The first round is over, and just eight teams remain to vie for the NBA 2K League championship. The league’s best team’s this season all get their chance tonight to prove they’re the top dogs, with all four matchups providing plenty of intrigue.
Raptors Uprising GC (1) vs. Hornets Venom GT (8), 5 p.m. ET
Where do you even begin with Raptors Uprising GC? Undefeated is a decent start. Two tournament wins in both the Tipoff and the Turn. They would have won the Ticket if rules hadn’t been changed, too. Likely first-ever unanimous MVP. The best individual season by a lockdown defender in the history of the league. The team even held the scoring record a time or two.
It was clear early in the season Raptors Uprising GC was in a tier of its own, routing opponents (18+ point winning margin) for the majority of matchups. At some point, the perfect regular-season record felt inevitable. Looking forward to postseason play, they’ll put that record on the line each and every time in hopes of achieving the ultimate goal: a championship.
Hornets Venom GT had quite a season but advanced past NetsGC in the first round of the NBA 2K League Playoffs last night. Type looked dominant last night (22 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks per game), leading Charlotte to a 2-0 sweep. Next up is Raptors Uprising GC, against whom the team managed to steal a win in their previous meeting.
Raptors Uprising GC wins if…
It decides to turn on the switch early. There isn’t a lot of evidence to support Toronto’s magical season ending tonight. And when the Raps have been punched in the mouth, the moment they feel threatened—usually by the third or fourth quarter—they hit another gear teams aren’t prepared for. If those gears are unlocked from the opening minutes and Toronto makes it a goal to steal Charlotte’s confidence early, it could be a quick series.
Hornets Venom GT wins if…
It can keep the Raptors in the halfcourt on defense and if it can run in transition on offense. No one has been able to beat the kings up north, but in the games that have been close, that’s been the formula. Slow them down and force Toronto to make reads deep into the shot clock. Then speed it up on the other end and don’t let them get their suffocating defense set up. It’s a lot easier said than done, but the Hornets have proven they can hang with the Raptors and they have the personnel to carry out the strategy.
Aaron Fox: Raptors Uprising GC, 2-0
It’s tough that Charlotte is even in this spot if you ask me. I feel like Blazer5, as the 10th seed, should be forced to square off with Raptors Uprising GC here, but the bracket calls for otherwise. Which means Hornets Venom GT’s season will end here. Obviously, Toronto comes into this one as the favorite, and for me, it’s a matter of whether or not Charlotte can steal a game. The only thing that would surprise me is Raptors Uprising GC losing this series.
Kris Cuaresma: Raptors Uprising GC, 2-0
The Raptors have been pushed lately, and while it’s been proven that they do in fact bleed, it’s difficult to see them dropping a series this early in the playoffs. The Hornets are one of our favorite teams and have exceeded all expectations, but Toronto’s on-court chemistry and season three resume indicate they are the clear-cut favorites tonight.
Jazz Gaming (2) vs. Blazer5 Gaming (10), 5 p.m. ET
Jazz Gaming just completed a 14-2 regular season, which tied for the second-best winning percentage of all-time… right next to Portland’s 2019 14-2 record. After finishing last season a mediocre 8-8, Jazz Gaming’s No. 1 overall pick, Ria, came into this season determined to improve, focusing heavily on the defensive side of the ball.
Now, when you talk top NBA 2K League defenses, Jazz Gaming has to be mentioned early. Between Ria, Compete and Beezus, the team rosters quality defenders across the board. Splashy and Lotty run Utah’s dual ball-handler system and both are more than capable of taking over offensively. As far as overall strong starting fives, Jazz Gaming is right there at the top of the list.
Blazer5 Gaming looks like a completely different team these past few weeks. Last night’s series against Mavs Gaming seemed almost too easy, as MamaImDatMan (32 points, 9 assists per game) and Portland finally move out of the postseason’s first round, the team’s first successful attempt in three years.
Jazz Gaming wins if…
Splashy starts to dance on camera. When the resident anime expert of the NBA 2K League gets moving in real life, it usually means he’s in the middle of putting on his own show for fans watching. Splashy’s confidence allows him to take and make shots other point guards wouldn’t dare. No matter where he is on the court or how many seconds are left in the game or shot clock, he’ll let one fly. This opens up the rest of the offense for his teammates, especially for dominant center Ria.
