Predicting the Eastern Conference Playoffs
With the NBA season officially over, the real fun can now begin. Enter NBA playoffs. It is every basketball fans favorite time of the year with high intensity games being nationally televised every day starting Saturday and running until June. The playoff teams and seeding shacked out in a way no one could possibly predict. The league is just that crazy, no one is safe from just strange events happening in the course of a season and this year’s playoff bracket was no different. That said, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference and give my take and predictions on what to watch out for as the games begin.
1) Atlanta Hawks vs. 8) Brooklyn Nets
The Nets snuck into the 8th seed in the eleventh hour on Wednesday night but in an almost embarrassing fashion; barely edging out the lowly Orlando Magic and needing a Pacers loss also. Nonetheless, this series actually might have a twist or two in it. The Nets still have aging stars Deron Williams and Joe Johnson on the perimeter as well as a highly productive big man down low in Brook Lopez which should help them steal a game or two. However, as Brooklyn has proven all year, they simply won’t defend the ball. With the Hawks somewhat in a slump after locking up the top seed weeks ago, expect stars Al Horford, Paul Millsap, and Jeff Teague to bring playoff success back to Atlanta in short order. The “Spurs of the East” will certainly use ball movement and their outside shooting to their advantage in this warm up series for the Hawks.
Matchup to Watch: Al Horford vs. Brook Lopez
Prediction: Hawks win 4-2
2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 7) Boston Celtics
LeBron James is ready to start his journey back to the promise land, this time with a whole new cast of characters. LeBron and new sidekick Kyrie Irving lead a rejuvenated Cavs team that had the best record in the East after the All-Star break. The Celtics however are a group that shouldn’t be overlooked. With no true star, Boston has finished 24-12 since the break, 2nd behind the Cavs and have gone from a tanking team to a .500 team in a matter of weeks. Credit coach Brad Stevens for the job he has done with basically rotation players. I think this series will be a good tune up for LeBron, a team that is emotionally charged and will try to get under his skin, to get his teammates accustomed to playoff basketball.
Matchup to Watch: Kyrie Irving vs. Isiah Thomas
Prediction: Cavaliers win 4-1
3) Chicago Bulls vs. 6) Milwaukee Bucks
This series just screams a slugfest. The Bulls and Bucks are two of the better defensive teams in the league and they both rely heavily on the flow of their offense to get points, particularly in transition. The Bulls have had a rollercoaster season, once again unable to stave off the injury bug with their starting lineup always in flux. Former MVP Derrick Rose is also back in the lineup after yet another knee surgery. The Bulls appear to finally be healthy for the playoffs and will be facing a Bucks team that went from being the worst in the league to a 6 seed in the playoffs in 12 months, mainly due to the brilliant work of Coach Jason Kidd. The Bucks, who traded their budding star point guard Brandon Knight earlier in the year, will look to use their team oriented offense to try to pull off the upset. I think this series will be tight the whole way with the Bulls’ home court playing a big advantage. I also think the Bulls will struggle initially simply due to their players (particularly Rose) still trying to get back to 100%.
Matchup to Watch: Michael Carter-Williams vs Derrick Rose
Prediction: Bulls win 4-3
4) Toronto Raptors vs. 5) Washington Wizards
The Wizards and Raptors both flew under the radar a bit this year. Both however did underperform given many people’s expectations. The Raptors only improved by one win from last season while the Wizards stayed stagnate from a playoff seeding. Both teams have super star point guards in John Wall and Kyle Lowry and great size at all positions. Both team are also stacked in depth across the board with good but not great players. A big factor in this series will be the always rowdy “We the North” Toronto crowd who almost helped the Raptors pull off and upset in last years first round playoffs. If you ask me, the Raptors have home court and the Wizards have such a tendency to disappear offensively during games and not enough go to guys to score since Bradley Beal has certainly taken a step back this year. Toronto should ride an emotional crowd in games 1 and 2 to a well deserved series win.
Matchup to watch: Kyle Lowry vs. John Wall
Prediction: Raptors win 4-2.
The NBA playoffs tip off on Saturday, April 18th. Look for a preview of the Western Conference tomorrow.