Yesterday on GSOM we previewed the Western Playoff matchups on our way into the postseason. Here are the crib notes: it should be a snorefest until the 2nd round unless Portland can make a series out of it. The other major note? The Warriors are good and will probably beat everyone on their way to the title.
Thats ok sports fans! You want good NBA action? Look no further than the Eastern Conference. Only 13 games separated the top seed Cleveland Cavs from the Detroit Pistons in the standings. For comparison, The Warriors had a 18 game lead on the Thunder, the three seed, in the West. The 3rd through 6th seeds in the East were not technically decided until the final game of action. Many of the teams are evenly balanced - the question is are any of them legitimate contenders? Let's get to the matchups!
(1) Cleveland vs (8) Detroit
Season Series: Detroit won the season series 3-1
Many will call this one a sweep in advance. I ask the honest question - would you be surprised if the Cavs lost? Sure, they have more talent because they simply have LeBron James. But the Cavs are a mess right now, both on the court and in the locker room. I can imagine a situation where the team goes down 2-1 and now the media starts smelling blood, bringing up how Kyrie wants out or that Kevin Love has started looking for new houses in Los Angeles. This will happen because Andre Drummond is a beast. Drummond in the three wins against the Cavs this year: 25-18, 16-15 and a rest game. In the loss: 20-8. So if you contain Drummond, much like the rest of the league knows, you contain the Pistons. But if Drummond decides to continue his coming out party on a national stage and makes Tristian Thompson and Mozgov look like D-Leaguers, this series could be a huge challenge quick. The Pistons have a problem scoring (19th in the league), but bringing Tobias Harris into the mix has helped take the pressure off Reggie Jackson and the back court. They have a slightly better defense than most of the league, but generally are a better sum of their parts kind of team. Can guys like KCP and Marcus Morris show up when the pressure is on like they have all season?
Or will the Cavs take the first two in Cleveland, feeding the media with stories about how they have lazer focus on their way to another NBA finals appearance? There has never been a question about this team on paper, but once they get on the court and start to undermind poor Tyronn Lue, things go south. They did win 7 of their last 11 and James is playing like a beast after shutting down social media. Who knows with this team... but the drama that would come from an early round exit would be epic.
Prediction: Detroit steals two at home to make it a series, but the Cavs finish this one in six.
(2) Toronto vs (7) Indiana
Season Series: Raptors took season series 3-1
Toronto is my favorite Eastern Conference team, and coincidentally the team I would be most afraid of facing in the NBA finals. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan make up a bruising back court which can shoot, score and cause you to throw away your game plan. Throw in defensive stopper DeMarre Carroll and you have a core who can matchup well against pretty much any team. They score the 3rd most points in the league, control the game with their pace, and brutalize you. They have exceeded season expectations, and comfortably cruised into the playoffs. Can they shake off the history of failed playoff runs in seasons past? Can their stars show up when it counts up in Drake's house?
On the flip side, the Pacers are what we know them to be: stable, consistent, dare I say boring. They are boring in the best possible way however - a work pail, get the job done kind of team that never rolls over. Credit head coach Frank Vogel who deserves a better roster than Paul George and a collection of talent on his hands to succeed. He has found a keeper in Myles Turner who should have fun battling with the Toronto front court. Warriors favorite Monta Ellis and George Hill help out with the scoring load to help balance the team, but in the end its PG13's show. Sadly, that isn't enough to challenge the Raptors over 7 games.
Prediction: Raptors take this one in 5 after dropping one in Indiana.
(3) Miami vs (6) Charlotte
Season Series: Teams split 2-2
Four teams finished in the East with the exact same record at 48-34. Each of the four teams can be described the same way - lots of talent, up and down years, lots of potential. Are any of the four ready to take the leap? Our first contender is the Miami Heat. This team features so many good pieces - Hassan Whiteside is a beast and deserves to be unleashed in a playoff series. The poor Charlotte Hornets front court might never recover from the potential dominance he is set up for. Add in Dwayne Wade who thankfully looks healthy coming into the series, and the possibilities are endless. I loved the pick up of Joe Johnson down the stretch, but this team still misses Chris Bosh dearly. He could potentially come back for the playoffs, but has missed so much time. What would he have left to give?
The other contender are the Hornets, who live and breath by Kemba Walker. They score a lot of points, and credit Steve Clifford to doing a great job fitting together the mess of talent this front office has accumulated. Nic Batum is a superstar, and they make a great pick up of Courtney Lee down the stretch to help fill out the defense in the backcourt. Nobody will expect this team to win - so the question becomes will they prove everyone right by rolling over, or show their record was not a fluke? Can Walker channel some of his March Madness magic and take over a few games himself? I fear that the Heat has too much talent and too much depth.. and this one might not be as close as we hope.
Prediction: Miami wins in 5, but the Hornets stay close in all five games
(4) Atlanta vs (5) Boston
Season Series: Hawks won 3-1
Boston is a fantastic team, and so much fun to watch. Isaiah Thomas will be a joy for fans in the playoffs, and they have so many great pieces. They remain a team that is "good" trying to be great, as they still lack the superstar that could take them to the next level. While this is possibly coming in the offseason with draft picks and trades to make, but for now they must be a better sum of their parts. They will try to outpace and outscore you, complimented by the 4th best defensive rating in the league. They need to avoid the reasons they went and lost 6 of 10 in March and dropped out of a sure-fire three seed they had locked up.
They must also be sad they caught their worse possible matchup in the first round in the Hawks. The Hawks seem to have the Celtics number, using a combination of defense and front court depth (Horford and Millsap) to muscle around the Celtics and neutralize their skilled back court. I love this series as neither team has a distinct advantage, but I give the Celtics the edge because I think they want it more, and I also want to see them face the Cavs in the second round more than anything.
Prediction: Celtics in 6, with the teams trading road wins before Boston takes it home at the Garden as IT shows off and tears down the house.
Is it Saturday already? LET'S GET THESE PLAYOFFS STARTED!!