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#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs #8 Detroit Pistons (Pistons won the season series 3-1)
Keys To The Series
Playoff basketball has returned to Detroit and fans have reasons to be excited, except to be facing a LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round. Detroit did however have regular season success vs Cleveland winning the season series 3-1. A huge key and question for Cleveland is what kind of continuity can this team create come playoff time? James’ prime window may have just started to slowly close; that does not give him many more years left to bring that elusive championship to “The Land.” After five straight NBA finals appearances for James, look for other stars to solidify their reason for being in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. The Pistons on the other hand are a up and coming team with rising stars in Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and Tobias Harris. If that trio dominate their position, then they might be able to surprise a lot of people including the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers X-Factor is Tristan Thompson. Aside from “King” James’ dominance, look for a great battle on the inside between Thompson and Drummond. Thompson needs to control the paint and keep Drummond off the boards. The Pistons X-Factor is Harris. On the perimeter a rising Pistons star Harris needs to take advantage of the playoffs spot light and have a breakout series against J.R. Smith.
Series Prediction: Any team with LeBron James has the advantage in the first round, Cleveland wins 4-1
#2 Toronto Raptors vs #7 Indiana Pacers (The Raptors won season series 3-1)
The super backcourt of Kyle Lowery and Demarr Derozen looks to continue their all-star play and make a deep playoff run. The running mates have combined to score close to 45 points per game (ppg) during the regular season. Toronto as a whole has played a team game with a defense ranked third overall in points against. The first test will be against the Indiana Pacers who return to the playoff after a one year hiatus. The Pacers have five players who average double digits in ppg. They also sport a top 10 defense (points against) and they have a knack for defending the three point line.
The X-Factor for the Raptors is Demarre Carroll. He was the big free agent pickup but has played only sparingly this season (26 games). His combination of defense and offense (and health) will be key as the Raptors go up against some of the better wing players in the east. The X-Factor for the Pacers is Paul George. He’s has returned from a gruesome leg injury and is back to his all-star form (23 ppg, 7 rpg, 4 apg). He will need to be an anchor on defense and they will also need him to turn up the scoring to create shots for his teammates as he’s the only player sniffing 20 ppg on the roster.
Prediction: Raptors win easily 4-1
#3 Miami Heat vs #6 Charlotte Hornets: Series Breakdown
Keys To The Series
Miami will look to veteran leadership in Dwayne Wade and Joe Johnson to set the tone early, while Hassan Whiteside looks to limit scoring opportunities in this opening round series. The Hornets were not expected to be in this position so expect them to play a more loose style of ball with fast-break opportunities frequently. Playing without expectations is dangerous when facing young talent across the board as any Hornet could catch fire with the bright lights of the NBA playoffs.
The X-Factors for the Heat are Johnson and Whiteside. Miami needs consistent scoring from Johnson to help shoulder the load while strong inside play of Hassan Whiteside will be necessary to keep this matchup uneven. The X factor for the Hornets are Marvin Williams, Kemba Walker, and Jeremy Lin. It will take all of them combined to put up huge stats while creating opportunities in the open floor for the rest of their teammates for the Hornets to have any chance at extending this series.
Series Prediction: Miami should have no problem advancing to the next round. Heat wins 4-2
Atlanta Hawks (4) vs Boston Celtics (Atlanta won the season series 3-1)
Keys to the game
The Hawks are 8-5 in their last 13 games to finish the season. The team with no stars are tops in the Eastern Conference in assists and 3rd in 3-pointers made. They will need to continue to share the ball on offense and shoot a high percentage from deep if they hope to make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics move up three slots from last year’s playoff run and have an eerily similar team to their first round counterparts. Ranked 3rd in assists and 6th in 3-pointers made in the Eastern Conference, they also strive on the team’s aspect. The Celtics should look to to attack the rim as the Hawks have no true shot blocker and continue to do the other little things like keeping their turnovers down in order to keep the pressure on Atlanta
The Hawks X-Factor is Jeff Teague. He has been severely criticized this season for some bad games and a kinda lackadaisical attitude towards the season. He is one of the only Hawks that can create his own shot. Teague needs to focus and take the reigns of the point guard position so his team can stop this “by committee” stuff we’ve seen this season. The Celtics X-Factor is Isaiah Thomas. He needs to continue to play at a high level and raise his efficiency and also needs to find more ways to get his own shots off and take over a couple of these games to put Boston over the top.
Prediction: This 4-5 matchup is as even as it gets. The two teams rank 1st (Bos) and 2nd (Atl) in steals per game in the east. Quick hands flashy passes and a lot of threes! Boston wins 4-3.