NBA Playoff Preview – Eastern Conference
This season’s NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday. As the Eastern Conference playoffs will not feature LeBron James for the first time since the 2004-2005 season, all eight teams think they have a legitimate shot at topping the rest. Here’s how the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs should play out:
Bucks (1) vs Pistons (8)
The Milwaukee Bucks have been one of the best teams all season, as they finished the regular season with the best record in basketball. MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged the third most points per game this season with 27.7 and he should earn a spot on the NBA all-defensive team at season’s end.
Antetokounmpo alone should be convincing enough as to why the Bucks should win this series, but throwing all-star sharpshooter Khris Middleton and solid floor general Eric Bledsoe into the mix makes the Bucks too powerful for the Detroit Pistons.
Detroit all-star Blake Griffin is in the middle of recovering from a knee injury and may not be able to play in at least game one. Center Andre Drummond is having another spectacular year on the glass, averaging a league-high 15.6 rebounds, but the strength and athleticism of Antetokounmpo shouldn’t give the Pistons much of an edge on the boards.
The Bucks averaged the most points-per-game as team this season, while the Pistons averaged the sixth-least. Detroit may steal a game or two if Griffin is healthy, but expect the Bucks to win this series easily.
Prediction: Bucks win series 4-1
Raptors (2) vs Magic (7)
The Orlando Magic took a huge step in the right direction this season. For the first time in seven years, they had an all-star selection in Nikola Vucevic, and they will make an appearance in the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Magic, their playoff appearance shouldn’t last too long as they have to face the heavy-loaded Toronto Raptors in the first round. The Raptors did not skip a beat this season after they traded the face of their franchise in DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs for plausibly a better player in Kawhi Leonard. The fantastic two-way all-star averaged sixth-best in both points per game and steals per game this year.
All-star point guard Kyle Lowry does a fantastic job at sharing that ball, as he averaged the second most assists per game in the league this season. Most Improved Player award candidate Pascal Siakam is a forceful big. The combination of him and veteran center Marc Gasol should be enough to prevent Vucevic and Aaron Gordon from taking over games.
This should be the most lop-sided series of the first round. It would be a surprise to no one if Toronto pulled off a sweep.
Prediction: Raptors win series 4-0
76ers (3) vs Nets (6)
It is widely agreed that on paper the Philadelphia 76ers boast the second-best starting lineup in the NBA behind only Golden State. With four legitimate all-star-caliber players, the Sixers should be unbeatable.
However, Sixers MVP candidate Joel Embiid could possibly miss at least game one against the Brooklyn Nets. Philly is not the same team without Embiid, as they went 8-10 this season when he did not play.
The Nets were finally able to see the light this season after experiencing years of darkness when they made the terrible mistake of trading several first-round picks to the Celtics for aging Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett five years ago. All-star and Most Improved Player award candidate D’Angelo Russell finished the season with 21.1 points per game and 7 assists per game. The combo guard is surrounded by good shooters and role players, but that probably won’t be enough to stop Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris.
In the regular-season series between these two teams, the Nets outscored the Sixers by 40 when Embiid was off the floor. However, the big man still averaged 30 points and 14.3 boards in games against the Nets this season. The star power of the Sixers starting five and a young, inexperienced Nets squad should give Philly the advantage.
Prediction: 76ers win series 4-2
Celtics (4) vs Pacers (5)
The Boston Celtics have actually been disappointing to many this season, as it was widely believed that they would be one of the most dominant teams all year. The C’s had many ups-and-downs during the season, but they are still confident they can go far in the playoffs as they finally have a healthy Kyrie Irving who missed the entire playoffs last season when they still got to game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Pacers also had a rollercoaster-type season, but their story is much different. After losing all-star Victor Oladipo for the rest of the season when he ruptured a tendon in his right knee in January, many thought the Pacers would fall off the map. Instead, the Pacers remained one of the best teams in the East for the rest of the season thanks to players like Myles Turner and Bojan Bogdanovic who have stepped it up in Oladipo’s absence.
On paper, the Celtics are definitely the better team, but the Pacers have played so well this season that anything could happen. This should be a fun, competitive series that could potentially see seven games. Boston will get the slight edge from the fantastic coaching of Brad Stephens and the better-experienced roster.
Prediction: Celtics win series 4-3
Jack McCune is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.