NBA Playoffs Predictions - Eastern Conference: What to look for
What to look for in the Eastern Conference
It’s the time of year we’ve all been waiting for, the NBA post season. If you’ve been bored with the regular season proceedings or just didn’t have time to follow, I’ll tell you what to look for during the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
No. 8 Brooklyn Nets vs. No.1 Atlanta Hawks
Say what you want about the unfairness of how good Western Conference teams have to watch the playoffs from their couch while the six games under .500 Nets get to run more plays on the hardwood. Even Paul Pierce had a few choice words for his former team recently. But until the league changes the rules, we have this veteran-laden Brooklyn squad that came together to earn the right to play Atlanta by finishing 13-6.
Atlanta hasn’t really played a meaningful game in weeks as they pretty much locked up the top seed since early in March; they finished the season 7-8. The lack of intensity shouldn’t hurt them against this foe. They won all four games they played against Brooklyn in the regular season by an average margin of victory of 17.3 points. The Hawks will be without Thabo Sefolosha, a key member off their bench; his loss won’t be a concern until the second round. I doubt the Hawks will be overlooking their opponent though; they’re too disciplined for that.
Look for Joe Johnson, who still has enough pride in him, to take over a game against his old team and help Brooklyn steal a contest at home. However, Atlanta will win this series in five games.
No. 7 Boston Celtics vs. No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers
Don’t be fooled by the fact that Boston won both games of a home and home over Cleveland just last weekend as part of their six game winning streak that closed the season. Brad Stevens won coach of the month for April and has these kids playing well at the right time, but they would have been better served finish as the eighth seed to matchup against Atlanta instead.
Many people had Cleveland winning the East during preseason discussions but things weren’t working out so well to start. They made some personnel changes mid-season, and are now much better because of those moves. The odds makers in Las Vegas have them as the favorites to win it all. They have a team devoid of playoff inexperience but the hunger of post season virgins Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love should overcome that.
Look for probable sixth man of the year Isaiah Thomas to get buckets and be a problem for the Cavs’ defense. The Celtics are the hottest team in the conference coming in and this series will provide a foundation for them to build on for the future. However, Lebron James won’t be in any type of mood to wear himself down. Cleveland will have a relatively easy time against Boston, and they should sweep this series.
No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 3 Chicago Bulls
The Bucks are a team that still hasn’t figured out how to put the ball in the hoop consistently, so they’ll have to rely on their conference-leading defense. They are very long, especially on the perimeter, and it serves them well as they forced the most opponent turnovers in the Association this season. They’ll need to make the game-play more sloppy than what most people are already expecting to pull off an upset.
It is quite impressive that Chicago was able to win 50 games despite key players missing time this season. It seems that they are peaking at the right time but they are still not 100% healthy by any means. They’ve been through these playoff battles together before. Though this time, they’ve added the low post presence Pau Gasol to help the offense run more smoothly. They’ll definitely need it.
The Bulls will be in trouble if they get caught with their pants down looking ahead to a potential matchup with Lebron. Milwaukee thinks they can win, as they should because Chicago’s offense shouldn’t frighten anyone. Look for the experienced Bulls to taste their blood a little but win this series in six games.
No. 5 Washington Wizards vs. No. 4 Toronto Raptors
Expectations were high for the Wizards at the beginning of the season because the acquisition of Paul Pierce was supposed to help them make the leap to conference supremacy. But it’s difficult to make progress when the best shooter on your team, Bradley Beal, succumbs to injury bug. That aside, they have the best floor general in the East but he is being forced to run a vanilla offense that doesn’t make the opponent work hard on the defensive end at all. I’m also not sure if it was in their best interest to end the season going into overtime in two meaningless games.
Toronto runs a very efficient offense that’s predicated on finding the weak link on defense and putting said defender in a tough situation. As a team, they don’t turn the ball over much probably because they don’t move it as much. It’s one of the strangest dynamics in the league, to run an efficient offense with a low assist rate.
It’s the most even matchup of the entire first round. The back-court personnel will neutralize each other. These teams play contrasting styles; Washington is more defensive minded while Toronto’s focus is on offense. Look for this series to go seven games as it will come down to the physicality of the Wizards’ interior players to make the difference.