Finally, the real NBA season is abound us. Boston has the number 1 seed in the Eastern conference but many doubt they will represent the conference in the finals. The Cavaliers shouldn’t emphasize the regular season outside of getting in tune for the playoffs. For the record, Cleveland won their season series (3-1) against Boston. Regardless of seed, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Not to sure to make of Washington or Toronto just yet. With the Playoff action getting underway today, lets take a look at the series of matches in the Eastern Conference.
# 1 Boston Celtics vs #8 Chicago Bulls
The Celtics are the improbable No. 1 seed with an improbable superstar in point guard Isaiah Thomas, whose 28.9 points per game (third in NBA) and fourth quarter prowess helped propel Boston to first place. But the Celts have struggled against other East playoff teams down the stretch with losses to the Bucks, Cavaliers, and Hawks.
The Bulls’ season has almost been the opposite, with a late-season surge lifting them to the post-season. Amidst rumours of issues between the locker room and front office, Chicago traded two assets for a prospect and appeared to be ready to forget the 2016-17 season ever happened. They ended up going 7-3 over their last 10, climbing into the final playoff spot. With all-star Jimmy Butler playing the best ball of his career and a healthy Dwyane Wade back in the lineup, many are touting the Bulls as the most likely team to pull off a first-round upset.
Key Match up To Watch: Jimmy Butler vs. Boston’s defensive specialists. Butler has been a force this season but has relatively struggled from the floor versus the Celtics, shooting 36 per cent while scoring below his average. Celtics forward Jae Crowder will be assigned to Butler, though he’ll likely also get a steady dose of Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart, two of the most effective perimeter defenders in the NBA.
Series Prediction: Boston wins the series in 7 grueling games.
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs #7 Indiana Pacers
The defending champion Cavs were flat-out beatable down the stretch, under .500 and 17th in the NBA in win percentage (12-15) after the all-star break. It seems there are more questions surrounding this team than ever, but they still have the king, LeBron James, who is still the best player on Earth. Time will soon tell whether LeBron and the Cavs will be able to flip the proverbial switch in time for another Finals run.
The Pacers, meanwhile, were unimpressive throughout much of the season and at one point appeared on the brink of blowing it all up when GM Larry Bird reportedly engaged in trade talks for star Paul George. Until last week they hadn’t won consecutive games for nearly two months but reeled off five straight wins heading into the post-season. These two teams recently combined for one of the best games of the regular season, a double-OT thriller that could set the stage for a surprisingly competitive series.
Key Match up To Watch : This one’s fairly obvious, with LeBron James and Paul George going head to head each night. During that double-OT game, George finished with 43 points, nine boards, nine assists, three steals and a block. James answered with 41 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists, and the 135-130 win. More of that, please.
Series Prediction: The Cavs are just too loaded to not win this series. Cavs in 6.
# 3 Toronto Raptors vs #6 Milwaukee Bucks
Like the Cavaliers, the Raptors were underwhelming this campaign after setting a regular season win record last year.Of course it was always going to be tough to match last year with Kyle Lowry missing 22 games and in short they were only five wins away from equalling that record. But with the Celtics vastly improving, the Raptors have somewhat slipped under radar. One thing the Raptors have done very well this year though is invest in strong squad options such as P.J Tucker and Serge Ibaka who will prove vital in their Playoff push.
Their opponent boasts a younger core and is thinking longer-term (their team slogan is “Own the Future”), but thanks to a breakout season from Giannis Antetokounmpo (who became the only player in NBA history to finish in the top-20 in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks) and a surprise campaign from rookie Malcom Brogdon and others, the Bucks were the East’s second-best team after the all-star break and enter the series wholly unintimidated.
Key Match up To Watch : DeMar DeRozan vs. Khris Middleton. In three games against the Bucks this season DeRozan averaged just 22.3 points, his lowest total against any team in the conference. Middleton is most known for his scoring and three-point stroke, but at a legit 6-foot-8 with a sturdy frame, he’s also a capable defender who along with Milwaukee’s other long wings can potentially disrupt DeRozan.
Series Prediction : Milwaukee will present challenges but Toronto will win this series in six games.
#4 Washington Wizards vs #5 Atlanta Hawks
The Wizards have returned to the post-season this year after an abysmal campaign last year. Bradley Beal and John Wall are putting up career-best numbers this year with both players averaging 23+ points per game. The Wizards will have to deal with a Hawks team that is playing out of their minds at the moment, going 4-1 in their last five including wins over the Celtics and Cavs (twice).
Key Match up To Watch : Paul Millsap should be able to have his way with Markieff Morris and the Wizards front court, but if Tim Hardaway can go toe-to-toe with Brad Beal then we’re all in for a treat. Hardaway has been the Hawks’ breakout star, averaging more than 18 points since March while Beal has emerged as one of the best shooting guards in the NBA, averaging 24.5 points while shooting 42.5 per cent from deep during that same span.
Series Prediction : The Wizards late season acquisitions will payoff in this series. Washington wins the series in 6 games.
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