Previewing the Eastern Conference Finals
The NBA is now down to their final four, with the top seeds in each respective conference in the championship series to have the right to advance to the NBA Finals. Today we will take a look at the Eastern Conference Finals and see how each team got here, what matchups to watch, the top storylines in the matchups, and series predictions.
Round 3. Western Conference Finals: 1) Atlanta Hawks vs. 2) Cleveland Cavaliers
How they got here:
Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks have had a very mediocre post season since locking up the top seed in the Eastern Conference. However, Atlanta has withstood both scares so far. In the opening round of the playoffs matched up against an inferior Brooklyn Nets team that was not only banged up, but barely even snuck into the playoffs at the eleventh hour. The Nets actually won two games at home despite being one of the worst playoff teams at their place. After almost blowing the series-tilting game 5 at home the Hawks closed out the eighth seeded Nets in six games. In the second round, the Hawks should have quite frankly lost the round, being down 2-1 after three games to the Wizards. Despite coming back in game four to tie the series at 2 games apiece, Atlanta needed a lucky bounce off a miss to allow center Al Horford to make a game winning layup in game five that proved to be the deciding play of the series.
Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs came out firing on all cylinders, yet had a great deal of competition against a young, energetic Celtics team. Although the Cavs were able to pull out a sweep in game four it came at a costly price tag, with the well documented shoulder injury to Kevin Love. With Love ruled out the rest of the playoffs, the Cavs were forced to add some makeshift lineups to their repertoire, including inserting some veterans from their bench who had not seen much playing time. In the second round match up versus the Bulls, Cleveland was forced to play big to the size of Chicago and just couldn’t quite figure it out after three games, trailing 2-1. In the deciding game four, LeBron made a signature game winning three from the corner to pull Cleveland all even, eventually winning the next two games by at least ten points.
Matchups to Watch:
PG’s Jeff Teague (ATL) vs. Kyrie Irving (CLE)
This matchup was hard to pick simply because Atlanta has no real superstars. However, the point guard matchups are more often than not the most exciting, especially when you have to consistent all stars. Even though Irving is banged up with knee and foot problems and Teague has struggled for the better portion of these playoffs, you just have to think that this matchup will play itself out, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Another matchup to watch would LeBron vs. Carrol at the Small Forward position which could get very feisty.
-Can anyone stop LeBron? –LeBron James, although he hasn’t won the MVP the past two seasons now, is still the unopposed best player on the planet and that was only more evident in the Chicago series by putting this team on his back. When LeBron is healthy, which he is, he can’t be stopped, no matter the opponent. You still can’t help but think if all those minutes might catch up to him this post season, as it evidently did last year in the Finals.
-Is the East really that bad? –The East has long been pegged as such a weak conference yet as we saw during some of the first round matchups, the teams aren’t that bad, they could just be excellent team ball oriented clubs. Which leads us to Atlanta, which racked up the majority of its wins in the conference play this year. If Cleveland just walks in and squashes Atlanta handedly, it will prove that even the best of the conference aren’t really elite. With a competitive series, that opinion could change.
-Can the Cavs do it without K-Love? –Even though their third best player is out, it would create an interesting storyline if Cleveland can prove to still be successful without him. With Love heading towards free agency this summer that could potentially come up in discussions about his next contract, and whether he is truly worth the money he will be asking for.
Prediction: Cavaliers win 4-2.
The Eastern Conference Finals begin Wednesday, May 20th. Stay tuned for all Conference Finals coverage.