April 24, 2015

NBA Playoffs preview: Eastern Conference edition

The Eastern Conference playoffs had a typical NBA playoff start this week, as only one road team pulled out a victory over a home opponent (the Spurs beat the Clippers on Wednesday night). The conference, which was dominated by the top five teams during the regular season, saw home opponents sweep all eight games played. The saying goes, “The series doesn’t really start until the road team wins,” and below I predict when, and if, that will happen.

No. 1 Atlanta Hawks (60–22) vs 

No. 8 Brooklyn Nets (38–44)

Hawks up 2–0

The Hawks seem to have copied the Spurs’ historical recipe for success, en route to the best record in the East. With no apparent superstar on the roster, Atlanta features a balanced offensive attack led by point guard Jeff Teague, forward Paul Millsap, and relentless sharpshooter Kyle Korver, who shot a blistering 48.7 percent from three-point range this season. The Nets and veteran point guard Deron Williams have at least been competitive in the series thus far, and may be able to squeak out a game at home, but the Hawks will continue with the success they’ve enjoyed all year. With that, I am going to stick with my original projection, and say that this series ends in five games with the Hawks eventually making their way to the second round.

No. 4 Toronto Raptors (49–33) vs 

No. 5 Washington Wizards (46–36)

Wizards up 2–0

The Raptors’ high-scoring offense (104 PPG) has been led all season by the uber-talented DeMar DeRozan and his 20 PPG. On the flip side, the up-and-down Wizards have one of the best backcourts in basketball with the electric tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal. The Wizards took the first two games at home, but look for this series to be the most competitive one in the entire first round of the NBA playoffs. In the end, I expect the Wizards to finally put it together for a seven-game stretch. Look for Washington to defensively tire this Toronto team, as the Raptors only managed 86 points in Game One. However, while Washington has looked dominant thus far this series, I still think the Raptors can really push the Wizards, and therefore I expect this series to go the full length of seven games, but with the Wizards ultimately prevailing.

No. 3 Chicago Bulls (50–32) vs 

No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks (41–41)

Bulls up 2–0

Derrick Rose has returned from injury for what seems like the 47th time, but the real stars of the 2014–15 Bulls have been Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol, who have stepped up in Rose’s absence. However, Rose averaged 19 points in the first two games of the series and looks as explosive as ever. “The Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo has surprisingly led Milwaukee into relevancy, but a more talented and finally healthy Chicago team should hold off the scrappy Bucks.

No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers (53–29) vs 

No. 7 Boston Celtics (40–42)

Cavs up 2-0

The Celtics are a nice rebuilding story, as they amassed 40 wins only one year removed from a 25–57 record. Still, their young team has no chance of stopping LeBron James and the Cavs, who are 36–10 since LeBron returned from his mid-season injury. It has been Kyrie Irving who has led the way in the first two games, averaging 28 points in what were his first career playoff appearances. With the addition of Kevin Love’s two near double-doubles, this series will not be close.