After an exciting and downright grueling regular season, only 10 teams remain in what can only be described as the best time of year on the NBA 2K League calendar: playoffs.
While the top six teams have earned the luxury of starting their postseason quest in the quarterfinals, seeds seven through 10 must fight their way into the final eight. In the first series of the postseason, Hornets Venom GT and NetsGC will face off in a week 12 rematch while Mavs Gaming takes on Ticket tournament winner Blazer5 Gaming.
Hornets Venom GT (8) vs. NetsGC (9), Thursday, 5 p.m.
Hornets Venom GT had a regular season unlike any other league team, which is fitting because it’s similar to their gameplay: unique. Early on, head coach Lawrence “BiggWest” West showed a willingness to go against the meta, playing through his pair of talented big men down low. In return, Type and Zae were producing at a higher rate than any other frontcourt, all while leading Charlotte to a 7-4 start.
Which is where the situation got murky. Charlotte benched its star center and nobody knew why, followed by an outright suspension. Hornets Venom GT then dropped a few straight, failed to advance deep into any tournament, and the once-clear playoff picture wasn’t so clear anymore for the league’s newest expansion franchise. While Zae was able to produce as a center, the team sorely missed having one of the world’s greatest defensive 2K players on the court.
Suddenly, Type was back one night. Charlotte went 2-2 after, including a disappointing loss to Heat Check Gaming to end their regular season, but still clinched a playoff berth in its first season in the league. With its star center back, and a playstyle that goes against the norm, can Hornets Venom GT be the second straight expansion team to make a deep playoff run?
On the other side of this series, remember when NetsGC didn’t play a game for the first month of the season? We were all awaiting Choc’s debut, but similar to Brooklyn’s first-round opponent, a suspension would temporarily derail things, as the team lost Rando before the season, but signed Chess to fill out the roster.
After finally beginning its season, NetsGC looked impressive. Choc led his team to a 7-4 start and Brooklyn looked primed to steal a playoff spot stress-free. Wrong. Despite its rookie point guard maintaining impressive play, NetsGC lost five of its final six regular-season matchups, not including its disastrous performance during the Turn.
Its roster is rounded out with quality players, including Randomz and Shuttles, who have quietly played their roles very well for this Brooklyn team. It all boils down to one question: can NetsGC forget its late-season struggles and find success during postseason play?
Hornets Venom GT will win if…
It can both speed the game up when necessary and utilize its big men when things do slow to a crawl. If Charlotte can force Brooklyn to cough up the ball, it’ll be difficult to see how the Nets keep pace. The Hornets are one of the deadliest teams in transition but it all begins on the defensive side. In the half-court, look for Zae and Type to put a tremendous amount of pressure on the Nets frontcourt. Type’s two-way impact will be crucial for the Hornets to maintain stability when Brooklyn goes on their runs, while Zae’s creativity on offense will keep all five Nets on their toes.
NetsGC will win if…
Choc is able to take care of the ball and get his teammates going. While the polarizing rookie made a name for himself with his show-stopping scoring prowess, Choc has also been excellent with getting his teammates involved by leading the league in assists per game. The Hornets will aggressively blitz him on high screen and rolls, which should open up passing lanes, but Choc will need to be mindful of the defense jumping passing lanes. Charlotte got off to a great start earlier in the season due to their aggressive defense and it often led to easy fast-break opportunities. When all five Nets are rolling, it often puts Brooklyn within striking distance late in the fourth, which is all Choc needs to ultimately put on a show.
Aaron Fox: Hornets Venom GT, 2-1
With Type back in the fold, I just have to go Hornets Venom GT. Charlotte used the franchise’s first-ever selection on him and for good reason: Type is an elite interior defender, altering the majority of shots attempted against him, and ultimately forcing a ton of misses down low. Entering the playoffs, the importance of high-level defense amplifies, which should be advantageous for Hornets Venom GT. That being said, Choc has the potential to score at will against any defense he faces, so I think this one goes three.
Kris Cuaresma: Hornets Venom GT, 2-1
Like the Wizards District Gaming and Kings Guard Gaming matchup, this series is extremely difficult to predict. Both teams have high ceilings that haven’t been properly realized all season. On top of that, Charlotte and Brooklyn went through tumultuous seasons due to controversy surrounding player personnel. However, I’ll go with the five they have in Charlotte to come out on top, mainly due to the multiple ways they can win a game. I expect to see Charlotte come out strong and avoid keeping the game close in fear of setting the stage for Choc. While the Nets should take one game, look for the Hornets to come away with the other two wins in convincing fashion.
