Atlanta vs Indiana
This series may look like a complete and total mismatch from what we’ve seen most of the season but if you look closely, this could be very intriguing. I have to give credit to Atlanta. When their best overall player, Al Horford, went down with his season-ending injury, they could’ve just thrown in the towel and tried to match the 76ers in the tank. However, behind Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague, this team persevered and got into the playoffs. Without a real low-post presence, this team is going to shoot a lot of 3’s and stretch the floor. Interestingly, they are 2-0 versus Indiana this season with Pero Antic in the lineup. He forces Hibbert to defend outside of the block where he is far from comfortable. Their entire starting 5 has the ability to shoot the 3 ball and with how poorly Indiana has been playing, this could be a lot closer than 1-8 matchup should be.
On the other hand, Indiana frankly may have gotten bored as the regular season was coming a close and did not play with the intensity or determination required by a TEAM. They are not the most talented team in the entire world but what they may lack in high-end talent (save Paul George) they make up for in depth and defense. Why did they make their run last year? They did it due to the emergence of Paul George and rock solid defense. They have strengthened their bench with the addition of Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum. Not that it will do fantasy owners any good but hopefully, Roy Hibbert decides to care about playing basketball during the postseason as well. If Indiana plays up to their ability, this could be over quickly. If not, Atlanta could get hot and make this far closer than it has any reason being.
Prediction: Indiana in 5
Charlotte versus Miami
I have to give credit where it is due. The Bobcats far outplayed my expectations for them this season. The main reason: Al Jefferson. Al Jefferson to me has been better than advertised. I saw him play earlier in his career with the Timberwolves and he was always decent but never dominant. This season, he’s had stretches that he’s been flat out dominant. He will provide a lot of problems against Miami because while Christ Anderson is a good defender, he is not used to being attacked as much as Jefferson will this series. Kemba Walker is a dynamic point guard who brings a plethora to the table: decent scoring, solid defense, decent distributor. The knock against him is two-fold; he really doesn’t do anything great and he’s very inefficient. However, without him, we would be down to Luke Ridnour and well, let’s not go there. The problem will be if either of these players struggle, there is NO ONE to pick up the slack. McRoberts would normally have an advantage against big men because he’s a solid shooter but he’s basically Boba Fett to Bosh’s Han Solo.
Miami should be and are the favorites to bring home a 3-peat this season. They have spent the entire season getting healthy and ready for in my opinion, one final run at a title. I won’t elaborate much because this is the same team that’s won the last two years pretty much. Miami struggles a lot against big men and I think Jefferson will give them fits the entire series. That being said, I can’t see Miami losing more the once.
Prediction: Miami in 5
Brooklyn versus Toronto
Let’s give the Raptors a big round of applause and welcome them back to the NBA playoffs. The Brooklyn Nets went “all-in” this summer by acquiring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from Boston as well as signing Andrei Kirilenko. Their thinking was we only have one or two chances at this so let’s bolster our depth and go for it. Well, things haven’t exactly worked out how they envisioned. Brook Lopez went down for the season with a foot injury. However, the Nets seemingly have been better without him due to contributions from Miles Plumlee and Mira Teletovic. This team has veteran leadership oozing from it and have been playing pretty well after an awful start.
The Raptors come back to the playoffs largely out of nowhere. Kyle Lowry has avoided serious injury and has been flat awesome this season. Their frontcourt duo of Valanciunas and Amir Johnson has been solid all season but there are two real reasons for this turnaround. First, the Raptors traded arguably their best player in Rudy Gay earlier this year. This, my friends, is addition by subtraction. Rudy Gay, while being a talented scorer, is horribly inefficient. The trade also allowed Demar DeRozan to develop into a extremely good player. A very good college player, DeRozan blossomed into a solid scorer averaging almost 23 points per game while Lowry averaged nearly 18 points. From my Minnesota math, that’s 41 points per game by your back-court. Lowry and Terrance Ross can also get hot from 3, making this team dangerous.
This one will be very interesting. You will have the upstart Raptors, who have home court against the veteran laden, playoff tested Nets. This is a matchup of division foes and I think this will be a long, drawn out series. I am going to go against normal logic because honestly, I feel they are the better team overall.
Prediction: Raptors in 7
Washington Wizards versus Chicago Bulls
This series is going to be a huge contrast in styles. On the one hand, you have the Wizards who are an exciting, young team. John Wall has really emerged into an upper-echelon point guard who plays terrific defense. Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza can be lethal from 3 if they get hot and the addition of Martin Gortat has been welcomed since Nene cannot stay healthy for longer than 2 weeks at a time. This team really didn’t do anything drastic to get better, they simply matured from pure talent into better basketball players.
Chicago once again has had to deal with the loss of Derrick Rose. This year, DJ Augustin was signed off the street and has been a fantastic addition to this team. They have a very good mix of veterans and youth and they play tremendous team defense. Joakim Noah while not a big time scorer, does absolutely everything for this team (and my trade for him in fantasy basketball led me to a 3rd straight title). Where this team will struggle is scoring. Noah is their best overall player with Rose hurt but he is not a premier scorer. They have guys who can get hot and carry that load but they also dealt Loul Deng earlier this year, thus weakening their scoring further. The Bulls will need to be at their defensive best, especially along the three point line to keep the Wizards in check.
This series may be the hardest to call of them all. One can make arguments for both teams winning the series and it should be very competitive. My logic is telling me to pick one team but my gut tells me that there is an upset in the making.
Prediction: Washington in 6
Here are your official Eastern Conference first round predictions. I will likely have a truncated version of the West preview before the playoffs start. I likely will be doing previews for each round and maybe writing my thoughts on the games throughout. Follow me on twitter @weigel_a! Enjoy the excitement that is the NBA postseason.