Breaking Down the Beauty That Is the Eastern Conference Playoff Matchups
With regular season winding down, the Eastern Conference has blessed us with the best potential playoff bracket in years
April is officially upon us, arguably starting one of the best runs of the sports calendar year. Between the Masters, the college basketball finale, baseball returning, and the NFL Draft being just around the corner, it’s the most underrated tease in life. The entire sports world picks up just in time for Mother Nature to dish out some weather that actually makes you want to leave your couch. Yet somehow, nothing listed even comes close to being the best part of the month.
That title belongs to the NBA Playoffs.
No longer do NBA junkies have to head to their local sports bar, hoping one of the televisions just happens to be on League Pass so you can get your nightly fix. The beginning to the NBA Playoffs should be considered a combination of holidays. It’s like Hanukkah in the sense that it doesn’t end after just one night, 4th of July because of the nightly fireworks, and St. Patrick's Day because it’s clearly an event that may cause you to drink, although that may be out of enjoyment or to cope with a loss.
The first round normally seems uneven, and is usually considered a consolation game of sorts because all roads presumably lead to Quicken Loans Arena. This year is finally different. The Eastern Conference is not the top-heavy division it normally is, and LeBron and company are crawling their way into the playoffs while displaying several chinks in their armor.
With less than a week away, let’s take a look at the ideal Eastern Conference spread that will be laid out for us for our playoff basketball feast.
1 v 8: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls
Since LeBron told the world he was coming home and leaving South Beach behind, drawing the Cavs in the first round has been the closest thing to a participation trophy the league has to offer. Not only do you miss out on a lottery ball, but you get to meet the buzzsaw that has been the Cavs the past few seasons. LeBron hasn’t lost a game in the first round since 2011. It’s just brutal.
Now, our glistening chance of hope relies on a team that has had more negativity swirling around them than a punk rock loving 13-year old girl’s diary: the Chicago Bulls.
Normally, you could sweep this under the rug as a series you don’t need to watch unless you enjoy listening to the announcers talk about how good this team used to be. The only thing is, this isn’t the normal Cavs, and for some unanswerable reason, the Bulls may be their kryptonite.
That’s right. If Cleveland plays Chicago on TNT, just go ahead and pray for the Cavs. Realistically, you have to assume LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love can get this team past the Bulls even though they’ve yet to beat them this season, but that’s not the point.
It’ll prove the Cavs are vulnerable. It’s like Leonidas making Xerxes bleed during 300 or Peter La Fleur telling Goodman he looked awfully fat in his pants prior to their sudden death in Dodgeball. It will prove LeBron and the Cavs aren’t flipping the switch, and will set up his downfall.
Prediction: 4–2 Cleveland
2 v 7: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers
The most entertaining first round series would ideally involve the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. With Dion Waiters getting every green light imaginable and Boston trying to vanquish their rebounding problem that could be personified through the board monster that is Hassan Whiteside, it would be an absolute classic.
While the Pacers’ matchup wouldn’t see Waiters try everything in his arsenal to get past Boston, we would still be able to get another extremely interesting storyline involving Paul George. The superstar who was once linked to at least two hundred rumors sending him to Boston all thanks to an Isaiah Thomas tweet featuring some emoji eyes stayed in Indy, and hasn’t been anything short of ridiculous.
We’ve seen George put the entire state on his back and everyone who has ever played for it in the past. If he’s feeling it, he could find his way to push past Boston. If he’s not and they go down easily, George could find himself attracted to the Celtics when he hits free agency, just like Durant found his way to Golden State the year after they ousted the Thunder in the playoffs.
Prediction: 4–1 Boston
3 v 6: Toronto Raptors vs. Milwaukee Bucks
This may shape up to be the most intriguing series out of the East. The Raptors are clearly the superior team, finishing up with 50+ wins for the second consecutive season, but the biggest question revolves around the team’s best player, Kyle Lowry. You must be wondering just how drunk I must be to say this team may struggle after their All Star point guard returns, but the fact of the matter is this isn’t 2k. They’re not just adding someone to slip in seamlessly. The starting five of Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas still hasn’t really played together. You can imagine they’ll be better, but who knows how Lowry will return.
On the other side, the world will truly get exposed to the Greek Freak. Figuring out how to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo is harder than spelling his name. Finally, we get to see how one of the league’s rising stars will play with the playoff pressure riding on his seemingly 11-foot long arms, and more importantly, how the Raptors will try to guard him. They may try to slide Ibaka up to cover him defensively as a lengthier defender, or they can try with Carroll trying to subdue the assault from Greece. He’s the first player to finish in the top 20 in five major stat categories, so it may be easier said than done. This is officially the time Giannis and Head Coach Jason Kidd put Milwaukee on the map.
Prediction: 4–3 Milwaukee
4 v 5: Washington Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks
This is another matchup that seems too close to predict. The problem is figuring out which Hawks team you’re going to get. Are you going to get the never say die Hawks that won three straight with victories against Cleveland, Boston, and then Cleveland again after capping off a 27-point comeback? Or are you going to get the Hawks that lost 8 of 10 with their only wins coming against the 76ers and the Suns? Figuring out Atlanta is like trying to solve a Rubik's cube blindfolded while driving your car, it’s impossible.
That’s the only thing separating this team from a sweep at the hands of John Wall and company. The Washington Wizards are one team that consistently should never be taken lightly. Wall has done a masterful job filling up every single stat sheet yet still doing it in such a way where he hasn’t snuck into the conversation as the league’s best point guards. One of the better storylines in this series is how John Wall keeps his cool against Dennis Schroder. Schroder has been known to piss other point guards off, and Wall has been known to ask to settle scores a different way than what the league would normally approve of.
It’s the perfect series of defense against offense. Atlanta is in the top ten in a number of defensive categories including points allowed and opponents field goal percentage. Washington? Oh they’re just in the top five for both points scored and team field goal percentage. Unstoppable force meets an immovable object, with Washington squeaking it out as Wall moves on.
Prediction: 4–2 Washington.