With last night’s results, the seeding in the Eastern Conference playoff picture is complete. Washington’s loss to Orlando, Milwaukee’s loss to Philadelphia, and Miami’s win against Toronto officially sealed the 6th, 7th, and 8th seeds.
The Eastern Conference Playoff picture goes as follows;
With the playoffs being only three days away, let’s preview the first round.
(1)Toronto Raptors vs (8) Washington Wizards
Regular season: Series Tied 2-2
Toronto and Washington was a series that some might’ve seen coming in the preseason. Coming into the year, it was feasible that these two teams would meet one another in the four/five match-up in the first round. The part that no one expected was that this would be the one/eight matchup.
The Raptors finished the season with a franchise record 59 wins. After coming out sluggish in the first few weeks of the season, the Raptors became the model of consistency down the stretch of the year.
Toronto rode the development of DeMar DeRozan and the emergence of a highly productive bench to the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. A team that had been hindered by iso-ball and selfishness over the past few seasons blossomed into one of the most complete teams in the NBA.
Speaking of selfishness, while the Raptors impressed in the regular season, the Wizards disappointed.
After losing to the Celtics in the conference semifinals a year ago, Washington needed to take a huge step this season to solidify themselves as legit contenders. They just did not do that.
Despite bringing back their entire roster from a year ago, for the most part, the Wizards regressed. Washington seemed to be plagued by selfishness and in-fighting for much of the season.
The Wizards found a short spark after John Wall went down with a knee injury in January. That sparked hot takes that Washington was better off without their star player. These takes didn’t just come from fans, Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat both took shots at Wall while he was away. The disappointment in DC led the team to the first-round match-up with Toronto.
This match-up is so intriguing due to the star power of Washington. When Wall and Beal are clicking on all cylinders, they can hang with anyone in the East. Can they get enough production from Otto Porter Jr. and the rest of the supporting cast to counter Toronto’s balanced attack?
Will Toronto be able to put their playoff demons in the rear view mirror and avoid another disappointing first-round loss to Washington?
(2) Boston Celtics vs (7) Milwaukee Bucks
Regular Season: tied 2-2
The Celtics and Bucks is a very confusing series going into it. There are so many questions that need to be answered throughout the series. Can Boston overcome all the injuries that they’ve been plagued with to survive the Bucks? Can Milwaukee put a week or two of consistent basketball together to win a series?
The Celtics will be entering the playoffs without the services of their two best players. They’ve been without Gordon Hayward since the first quarter of opening night, so his loss doesn’t really factor in. The loss of Kyrie Irving is huge for Boston’s playoff chances.
Boston managed to win 55 games this season despite rotation players missing a combined 216 games due to injuries. The Celtics will be without Marcus Smart’s services in the first round as well.
The question with the Celtics is will they be able to muster enough points to win in the playoffs? There’s no doubting what they can do defensively or the coaching of Brad Stevens. With that said, offense is the underlying factor to their success. Will Brad be able to put them in the right spots to score and more importantly win? The roster’s talented enough to win a series or two despite the injuries. Some (me) might say this roster is more talented in its current state than last year’s team.
There’s no doubting the talent of this Bucks team. Giannis Antetokounmpo took another step into superstardom this season. Khris Middleton has been superb in the number two roll and year as well. Milwaukee’s issue has been consistency.
A roster flaunting the likes of Giannis, Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and a returning Jabari Parker should be a heavy favorite over this battered Celtics team. They aren’t though. The main reason being consistency. The Bucks haven’t been able to put multiple weeks of solid basketball together all season. They will need to do so, to beat a Brad Stevens-coached team. The Celtics will bring effort for seven games, Milwaukee needs to match Boston’s desperation.
(3) Philadelphia 76ers Vs (6) Miami Heat
Regular Season: Tied 2-2
The 76ers won 16 straight games to close out the regular season and claim the third seed. Philadelphia will start the playoffs without Joel Embiid. It’s been no Embiid, no problem for the 76ers lately with Ben Simmons‘ dominance over the past few weeks.
Young teams usually struggle in the playoffs so Philly is an intriguing team to watch. Philly has the benefit of a few veterans coming off the bench. JJ Redick, Ersan Ilyasova, and Marco Belinelli add a nice veteran balance to Philly’s youth. Having guys who’ve been there before could be enough to snap the young team in the playoff stigma.
Miami is one of the deeper rosters in the playoffs this year. They don’t have much superstar power but they’re solid from top to bottom. Miami’s a team that can afford to go with an 11-man rotation when everyone else is shortening rotations. Having the ability to stay true to your rotations can wear on opponents. Coach Spo is another huge factor in the series. His ability to get the most out of an average roster can put Miami in position to sneak out a round.
The Heat need Hassan Whiteside to dominate the series while Embiid is on the shelf. If Whiteside can take over the series without resistance, we could see Miami pulling off an upset in round one.
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers Vs (5) Indiana Pacers
Regular Season: Pacers won 3-1
The Cavaliers slipped down to the fourth seed after Philly’s hot end to the season. Cleveland will be matched up with a team that gave them fits in the regular season.
With all the drama and roster overhead the Cavs went through this season, they ended the season strong. The Cavs found a rhythm when Kevin Love returned from his hand injury.
Cleveland has something no one else in the NBA has, they have LeBron James. LeBron’s never lost a first-round series and he’s been in the NBA Finals for the past like 200 years.
So how can there be any doubt directed towards a LeBron James-led team in April? Well, because the teams been a pile of crap for parts of this season. LeBron’s been spectacular but Cleveland needs to get production from the supporting cast in the playoffs. Cleveland’s wasted a handful of Classic LeBron James performances this season. They can’t afford to do so in the playoffs, or LeBron might be looking at an early exit for the first time in a very long time.
Indiana is the surprise of the NBA season. After trading Paul George, the Pacers were considered dead in the water entering the season. A rebuild looked Imminent in Indiana.
Led by the coaching of Nate McMillan and the emergence of Victor Oladipo, the Pacers find themselves in the playoffs. They’ve been full of surprises all season and they look to provide some more in the playoffs. Can Oladipo do something George never could? Can he beat LeBron in a playoff series?
The best time of the year is here ladies and gentleman. The NBA playoffs are on our doorstep and it’s time to buckle up for a wide-open Eastern Conference race.