The NBA playoffs begin on Saturday and while most of the effort is shifted to the Western Conference due to the overall top-to-bottom quality of the eight teams involved, the Eastern Conference bracket is not expected. to be so easily dismissed.
It’s easy to say that things in the East won’t get really interesting until at least the second round, but that’s just not true. Due to the evidence from the play-in tournament, the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs looks like things could get a lot more competitive and interesting.
That doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a ton of upset, but the possibility of longer, extended streaks is never a bad thing.
Here’s a look at the four Eastern Conference Round 1 series and how we think things are going to rock each of them.
(1) 76ers vs. (8) wizards
Washington Wizards goalie Bradley Beal, left, climbs for the shot against Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, right, Wednesday, Jan.6, 2021, in Philadelphia. (Chris Szagola / AP)
Normally, the streak between the No.1 seed and No.8 – especially recently in the East – has been a snoozer that most can ignore knowing the seed will advance in four or five games.
That won’t be the case this year as the Wizards are no ordinary No.8 seeds.
Washington gave up its way of finishing No.8 in the Eastern Conference, and although he lost in the decisive No.7 play-in game, he dealt with business against the Indiana Pacers, demolishing them to capture. officially No. 8 and rebuild. some momentum and confidence heading into his seven-game streak against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Wizards finished the regular season as one of the hottest teams in the league thanks in large part to the exceptional play of Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. The star duo weren’t at their best during the play-in tournament as Westbrook battled fiercely against the Boston Celtics in Game 7 and Beal still appears to be facing a lingering hamstring issue. But the two looked as good as they will be against the Pacers on Thursday night, and given the duo’s immense talent and the quality of Washington’s play since the start of April, it’s hard not to think that ‘They will give Philadelphia problems in the first round.
The Sixers are a great defensive team and feature a finalist MVP in Joel Embiid, in addition to a strong supporting cast including Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, George Hill, Danny Green and Dwight Howard.
But talent hasn’t really been an issue with the Sixers in their recent playoff failures. Instead, it usually comes down to mental toughness and whether or not they’ve been able to minimize mistakes or, when they do, have been able to shake them up and move on to the next game and stay locked in.
It’s always a big question mark with Philly, especially with their stars Embiid and Simmons, and because of that, although their talent will eventually win out, it won’t be easy for them to do it against a Wizards team that now mostly plays with it. house money.
Prediction: 76ers on sept.
(2) Nets vs. (7) Celtics
Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets shoots against Marcus Smart (36) and Jayson Tatum (0) of the Boston Celtics. (Michael Dwyer / AP)
Despite all the deserved hype that the Brooklyn Nets’ vaunted trio of superstars of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden have generated this season, they haven’t really played much together.
There have only been eight games that the Troika have all played together this season, which begs the question of whether or not it will matter when the Nets begin their quest for the championship.
Honestly, given how ultra-talented the three are, even though they haven’t played much together this season, they should still be able to figure it out quickly and the Nets should end up being the offensive juggernauts that we are. we all think we are.
The real question with the Nets, however, is whether they’ll be able to get the job done despite playing with dismal defense at 22nd overall this season?
Their porous defense didn’t really impact their ability to secure regular season wins, as they finished with the fourth best NBA record, at 48-24, but the playoffs are a different animal because the teams are capable of refining themselves. on an opponent’s weaknesses and make match-to-match adjustments.
Against the Celtics, given Jaylen Brown’s unfortunate injury, the Nets will end up asserting their dominance because they simply have more weapons. But with offensive players in Boston like Jayson Tatum – who just won 50 against the Wizards in Game 7 – and Kemba Walker, the Celtics are going to score points and probably enough to take at least two games from Brooklyn before s ’tilt. outside.
Prediction: Fillets in six.
(3) Bucks vs (6) Heat
Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo misses a dunk on Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo on Saturday, May 15, 2021 in Milwaukee. (Morry Gash / AP)
Last year, the Miami Heat saw the seeded Milwaukee Bucks and was quick to knock them out, knocking them out in five games in the second round.
And even if it’s only been a year, expect a different result on that go-around.
Perhaps because they haven’t been as dominant as they’ve been in the past two seasons, Milwaukee has flown a bit under the radar this season, quietly taking the No. 3 seed with a 46-game winning streak. This despite some flashy moves such as swapping their future for Jrue Holiday before the start of the season, locking double MVP Giannis Antetokoumpo to an expansion and acquiring PJ Tucker just before the trade deadline.
Still, given Milwaukee’s shortcomings in the playoffs, there probably isn’t much belief on the part of league watchers, which will suit Milwaukee perfectly as it will soon become clear why sleeping on them is foolish. .
Of course, the Bucks probably got the toughest draw in the East, facing a strong Heat team who ended their season very healthy, going 12-4 in their last 16 games. But while it’s never a good idea to bet against Jimmy Butler – who has in fact never played in the three regular-season meetings between these two clubs this season – a Bucks team is coming up without much fanfare, with an Antetokounmpo who might feel offended after being left out of the MVP finalist list despite another outstanding season and, on paper, a more talented club with greater defensive versatility with the additions of Holiday and Tucker looks too dangerous to weaken again against Miami.
Prediction: Bucks in six.
(4) Knicks vs. (5) Hawks
The New York Knicks keep RJ Barrett (9) dunks against the Atlanta Hawks in the third quarter, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in New York City. (Wendell Cruz / Pool Photo via AP)
Two of the best NBA stories this season, like most No. 4s – No. 5 matches should be a good one.
The New York Knicks’ turnaround has been well documented throughout the season, new head coach Tom Thibodeau and young stars Julius Randle and Canadian RJ Barrett have helped revive one of the most proven brand franchises in the world. all the sports.
Less publicized, however, was the Atlanta Hawks’ remarkable turnaround.
The Hawks struggled to start the season, going 14-20, with rumors of a rift between young stars Trae Young and John Collins threatening to fracture the locker room. This led to the unfortunate dismissal of head coach Lloyd Pierce, leading Nate McMillan to take the reins as interim head coach on March 1 and lead Atlanta to a 27-11 record for the rest of the time. – the third best in the NBA. since the start of March – and seeded No.5 East of No.11 at the end of March and, most importantly, all the noise around the team about poison in the locker room had practically disappeared.
Entering this series, both teams have some clear advantages over the other – like the obvious playmaker advantage the Hawks have over the Knicks, with Young likely to get some All-NBA recognition, and the disparity between the benches, with Derrick Rose. a sixth man of the year finalist.
However, while we expect this to be a long streak, ultimately the main advantage between the two clubs will go to the Hawks. New York’s best player Randle is unlikely to be completely stopped, but with big Hawks like Collins and Clint Capela he can be slowed down.
The same can’t be said of the Knicks and trying to compete with Young. A player similar to Steph Curry and Damian Lillard, Young has almost unlimited reach, is a great game creator, and has a solid grip to boot. And while the Knicks play an exceptional team defense, they don’t have anyone on the roster who will truly be able to contain anything Young can do.
He’s the best player in the series and the Knicks don’t really have an answer for him, and for that reason alone, it’s the Hawks series to lose.
Prediction: Hawks in seven years.