense went from very good to utterly unstoppable when anyone other than Anunoby was matched up.

-- Kevin Arnovitz


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(4) Cleveland Cavaliers

2017-18 record: 50-32
Round 1: Def. Pacers 4-3
BPI odds vs. Raptors: 12 percent

The Indiana Pacers gave the Cavs everything they could handle in the first round, blitzing Cleveland from the opening tip in Game 1 and putting a scare through the entire franchise until the final buzzer in Game 7. Leading the way was Victor Oladipo, who averaged 22.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.4 steals in the series.

"Unbelievable jump from last year to this year," James said of Oladipo. "I mean, we all saw the improvement and why he is a franchise-caliber player."

Of course, the Cavs have a GOAT-caliber player in James. His brilliant series, coupled with a few timely contributions from his supporting cast, kept the Cavs' playoff hopes alive.

Round 1 MVP: LeBron James
James averaged 34.4 points on 55.3 percent shooting from the field (35.3 percent from 3) and 81.8 percent from the foul line to go with 10.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 block per game. His scoring jumped to 41.8 points per game in the Cavs' four wins. He led Cleveland in all five major statistical categories and has played more minutes per game than anybody in the playoffs so far other than Paul George, who is six years younger. And with Oladipo making a final threat in the waning seconds of Game 7, it was James closing out on him to force a missed jumper and then sprinting back to the baseline to corral the rebound. LeBron was magnificent.

What to watch in Round 2:
The Raptors bench versus everyone on the Cavaliers not named LeBron. James is on a tear so dominant as of late that he could neutralize Toronto's All-Star backcourt of DeRozan and Lowry on his own. But beyond that, the Raptors' depth could create problems for Cleveland. CJ Miles, Siakam, Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl combined to average 32.5 points per game against the Washington Wizards in the first round. And that group didn't even factor in VanVleet, perhaps the Raptors' biggest bench threat, who missed most of the Wizards series with a shoulder injury. Toronto comes at you in waves. LeBron is a human tsunami, but can his teammates provide any further threat to wipe out the Raptors?

What the stats say:
How much of a load did LeBron carry in Round 1? He averaged 16.7 isos per game, an action the Cavaliers ran nearly three times as much as any other play type in the series, according to Second Spectrum research.

Cleveland's second-most common play? A LeBron James-Larry Nance Jr. pick-and-roll, which they ran 6.4 times per game.

-- Dave McMenamin


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(2) Boston Celtics

2017-18 record: 55-27
Round 1: Def. Bucks 4-3
BPI odds vs. Sixers: 51 percent

When Milwaukee's Khris Middleton drilled a 35-foot prayer to force overtime in Game 1, it should have been obvious that nothing would come easy for the Celtics in Round 1. The Bucks rallied out of an 0-2 hole, but the series swung in Game 5 when Boston not only got Marcus Smart back from a thumb injury, but moved rookie Semi Ojeleye into the starting lineup. Smart's defensive tenacity helped Boston win Game 5, and Ojeleye made Giannis Antetokounmpo work for most everything he got over the final three games of the series. Boston's younger players routinely stepped up, especially when Jaylen Brown injured his hamstring in Game 7.

Round 1 MVP: Al Horford
Horford bookended the series with two spectacular performances, particularly in Game 7, in which he showcased the sort of offensive aggression his detractors love to suggest he too infrequently displays. For the series, Horford averaged 18.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists over 34.9 minutes per game. He shot 58.8 percent from the floor and 43.8 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Horford was Boston's most efficient offensive player and provided a stabilizing force for a young roster, especially in the winner-take-all battle. As Brown noted, "When times get tough, we lean on him a little bit. ... Game 7, biggest game of the year, he showed out."

What to watch in Round 2:
The Celtics and 76ers' pre-draft swap of the No. 1 and No. 3 overall picks will be under the magnifying glass again as Jayson Tatum and Markelle Fultz, now forever linked, cross paths on the playoff stage. If Brown is limited by the hamstring he tweaked in Game 7 vs. the Bucks, Tatum becomes even more important to Boston's offense. The big question for Boston is how exactly it attempts to combat the Ben Simmons/Joel Embiid frontcourt. Can the Celtics continue to lean on Ojeleye, and how does head coach Brad Stevens deploy his talent in hopes of slowing down a Philadelphia team that comes to Boston riding formidable late-season momentum?

What the stats say:
Horford matched up with Simmons more than any Celtics defender during the regular season (69 times). The 76ers scored 88.4 points per 100 possessions when Horford guarded Simmons, and 100.0 points when anyone else did. Horford also matched up with Embiid 43 times (second-most among Celtics defenders), and the 76ers averaged 12.8 fewer points per 100 possessions when Horford matched up with Embiid compared with anyone else.

-- Chris Forsberg


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(3) Philadelphia 76ers

2017-18 record: 52-30
Round 1: Def. Heat 4-1
BPI odds vs. Celtics: 49 percent

The Process has yielded progress. The Sixers dominated the Miami Heat to win their first playoff series since 2012, and along the way, Philadelphia showed that it just might be the team to beat in the East. Buoyed by Embiid's return, the Sixers won the final three games of the series, including both games in Miami. The young Sixers enter the Eastern Conference semis with plenty of confidence.

Round 1 MVP: Ben Simmons
Some people don't think of Simmons as a rookie. He certainly didn't play like one in the first round. He was four assists shy of averaging a triple-double (18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 2.4 steals), and Philadelphia outscored Miami by 42 points during his 188 minutes on the floor.

What to watch in Round 2:
Philadelphia enters the series against Boston playing some of the best basketball in the NBA. Going back to the regular season, the club has won 20 of its past 21 games by an average margin of victory of more than 12 points. The Sixers accomplished all of that without Embiid for 10 games due to an orbital fracture. Now Embiid is back, and if he finds his offensive rhythm in this series, the Celtics are in trouble.

In three games in the first round, Embiid was impactful on the defensive end -- particularly around the rim -- but shot just 42 percent and had 15 turnovers. Some of it was due to the long layoff, and some of it could be chalked up to the All-Star center getting accustomed to playing with a protective mask. Neither should be as much of an issue in this series.

What the stats say:
Scoring inside on the Sixers is tough, as Miami found out in Round 1. On shots in the paint, the Heat shot 9.1 points worse than their expected field goal percentage adjusted for the quality of shots they took, according to Second Spectrum's quantified shooter impact metric. That was by far the worst of any team thus far in the postseason.

-- Ian Begley


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