No. 8 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 1 Boston Celtics
The Bulls won 7 of their last 10 games, securing the final playoff spot on the last day of the regular season. They clawed their way into the eighth seed this year thanks to their defense and rebounding. Both areas are problems for the Celtics and should result in a surprise game or two for the Bulls. However, the inconsistency of the Bulls will be their Achilles heel. Celtics will get 4 easy wins while dropping a nail biter or two.
No. 7 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland enters the playoffs lost. Winning only 4 of their last 10 games has dropped them to the second seed behind the Celtics. Indiana enters the playoffs on a hot streak, winning 5 straight. As much as the Pacers look like a playoff team while the Cavaliers a lottery team, you can never count out the LeBron effect in the post season. LeBron has that super-star ability to take over games and series despite who he is surrounded by. Paul George and Myles Turner should have a great series for the Pacers but LeBron and the Cavaliers will show up when it counts and take this series in 6 games.
No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 3 Toronto Raptors
Milwaukee has been fantastic this season in having to overcome the loss of Jabari Parker, especially with Khris Middleton missing the first half of the season. However, the Bucks and the Greek Freak will have to go up against a fully healthy Raptors squad that is determined to get a second shot at the Eastern Conference title. Raptors have too much depth and experience, should win the series in 5 games.
No. 5 Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 4 Washington Wizards
As the seeding suggests this should be the most competitive series of the East’s first round. It’s always fun when a series features two teams with clashing play style. The Hawks are a top team in both defense and rebounding, but can have trouble finding points some games. The Wizards score with the best of them but struggle with getting rebounds and stopping teams. John Wall and Bradley Beal will get their points no matter what but the question is will playoff Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap be consistent enough on both ends of the floor to counteract the Wizards guards. The Wizards will win this series but it won’t be easy and might even take them the full 7 games.
Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards
Isaiah Thomas versus John Wall duel should have all basketball fans excited for this potential matchup. These teams split the regular season series 2-2 and I expect this playoff series to have the same level of competition. Both teams have serious beef with each other that should result in a hard fought, flagrant foul ridden 7 game battle. If this series devolves into the high-scoring showdown that these team’s nearly identical offensive efficiency marks suggests, the Celtics could have a tough time keeping up with the recent scoring outpour of the Wizards second unit. Washington’s firepower win them this series but it should come down to the last seconds of game 7.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors
In a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finals the two deepest teams in the East will face off once again. Both teams have added tools to their arsenal since last season. Toronto bolstered their defense with the additions of Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker at the trade deadline. Cleveland was a carousel of veterans all season long. Despite never quite finding the bench playmaker that LeBron wanted, Cleveland still has enough weapons to outscore Toronto on a consistent basis. Cavaliers should handle this series in 6 games.
Eastern Conference Finals
Washington Wizards vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Of all the teams in the East, the Washington Wizards might be the only one that could go shot for shot with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Both teams finished the season in or near the bottom third of the league in defensive rating and defensive rebounding percentage. Each landed well within the top 10 in offensive efficiency. In a battle of two potent offenses whichever team can string together enough stops on the defensive end should have the edge. However, after factoring in the playoff LeBron effect and Cleveland’s ability to make the 3-ball I expect the Cavaliers to repeat as Eastern Conference champions in a 6 game series.