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The higher seeds in the NBA’s Eastern Conference all took care of their business in emphatic fashion. The better teams exerted their wills and strengths to advance. This is what was expected: no surprises or upsets. Now however, things are much less certain. Here is the Eastern Conference Semifinals preview:
4) Boston Celtics
1) Milwaukee Bucks
Keys for the Celtics:
The Celtics are looking to get production from all major participants offensively. Meaning they will need to have great balance with at least five players (Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Gordon Hayward and either Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier or Marcus Morris) in double figures each game. Shooting a high percentage from the field and free throw line will be key to a victory.
Defensively, they’re solid and must be on the same page with their rotations. Guarding the three-point line with urgency can force Milwaukee into a low percentage or chase them off the line altogether. Boston’s transition defense must find Giannis Antetokounmpo early and limit the Bucks easy baskets.
The X-factor for Boston will be finding easy baskets in transition against Milwaukee’s top defense. Kyrie Irving must not only be their best player but more importantly, a great leader. They also must create turnovers. The less possessions for the Bucks, the better.
Keys for Bucks:
Offensively, the Bucks need to shoot great from the three-point line (it’s been a weapon all season). Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ability to create easy opportunities for everyone around him will open the Celtics defense. If Milwaukee can live at the free throw line, it will cause foul problems for Boston.
On defense, Milwaukee has to protect the paint and keep Boston on the perimeter. With their length, they can cause havoc and interrupt the Celtics’ offense with deflections and blocks. Creating turnovers and converting them into easy baskets will be a big factor.
The X-factor for Milwaukee will be Eric Bledsoe’s play on both ends. Wing Kris Middleton must play his part as robin to Antetokounmpo’s batman. If the Bucks control the boards, it will go a long way towards winning the series.
Prediction- Milwaukee in six games.
3) Philadelphia 76ers
2) Toronto Raptors
Keys for 76ers:
Offensively, the 76ers need to get Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons’ best performances on a nightly basis. Either Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris has to join that pair to form a terrific trio. J.J. Redick must consistently knock down shots opening up the floor Embiid and others.
The 76ers has the personnel to be one of the top defenses in the league. To be mentally engaged on defense, they are going to have to give maximum effort. Also team rebounding, should will limit Toronto’s transition game. They will always have to keep an eye and body on Kawhi Leonard so he won’t have an easy time scoring.
The X-factor for Philadelphia will be the starters staying out of foul trouble because of a thin bench. Even with a short bench, they must get something out of Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic. They must use their size advantage to dominate the boards and control the tempo.
Keys for Raptors:
Toronto’s shooting percentage can’t be poor, especially from three-point range. Having sharp ball movement can assist with easy scores. Business as usual will propel the Raptors well in this series. Kawhi Leonard has to be the best player in the series along with a breakout performance from Pascsl Siakam. Kyle Lowry playoff woes must disappear and the production we’ve seen during the regular season and the first round must continue.
On defense, Toronto need to force the 76ers to be shooters and cut off driving lanes. The Raptors must have all hands and bodies on deck to rebound, limiting Philadelphia’s second attempts. They must make Ben Simmons a scorer and not let him do his best ‘Magic’ impersonation.
The X-factor for Toronto will be their bench, which can extend leads or get them back in games. Getting Philadelphia into foul trouble is crucial with their well documented lack of bench. The Raptors would be wise to speed up the game; tired defenders have lapses and foul.
Prediction- Toronto in seven games.