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Welcome to the Playoffs: Eastern Conference Edition

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By: Colin Chiles, you can follow me on Twitter at @ColinC27

Estimated read time: 9 minutes

The Eastern Conference first round in the last few years hasn’t been all that exciting. Except for the top few seeds, the East has generally been devoid of talent. That’s starting to shift as the NBA is experiencing one of the biggest talent booms in history. This year’s eastern conference first round is chalk full of interesting matchups. Every single team in the East has at least one top level star, depending on how you feel about Paul Milsap from the Hawks. I’m a little disappointed about how things ended up breaking in terms of seeding, but I can’t tell you how excited I am for the future of this conference. Just like with the Western Conference, I’m going to give you a matchup breakdown, the main reason for you to watch and a prediction. Once we hit round 2 we’ll revisit my predictions and point out where I was horribly horribly wrong.

 

1 Boston Celtics vs 8 Chicago Bulls

Breakdown of the matchup:

Yes, the Celtics wound up stealing the 1 seed from the Cavs very late in the season due to Cleveland’s extremely average play since about January. Another contributing factor is that LeBron just doesn’t give a shit what seed he is. If the Cavs somehow were the 8 seed, wouldn’t they still be favorites to go to the finals? Seeding matters to a team like the Celtics who have only won two total playoff games in the last three years. They are looking for every advantage they can get. The Cavs just don’t care.

How this matchup goes really depends on which Bulls team shows up. The TNT Bulls phenomenon is incredible, and it turns out, three out of the first four games of this series are on TNT. If you don’t know what’s been going on, the Bulls have won an incredible 20 straight games at home when playing on TNT. That kind of defies all explanation and at this point I’m just ready to concede that it’s real and that the Bulls will never again lose at home on TNT. Only one of the three they will be playing on TNT is at home but like all great teams, I’m going to assume the TNT Bulls can raise their caliber of play in the playoffs.

In all reality, the Bulls could be a problem for the Celtics if the right team shows up. I’m convinced one of these top four teams is getting upset and only the Cavs losing would be stunning. And normally I wouldn’t count the 5 seed beating the 4 seed as an upset, but in this case, the Wizards are much better than the Hawks, so seeds be dammed, it would be an upset.

I can envision a world where Jimmy Butler is unstoppable, where the Cavs trap Isaiah basically at half court and make the other Celtics players beat them. And the Celtics are quickly down 1-2 going into game 4 which would be the Bulls playing at home on TNT which as we’ve learned is basically a death sentence.  I can also envision a world where the dysfunctional Bulls show up and just get swept. Where Rondo holds on to the ball too much, no one shoots well from three and Isaiah goes nuts in every game and Jae Crowder and rookie Jaylen Brown do a decent job guarding Butler. I really don’t know what’s going to happen and I really think the result is entirely dependent on the Bulls and not the Celtics.

Reason to watch:

Well if you aren’t pulled in by the TNT Bulls and a potential 8 seed over 1 seed upset then I don’t know what to tell you. This is such a boom or bust series. Watching the Bulls melt down would be fun in it’s own right, but if they don’t then we get to see a fun, competitive series. These are the only two possible scenarios and there’s no way you can tell me otherwise.

Prediction:

I so badly want to pick the Bulls but I’m going to play it safe and say Celtics in 5 (with the Bulls winning game 4 just to preserve the home court TNT streak)

 

2 Cleveland Cavilers vs 7 Indiana Pacers

Breakdown of the matchup:

As I already mentioned, the Cavs have been extremely mediocre since January, posing a 26-24 record in 2017 good for 16th in the league. The main problem has been their defense, as their scoring has been 5th in the league at 110 a game over that same time span. In fact, they were 25th in opponent points per game, allowing 109.8 points in 2017. This team lost 31 games…LeBron hasn’t been on a 30 loss team in nine years. And you know what? None of that may matter AT ALL. Every single year I get roped into this mid season drama with the Cavs, convincing myself that this is finally the year that LeBron’s team will crack and someone will knock them off. Every single year I am wrong. They are the favorites for a reason. They have LeBron James, the best basketball player in the world.

If they falter these playoffs, everyone is going to look back at this stretch and say “wow, we should have seen it coming; we had all the warning signs”. Don’t listen to any of those people. We are standing here in the present, with all of that knowledge at our fingertips and almost everyone is predicting the Cavs to repeat as Eastern Conference champs.

