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A whirlwind NBA season has ended and once again the playoffs will commence. The Eastern Conference has been the more dominant conference this season, with the teams at the top being the highest rated contenders for a championship.
How will the first round shake out?
#1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #8 Miami Heat
The top seeded Bucks come into the series clicking on all cylinders. The Heat sneak into the playoffs after winning the second play in game versus Chicago.
Milwaukee should be the favorites to win the NBA Finals, but the Heat are 8-5 versus the Bucks in their playoff history.
Keys To The Series:
The biggest key to a Heat victory will be Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Jimmy Butler playing above the level of their regular season production. They need to score over 70 points combined to put some pressure on the Bucks. If Milwaukee has problems with those three, the Heat’s role players will get a bunch of open looks.
Miami will need to hit their three pointers, but they can’t get into a three point duel with the Bucks. They should work for open looks, but stay away from forcing it from the outside.
Milwaukee is pretty stacked, but some of those guys that don’t usually play will have to play in this series. Guys like Kevin Carter, Meyers Leonard and Marjon Beauchamp might get called upon and they’ll have to give Milwaukee some production.
The Bucks can’t let Jimmy Butler (in particular) get going. The other guys could scratch and claw all they want, but if Butler is neutralized there’s almost no chance for Miami to win.
Kyle Lowry is not the player he used to be, but he needs to get closer to his old self. He needs to improve on his 11.5 points per game average during the regular season and give Miami a real shot in the arm.
Brook Lopez has provided the Bucks with some great defense and some much needed offense with some of the team’s injuries. His length and shot making will be a huge weapon in this series.
Milwaukee should quickly dispatch of the Heat in this matchup. Milwaukee wins in five games.
#4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #5 New York Knicks
This could be the best matchup of the postseason. The Knicks took the season series 3-1, but the Cavaliers will have home court advantage for the first time since the 2018 postseason. This series could swing the flow of the entire Eastern playoff picture.
Keys To The Series:
New York has to find a way to stifle Donovan Mitchell and that’s easier said than done. Whether it’s switching defenders on him throughout the game or sending double teams at him, they have to find a way to calm down the heat that he brings.
The Knicks will need to hit their three pointers. They aren’t terrible at it, but they can be streaky at times. They’ll have to get a bit more consistent, and fast.
Cleveland has to find a way to keep the Knicks off the offensive boards. New York was near the top of the league in that category and they will feast off of second chance points if you don’t contain the rebounding.
The Cavaliers are going to need a much better effort from their bench. They average 28.7 points off of their bench for season, which ranks them near the bottom. Cleveland can’t afford to lose momentum when Mitchell or Darius Garland has to take a breather.
All teams usually want to avoid turnovers, but both of these teams need to really avoid it. In the Knicks case they can start to unravel at times after a few turnovers combined with missed shots. In Cleveland’s case they should avoid any situation where they’re giving the Knicks extra possessions.
The Knicks will need R.J. Barrett to step his game up to another level. He’s got to push his scoring up and play harder defensively if the Knicks want to pull out the victory.
The Cavs could use a double-double from Evan Mobley every game in this series. If he could get going offensively, the Knicks might not have an answer.
I don’t know it would be an upset, but New York is a team built with toughness. That bodes well in the playoffs. New York wins in seven games.
#3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #6 Brooklyn Nets
The 76ers are done trusting the process and they’re ready for some results this postseason.
The Nets lost all their all stars at the trade deadline, but kept winning with their replacements.
Can the Nets topple one of the favorites to win it all?
Keys To The Series:
Philadelphia should do their best to leave no doubts and establish their dominance. Sweeping the first two games will go a long way to sweeping the entire series given their great record on the road.
When all else fails, get the ball to Joel Embiid. The way he’s playing right now, nobody can guard him. Philadelphia should give the Nets an extra heavy dose of Embiid early and try to get him rest late when they (should) have a lead.
Cam Thomas and the Nets’ bench need to give the team a big boost. The starters will have their hands full trying to keep up with the 76ers and they’ll need the bench (scoring in particular) to close any gaps between the two starting units.
Brooklyn is going to have to find a way to take either James Harden or Tyrese Maxey out of their game. Joel Embiid will most likely dominate this series and the Nets can’t have three guys averaging a combined 75 points.
Nic Claxton will have his hands full sticking Joel Embiid and he has to rise to the challenge. The Nets won’t be able to send help often and Claxton has to be able to hold down his position.
Tobias Harris had a solid season, but it was definitely dwarfed by his three team mates. If he can step up his game the Nets probably won’t have an answer for the extra production.
The Nets have been a nice story, but the Sixers are just too strong. Philadelphia wins the series in five games.
#2 Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks and the Celtics have played a total of 71 playoff games against one another and the Celtics have a huge edge in wins. The last time these two met was the 2016 postseason with the Celtics once again coming out on top.
Can the lower seeded Hawks reverse their historic playoff woes against Boston?
Keys To The Series:
It would behoove the Hawks to win game one of this series. If they can have a performance like the one they had in the play-in game, they’ll have a good chance to do so.
Atlanta will have to play as fast as possible while staying under control. Getting into the offense early along with scoring in transition will help neutralize the Celtics’ defense. When given time to set up they’re defense, Boston can really stifle their opponents.
Trae Young and Dejounte Murray have to average about 55 points combined scoring wise for the series. The duo will need to improve their scoring (somehow) and put as much pressure as possible on the Celtics’ wing players.
The Celtics should be able to shoot at will, but they might want to work their way to free throw line a bit more. Getting Atlanta into foul trouble early could hurt their depth and points from the foul line keeps scoring runs going.
Boston can not let up on offense at any point of the game. The Hawks can pour it on offensively, but they aren’t the necessarily the ’04 Pistons when it comes to defense. Boston should be able to force their will on the Hawks and they really shouldn’t give them any daylight.
The Hawks are waiting for DeAndre Hunter to become a great two way wing player and they really can’t wait too much longer. They’ll need him to play good offensively, but his defense will be much more in demand during this series.
Robert Williams has gotten healthy at the right time and the Celtics could use his presence down low. The Celtics are a good rebounding team, but they are near the bottom in offensive rebounding and Williams will definitely help in that category.
Atlanta should sneak in a win or two at home. But they were a play-in team for a reason. Boston wins the series in six games.