Mavs Gaming (7) vs. Blazer5 Gaming (10), Thursday, 5:30 p.m.
Mavs Gaming presented the first true surprise of the NBA 2K League’s 2020 season (other than whole remote play thing) when it started Sherm at point guard. Dimez transitioned to a secondary ball-handler role early but has been running an archetype closer to a pure sharpshooter recently.
To begin its season, Mavs Gaming won four straight and looked to possess one of the top offensive attacks across the league. Sherm played quality lead-guard for Dallas, displaying floor general ability while allowing Dimez to roam freely off-ball in a scoring role. PeteBeBallin dropped his famous “cornballs be cornballs” line and Mavs Gaming hit ten wins before heading into the Turn.
Rounding out their starting lineup is MambaMo, who made the transition to lockdown defender halfway through the season, and Spartxn, Dallas’ fourth-round selection from February’s draft. Heading into the last week of the season, Dallas had the potential to secure the playoff’s No. 5 seed but dropped their final matchup to a motivated Bucks Gaming team.
Blazer5 Gaming. There aren’t enough words in the world to sum up its rollercoaster of a season. Similar to its first-round opposition, Blazer5 Gaming began 2020 flawlessly, winning its first four series. Portland proceeded to drop its next five series, unable to claim its fifth win until meeting tonight’s opposition, Mavs Gaming back on July 1.
Blazer5 Gaming’s rocky season continued as Portland failed to win must-win games down the stretch, landing themselves in the Ticket. Mama and co. decimated their tournament competition en route the tourney’s final series, a showdown against last year’s champions, T-Wolves Gaming.
The Ticket final didn’t disappoint and Portland’s pair of MVP’s proved clutch when the time called, earning their third-consecutive playoff berth. The problem hasn’t been advancing to the playoffs, but what happens when Blazer5 Gaming reaches them is the issue. All season long, both Mama and Walnut have preached they “have nothing to lose.” It’s time to play like that.
Mavs Gaming will win if…
It prevents Mama from getting consistent help on the offensive side of the ball. Gone are the days of the reigning MVP going off for scoring records, and it has resulted in the Blazers unlocking another gear required of elite teams in season three. Majes7ic, OOC Slim and OneWildWalnut all took turns dominating on offense during the home stretch of the Ticket, and it’s that type of balance that Dallas will need to game plan for. If the Mavs are to advance to the next round, they’ll need to limit the open looks this trio receives.
Blazer5 Gaming will win if…
It is able to figure a way out how to slow down the dynamic duo of Sherm and Dimez. While the Blazers were able to take down teams with a single dominant ball-handler during the Ticket, they’ll find a different kind of challenge against Dallas. It can be argued that Sherm and Dimez could be starting point guards on several other teams this season, but what makes these two so special is their chemistry and on-court synergy. Neither player is considered a “break glass in case of emergency” type of ball-handler and the pair seamlessly take turns cutting up defenses. Dimez has also shown the ability to play more off-ball as a pure sharp which just throws in another wrinkle for Portland to account for. Mama will be exhausted by the end of this series, but his attention to detail on the defensive end will be just as important as the offensive side if Portland wants its season to continue.
Fox: Blazer5 Gaming, 2-1
I think getting hot at the right time matters a lot. Blazer5 Gaming is coming off a hell of a tournament run and showed perseverance after dropping game one of the Ticket’s finals. Both MamaImDatMan and OneWildWalnut are going to give you quality performances no matter what, but it’s Majes7ic who changes everything for me. I think Majes7ic is the best role player in this series, and if Portland continues to get that production from their lockdown defender, I think Dallas could be in trouble.
Kris: Mavs Gaming, 2-1
Despite all the star power that Portland brings to the table, I think Dallas escapes with the series win because there’s more evidence to support trusting them in a do-or-die series. The Mavs have avoided drama both on and off the court this year, and it’s because they just go about their business. I do think the Blazers will push them to their limit, with Mama and Majes7ic exploding for 20+ points each. But look for Sherm and Dimez to consistently put pressure on Portland’s perimeter defense all night long. The series X-factor may be PeteBeBallin and how he fares against OneWildWalnut.