For this matchup specifically, the main draw is getting to watch Paul George and LeBron go at it for a minimum of 4 games. That is fun. These two will generally be guarding one another and I expect the Pacers to push the Cavs in this series. To me, this is going to be reminiscent of the Cavs/Pistons series from last year. All close games, all Cavs victories.

Reason to watch:

Other than Paul Geroge v LeBron, we also have Lance Stephenson v LeBron in our lives again! For whatever reason, Lance is only good when he’s on the Pacers, and count me in on watching LeBron only seeing Lance or PG for however many games this series winds up going

Prediction:

Cavs in 4

 

3 Toronto Raptors vs 6 Milwaukee Bucks

Breakdown of the matchup:

This seeding is what I’m most sad about. My love for Giannis is well documented and I was dismayed when the Jabari Parker injury made it seem like the Bucks wouldn’t make the playoffs. I was then extremely excited as Khris Middleton added the scoring threat that Giannis needed to make things easier and as they fought their way back into playoff contention. But the problem is they did TOO well. I desperately wanted to see the Bucks play the Cavs first round, and if the Bucks were playing the Celtics I would absolutely be picking Giannis in that series. I would have considered it against the Wizards too. But the Raptors are so stout defensively that this is going to be a tall task for the Bucks.

The Raptors made a couple of really good trades to fortify their team with PJ Tucker and Serge “I’m probably 36 years old” Ibaka. And with the return of stud Kyle Lowry, and DeMar Derozan shooting sparks out of his eyes basically all season, I don’t think the Bucks can win and they may not even compete. The thing to watch for, and this is true of every team that has to play the Bucks, is how are they going to guard Giannis?

The dude is 7 feet tall and runs the point. He’s so gifted and yet still so raw. He is the only player EVER to finish in the top 20 in the league in total points, rebounds, assists blocks and steals in a single season. Read that again. He can run your offense, he can pass, he can score, he can rebound, he can defend multiple positions including rim protection and he gets steals too? What the fuck is he? The only thing he can’t do yet is shoot from distance. The current strategy to guard him is to drift way off of him and pack the paint, but watching the terror in opposing team’s movements as he gets into the lane is something to behold. Teams regularly forget assignments because their natural instinct is to come off their guy to help in the lane to stop this behemoth from dunking on 3 guys at once. Stopping this takes a committed team defense and that’s exactly what the Raptors are.

Reason to watch:

Giannis. Just Giannis. If you haven’t seen him play, please please please watch. Even if he’s struggling because Toronto is really solid defensively, his physical abilities are jarring. It messes with your brain a little. Just watch him. I beg you.

Prediction:

Raptors in 6

 

4 Washington Wizards vs 5 Atlanta Hawks

Breakdown of the matchup:

Unlike the Western Conference, where the 4/5 matchup seems to me to be the most interesting, this matchup is the least interesting unless the Cavs just put it on the Pacers every single game. In November, the Hawks were 7-9 and the Wizards were 6-9 and I don’t think anyone thought either team was going anywhere but the trade market. Both turned it on and the Wizards especially looked really good post all star break.
The Wizards finally have Bradley Beal playing to his potential and he’s been extremely good. Advanced stats love Otto Porter and he could be due for a huge contract upgrade since he’s a restricted free agent, I’m guessing someone is going to throw a ton of money at him, forcing the Wizards to match or let him walk. And then there’s John Wall, who is just a joy to watch play basketball. He’s so fast and him in transition with three point shooters at the wing is a really difficult thing to guard.

The Wizards shouldn’t have a ton of issues with the Hawks and if they do, home court is a pretty huge thing for them as they went 30-11 in D.C. this year. I realize I spent almost no time talking about the Hawks but they just don’t interest me and I don’t see them being competitive in this series. If they are then I will issue an apology and devote much more time for them in the second round.

Reason to watch:

If you want to skip a series in the Eastern Conference, I’ll allow you to skip this one. But if you watch, the sheer speed with which Wall operates, and the many gears he can shift between can be breathtaking.

Prediction:

Wizards in 5

 

If storylines dictate that I need another article before the second round, I’ll write it up, otherwise imma stay quiet and let you watch these games! Enjoy! Happy playoffs to you.

 

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NBA, Uncategorized

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