After what was, for some teams, was an eighty-two game dress rehearsal, the NBA Playoffs are finally upon us. As the inevitable march toward the Finals ramps up, here is how we see the opening acts shaking out:
1Toronto v 8Washington
Toronto has been head of the class in the Eastern Conference. This season they have revamped their isolation-heavy, over reliance on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in favor of a more egalitarian attack where the ball moves more and involves more people. To facilitate this change in offensive philosophy, both DeRozan and Lowry played fewer minutes (DeRozan’s 33.9 mpg were his fewest since his rookie season) and took fewer shots. This coupled with the offensive changes should have the two fresher in the postseason.
The Raptors face a Wizards team that is more talented than their postseason ranking. John Wall has been in and out of Washington’s lineup this season only playing 41 games. Despite some of the subtle digs that were seemingly directed at him while he was out dealing with his latest injury, the Wizards are a much better ballclub with than with out Wall.
The Prediction: 4-2 Toronto
2 Boston v 7 Milwaukee
It’s been an eventful season in Boston. Free agent signee Gordon Hayward went down less than 5 minutes into the season, a 16-game winning streak and looking like the best team in the Association, and the ever-looming Cleveland/Lebron questions. Boston now comes into the playoffs without both the services of Kyrie Irving and Hayward, as the former will also miss the season after undergoing knee surgery.
For Milwaukee it has been a season in which they were expected to take the next step and be a top 4+ team in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks’ brass broke Jason Kidd off, thinking that his ,at times, antiquated and questionable schemes led to them underachieving and hovering around .500 so Joe Prunty was brought in and the team went 21-16 the rest of the way.
Prediction 4-3, Boston
Despite being down their top two guns, Boston still has enough players and the system in place overcome the Bucks.
3 Philadelphia v 6 Miami
It appears that Sam Hinkie was right; the process had to be trusted. Philadelphia has foundational pieces in Ben Simmons and Joel Embid on which to build a championship contender. Though the sample size is small, Markelle Futlz looks like he can be an impact player.
Erik Spoelstra has done an excellent job in Miami. The 44-38 record proves the way they finished up last season was no fluke and this was with the mercurial Dion Waiters missing 52 games. They are one of the quintessential teams that “you don’t want to play”.” Though they play hard and together, they don’t possess the top-end talent to deal with Embid and Simmons.
Prediction : 4-1, Philadelphia
4 Cleveland v 5 Indiana
The Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the most compelling stories in the NBA, with the trades, the inconsistent play, several nationally televised beat downs(and others that weren’t) locker room drama. With all that happened, they still roll into the playoffs playing pretty good basketball, winning eight of their last ten,and they still have that guy from Akron (for now).
Indiana was thought to be left for dead after shipping Paul George to Oklahoma City. The unexpected emergence of Victor Olidipo has done much to change that. He averaged a career-best 23.1 ppg and looks quite different from the player who last year in OKC languished on the weak side waiting to see if Russell Westbrook saw fit to find him for a spot-up three-point shot. Domantas Sabonis has also improved in his initial season as a Pacer.
Prediction 4-1, Cleveland
Cleveland has one thing the Pacers, and nearly every other team, cannot deal with and that is LeBron James. In this series that will be enough to win this series.