The wait is over boys and girls, the NBA Playoffs are here.
After weeks of anticipation and an absolutely wild finale of regular season play, we finally know what the first round matchups will be. What a relief. Let’s take a look at who I have coming out of the first round in the East.
Toronto Raptors (1) vs. Washington Wizards (8)
The Toronto Raptors captured the number one-seed for the first time in team history this season. What comes with that? Normally, expectations would be through the roof, but that isn’t always the case in the East. With LeBron James dominating this conference for the last 6 years, seeding hasn’t really mattered. However, that doesn’t mean that Toronto is a bad team who just got lucky. Outside of teams led by the King, I think this Raptors squad is the best one-seed we’ve had in the East over the last six seasons.
Toronto may have cooled off to end the season, but I don’t think it will come back to bite them in the first round. John Wall and Bradley Beal are both fantastic players, that really goes without saying. Lowry and DeRozan are going to have their hands full with those two. I just don’t think the Wizards will have enough to keep up with the Raptors outside of them. Their bench isn’t even close to as good as Toronto’s, who statistically has gotten the best bench play in the league this season. I think the games will be close, but I’m going with Raptors in 5.
Boston Celtics (2) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (7)
I don’t know how they did it, but the Celtics limped their way to the 2 seed in the East this season without Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. Brad Stevens (my coach of the year) also managed to coach this team to their best record under him as head coach. The resiliency that the Celtics have shown this year is remarkable. And being a team that has had everything go against them, I don’t think they could have asked for a better matchup in the Bucks.
Milwaukee is easily the most poorly coached team in the playoffs right now. They still have Giannis, which is terrifying, but everyone around him has underachieved this year. With all of the talent they have in Milwaukee, this team could have easily been a 3-4 seed. Instead, they enter the playoffs as a 7 seed and sit dead last in rebounding. The Bucks may have the best player in this series, but I give the Celtics an advantage almost everywhere else. I’m going with Celtics in 6.
Philadelphia 76ers (3) vs. Miami Heat (6)
This is easily the best matchup in the Eastern Conference. Why?
Joel Embiid vs. Hassan Whiteside was one of the most underrated storylines of the regular season. Those two absolutely hate each other, and I’m here for a seven-game series of them going at it.
With that said, Philly has been red-hot to end the season. Winners of their last 16 games, nobody is entering the playoffs playing better basketball than them. Miami is good, but the 76ers are hitting on all cylinders right now. I think they’re going to bring that heat to Miami (haha), and take this series easily. Ben Simmons is going to dominate. Embiid will have his way with Whiteside. Sixers in 5 is my call.
Cleveland Cavaliers (4) vs. Indiana Pacers (5)
If there were ever a season for LeBron James to miss the Eastern Conference Finals, it feels like it would be this one. The Cavs have underperformed drastically this year. The facelift that they gave their roster at the trade deadline helped a little bit, but they still have a lot of question marks on defense. I think this is probably the worst team he’s ever had, but that doesn’t mean they can’t turn it up a notch.
Indiana got really lucky in the Paul George trade, who many (myself included) criticized them for. NOBODY expected them to even make the playoffs. But Oladipo was a pleasant surprise, as he appears to have taken the leadership role with pride this year. While the Pacers do play great team basketball, it’s hard to pick against the King. He still owns the East at the end of the day. I’m sure the Cavs will rally around him and make it out of this series handily. I’m going with Cavs in 4.
Will I hit on any of these picks? Probably not. But I’ll still be back with my Western Conference predictions tomorrow and a continuation of this series throughout the playoffs.
-Nick Cherico (@NickCherico2)