We all assumed last summer that the Cleveland Cavaliers would run through the Eastern Conference playoffs yet again. After the way this season has shaken out, a more entertaining playoffs may be on the table. Cleveland has a new roster, Philadelphia’s “Process” seems to have finally paid off and the Raptors are on a tear. Is this the year that breaks LeBron James’ consecutive finals appearances streak?
(1) Toronto Raptors vs. (8) Washington Wizards
Toronto comes into the Playoffs winning four out of their last five games. The fourth best long range shooting team in the league is looking to make the NBA finals for the first time in franchise history. The Wizards have battled injuries all season to squeak into the playoffs. They are one of the better passing teams, spreading the ball around to get good shots.
Matchup to Watch: Markieff Morris vs. Serge Ibaka
This should give us a bit of everything. Rough inside battles for rebounds, shots right at the rim and even a few threes. Washington will need Morris to score above his average, while Toronto will lean on Ibaka’s defense. Whichever player can do their job best could possibly swing momentum in their team’s favor.
Prediction: Toronto wins the series 4-1 (Ab Stanley)
(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Milwaukee Bucks
Boston Coach Brad Stevens has gotten the most out of his roster, building this Celtics team into one of the better defensive teams in the league no matter who is on the floor. Playoffs are all about matchups and losing two All-stars in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving is going to eventually catch up to them. For Milwaukee to win they have to hit their jump shots to relieve some stress off Giannis. If Milwaukee expects to win this series or any other in this year playoffs, they have to bring it defensively and not expect Giannis to bail them out every time.
Matchup to Watch: Khris Middleton vs Jaylen Brown
Brown will be the first option on offense for Boston but points won’t be easy to come by against Middleton. Milwaukee needs Middleton to produce on both ends. Brown is shooting 40% in catch and shoot situations. Middleton will have to find a way to slow him down, and still get 20. Brown will get his, but if Middleton can offset him, it could spell trouble for Boston.
Prediction: Boston wins 4-3 (Terrell Belcher)
(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Miami Heat
The red hot Philadelphia 76ers are the first team to enter the playoffs on a 16 game winning streak in NBA history, and much of it they’ve done without injured superstar Joel Embiid. The Miami Heat are 5-5 in their last ten games. Embiid may return as early as game 2. Until then, they’ll rely on Ben Simmons’ playmaking ability. The Heat will look to run through point guard Goran Dragic setting up the pick and roll with Hassan Whiteside and feeding Miami’s many athletic wings in transition.
Matchup to Watch: Markelle Fultz vs. Dwayne Wade
Fultz, who was the #1 pick in last year’s draft, only recently started playing after returning from injury. He’s finding his groove, as he became the youngest player to ever post a triple-double in Philadelphia’s last regular season game. Wade has been making vintage “D-Wade” plays for weeks. Whichever of these players can have a bigger impact off the bench could help swing this series.
Prediction: Philadelphia wins 4-2 (Alex Bab)
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (5) Indiana Pacers
The Cleveland Cavaliers will be a heavy favorite over the Indiana Pacers. Both teams come into this series playing solid basketball, each with a 7-3 record over their last 10. One major advantage for Cleveland is at the three point line. They are Top 5 in both attempts and makes per game. Indiana will counter that by attacking the basket and taking mid range shots.
Matchup to watch: Battle of the Benches
With the starters averaging around the same points per game, the Cavaliers have a decided edge in bench points (+8) over the Pacers. Cleveland will prove too much too handle for this young Indiana squad.
Prediction: Cleveland wins 4-1 (Allen Fields)