Blazer5 Gaming wins if…
It continues to do what it did last night against Dallas and dominate on both sides of the court. On offense, the trio of Mama Im Dat Man, Majes7ic and OneWildWalnut is as deadly of a group that you’ll find in the league. Portland will need these three firing on all cylinders if they want to keep up with the Jazz who boast their own gunslingers. If Lavish and OOCSlim can continue to play excellent off-ball defense while remaining efficient on the offensive end, an upset will begin to brew.
Fox: Jazz Gaming, 2-1
I think Jazz Gaming’s defense will be the one to end Portland’s late-season streak of success. Mama and co. have been hot on both ends of the court, but will run into one of the league’s top defenses tonight. While there is much to be said about “getting hot at the right time” (one of the reasons I picked B5 to knock off Mavs Gaming), Utah presents elite competition that has been playing high-level 2K consistently all season long.
Cuaresma: Jazz Gaming, 2-1
I don’t feel good doubting Portland for a second straight night, but that’s why I’m writing about the 2K League and not playing in it. All I can go off is the data and what we see on the court, and I can’t ignore the all-around phenomenal season the Jazz have put together. They are one of the few teams that are outstanding on both sides of the ball and don’t really have any flaws. It’s not a fluke that they’re the second seed, and I expect a hard-fought 2-1 win that should prepare Utah for the juggernauts that await ahead.
(5) Kings Guard Gaming vs. (4) Wizards District Gaming, 8 p.m. ET
Kings Guard Gaming made a splash prior to the beginning of season three, sending Rookie of the Year finalist BP to Hawks Talon GC in exchange for a haul that formed its core. Of course, Dat Boy Shotz was the centerpiece, and truth be told, would have been worth the trade alone. In addition to Shotz, the draft pick to select Crush came over in the deal, and from there the rest is history.
Bash has a game-winner on his young career’s resume, Crush was a key cog in Sacramento’s topflight defense, and Shotz has done whatever this team has asked of him. Most recently, that’s been manning the power forward position as the three-level playmaker, where Shotz plays a unique offensive role for Kings Guard.
Adding this talented trio of players to Yusuf, who has been a dominant force on the defensive end, and Seem, who’s capable of taking on ample scoring duties, has led to much success in Sacramento. But an impressive regular-season record (11-5), deep tournament runs; none of it matters now. Can Kings Guard Gaming’s roster get it done in the playoffs?
After a challenging first season in Washington, Dayfri was one of just two players retained for WDG. Reese, Dayfri and 2020’s No. 1 overall selection were the first few building blocks. The team quickly tabbed New York native, JBM, as their point guard of the future. Three talented players, capable of playing impact positions, but here’s where Washington truly ended up with a championship-caliber roster.
Selecting JustAwkward, whom Dayfri raves about, was the next step. Despite eight lockdown defenders being selected before him, Awkward proved to be a high-quality defender for Washington this season, and I’m guessing a few teams would like to re-do their picks. The next pick was the most important, in my opinion.
It blows my mind, but somehow the league let the winningest player ever slip to pick No. 37. Either way, Newdini being there just a few selections later ensured WDG being a top-tier team this season. Newdini plays such a vital role for this team, brings a winning pedigree and seems to just mesh with Dayfri in the frontcourt like they were meant to play together.
Kings Guard Gaming wins if…
The frontcourt duo of Dat Boy Shotz and Yusuf_Scarbz can outplay the tandem of Dayfri and Newdini. When it comes to two-way experts at the four and five spots, it doesn’t get any better than this matchup. On the offensive side, Shotz and Dayfri have been rock solid all season, playing their role perfectly when asked, and taking over when the flow of the game calls for it. Meanwhile, Yusuf and Newdini are arguably the two most versatile players in the league, with the former proving his value at power forward and center and the latter showing he can practically play any position on a contender. Keep an eye on the little things these four do on the defensive side that allow their teams to take risks most teams wouldn’t dare take.
Wizards District Gaming wins if…
JBM is able to overcome the Kings’ stingy defense. With a plethora of film and time to prepare for each other, Sacramento will be on guard for anything the Wizards throw at them. Assuming Washington won’t risk implementing too many new wrinkles into a perfected system, JBM will likely find himself in several short clock scenarios that call for him to improvise. We know the Wizards are more than just one player, but expect the Kings to initially take away the rookie’s first few reads to see if the No.1 pick can make the right decisions with everything on the line.
Fox: Wizards District Gaming, 2-1
This is probably the toughest series to gauge. Both teams play elite defense. Both teams have impact players at important positions. Both rookie point guards have stepped up in important moments for their respective squads. Both starting fives are solid, one through five. That being said, I’m leaning Wizards District Gaming in a tightly contested, defensive-minded, three-game battle to the final minutes. If you were going to watch just one series this weekend, it’s this one.
