NBA Playoffs – Eastern Conference Matchups Preview
Over in the East there is comfortably less depth which will lead to some more predictable first round series results. Quality drops away markedly through the middle and lower sections of the rankings in this conference. Still some interest in places, but expect things to step up in the semi-finals.
This is how I see it all playing out:
Atlanta Hawks (1) v Brooklyn Nets (8)
While the Cavs get all the attention in the East and are most pundits’ picks to progress to the NBA Finals, Atlanta put together an outstanding regular season that saw them finish 7 games clear in top spot. The Hawks play an excellent ball-sharing brand that will suit playoffs and importantly have an even spread, which can be a rarity in this competition and a nightmare for opposition coaches. An overpaid and dysfunctional Brooklyn on the other hand fell into the last seeding of a very weak conference – they wouldn’t have got within a bull’s roar of playoffs in the West. Atlanta swept the season series 4-0 with an average winning margin of 17 points. The Nets might pinch one at home but probably not. This will be a snooze-fest.
Tip: Hawks in 4.
Cleveland Cavaliers (2) v Boston Celtics (7)
This is a match-up with some fairly recent history. It is a different looking Celtics but with the key protagonist James back in Cavs colours expect a hostile TD Garden crowd to reflect that. The new-look Cavs squad predictably took time to gel but in recent months have really hit their straps, particularly on the offensive end. LeBron has his best sidekick yet in Kyrie Irving. The Celtics meanwhile are a nice combination of pieces and intelligently coached but lacking a true star, despite an emerging Thomas. The absence of Varejao won’t be tested here.
Tip: Cavs in 5.
Chicago Bulls (3) v Milwaukee Bucks (6)
Derrick Rose is back and that’s good for basketball. While not his old explosive self his return gives Chicago an undeniable boost. The Bulls have had their issues this season and there are other ongoing injury concerns but Gasol has proven to be a nice fit with Noah inside. For Milwaukee, 6’11’’ excitement-machine Giannis Antetokounmpo is a fascinating, dynamic player who will do some watchable things, and their defence is solid but the Bucks simply do not have enough weapons to outgun the Bulls for a sustained period.
Tip: Bulls in 5.
Toronto Raptors (4) v Washington Wizards (5)
The head-to-head battle of Washington’s athletic John Wall and Toronto’s feisty Kyle Lowry is the highlight here. Both starting East All-Star guards and both ballers. Also always good to see what “The Truth” Paul Pierce will dish up – he’s been around the playoff block and should be a plus for the Wizards. Fairly evenly-matched series but the Raptors have an edge in depth and consistency and will probably eventually get it done.
Tip: Raptors in 7.
Enjoy the show!