Cuaresma: Kings Guard Gaming 2-1
This is the most difficult series to predict as we can safely argue for each team winning, but if I’m taking my chances with one: it’ll be the Kings in three games. Like Washington, there isn’t a single weakness in the Kings’ lineup but I think Sacramento has a slight edge on the defensive end. Expect the Kings to suffocate the Wizards just enough to sneak away with small victories after every quarter. Additionally, Sacramento has proven it has a few more ways to score in the half-court. The Kings have been excellent in tournament play and when games are most meaningful, so I’ll go with them to narrowly get by the impressive Wizards.
Warriors Gaming Squad (3) vs. Bucks Gaming (6), 8 p.m. ET
Warrior Gaming Squad’s season can be split into three sections. Golden State was perfect through six series and poised to make both deep tournament and playoff runs. That’s when the team proceeded to drop three straight series.
After the midseason slump, adjustments were made. Lineup changes included BSmoove moving to small forward and switching to the three-level scorer build while Gradient used the more lethal two-way finisher archetype at shooting guard. Matty came off the bench as well, starting at power forward to finish the season. The team had experimented with similar changes despite their hot start, never afraid of shaking up the lineup in order to improve. This time around, the changes paid off almost immediately.
Golden State rattled off seven straight regular season wins en route to a 13-3 record, locking up the third seed for postseason play. They’ll continue to rely heavily on their MVP candidate, CB13, to produce offense at an elite level (72 points per game, 4th in league) as the team aims for better results than last year’s playoff appearance.
Bucks Gaming overcame more than just a slow start. After its matchup with Blazer5 Gaming, it felt like it was Milwaukee against the rest of the league (for a decent reason). Nonetheless, Bucks Gaming turned around its season after starting 2-4, and its most recent first-round draft pick was at the forefront of reasons why.
Regg slid down the draft board, falling to No. 12 where the team’s front office salivated. Rumored to be interested in trading out, they stood pat, selecting their point guard of the future. Fast forward six months: Regg is an MVP candidate and likely Rookie of the Year winner.
After winning five of their last six regular-season matchups, Bucks Gaming not only stole a playoff spot but moved all the way up to the sixth seed. Too bad its reward is a matchup against one of the league’s most disciplined and talented teams, Warriors Gaming Squad. Regg and co. won’t be intimidated, as Bucks Gaming has impressive wins against top teams this season, including Mavs Gaming, Kings Guard Gaming and Jazz Gaming.
Warriors Gaming Squad wins if…
CB13 can negate the offensive production we all know Regg will bring to the table at some point in the series. While the Warriors are a balanced team on both sides of the ball, the league meta requires for each team’s point guard to take over and make key decisions. With the T-Wolves fighting for their playoff lives back in week 11 and submerged in the hype surrounding BearDaBeast’s return to point guard, CB13 averaged nearly 28 points and 9 assists to secure a 2-1 series win. While his lack of three-point volume has never limited him as an offensive player, CB13’s success from behind the arc will also be key as the Warriors attempt to keep up with the high octane Bucks.
Bucks Gaming wins if…
Regg can avoid falling into a cold ring early in games. With Gradient and Slaughter forming the bookends of a sound defensive unit, the Warriors have the tools to make life difficult for the likely rookie of the year. While Golden State won’t be able to fully stop Regg, they can attempt to contain the explosive point guard by putting him in unfavorable scenarios where he has to make split second decisions. Look for Regg not to force the issue during early quarters in order to build up some momentum towards a takeover. And once that happens, it could be lights out for the Warriors.
Fox: Warriors Gaming Squad, 2-0
Look, it was quite a run Bucks Gaming, but CB13 and Golden State are out for blood during this year’s postseason. Between CB13, BSmoove and Gradient, Golden State flaunts three talented shotmakers. Look for Warriors Gaming Squad to attack Bucks Gaming’s perimeter defense early and often, as Milwaukee struggled in that area for the majority of their season, despite showing improvements recently.
Cuaresma: Warriors Gaming Squad, 2-1
Back in week 10, the Warriors swept the desperate Bucks. In this series, CB13 was his usual productive self, but it was BSmoove and Slaughter’s contributions that put the Warriors over the top. While I fully expect Regg to go supernova in one of the games, I think the potential for two of CB13, BSmoove, Gradient or Slaughter to drop 20+ will prove too much for Milwaukee to keep up with, especially if the Warriors are able to slow the pace down.