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2017 Eastern Conference Playoff Preview- NBA

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2017 Eastern Conference Playoff Preview- 1st Round

The NBA playoffs start Saturday, and 16 teams will be playing for the chance to win the NBA Championship. I will provide a playoff preview for each 1st round matchup in the Eastern Conference providing all you need to know ahead of the weekends first round play. Let’s jump right into it.

Playoff Preview- (1) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Chicago Bulls:

The Celtics are on top once again. For the first time since 2008, Boston is the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the 2017 playoffs. Led by 5’9 all-star point guard Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics are a dangerous team to watch for. On the other side of the court will be the Chicago Bulls.

Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade lead a dysfunctional Chicago team into the playoffs after missing it the year prior in coach Fred Hoiberg’s 1st season. After a complete roster turnover, and a key trade made at the deadline, the Bulls were aided by their weak schedule late in the regular season.

They split the season series 2-2, with the Celtics destroying Chicago in their most recent game on March 12, 100-80. But the playoffs are a whole different story.

Expected Starting Line-ups:

Boston- PG Isaiah Thomas, SG Avery Bradley, SF Jae Crowder, PF Amir Johnson, C Al Horford

Chicago- PG Rajon Rondo, SG Dwyane Wade, SF Jimmy Butler, PF Nikola Mirotic, C Robin Lopez

Schedule:

Game 1: Sunday at Boston, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)

Game 2: Tuesday at Boston, 8 p.m. (TNT)

Game 3: Apr. 21 at Chicago, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 4: Apr. 23 at Chicago, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)

Game 5*: Apr. 26 at Boston

Game 6*: Apr. 28 at Chicago

Game 7*: Apr. 30 at Boston

Key Matchup- Crowder vs. Butler:

If the Bulls have any chance of upsetting the Celtics, Jimmy Butler is going to have to go off. He and former running mate at Marquette, Jae Crowder, will get a heavy dose of each other in this series. Crowder needs to be physical with Jimmy, and stay out of foul trouble while doing so. If Crowder can somewhat neutralize Butler, the Celtics should win the series in a cake walk. This matchup should be a fun one to watch between these former teammates.

Prediction:

Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo will play their best basketball of the 2016-2017 season in the playoffs. But Fred Hoiberg’s style of play doesn’t fit their current roster and will be the calling card in the series. Expect Isaiah Thomas to continue scoring for the C’s, but be a liability on defense. Al Horford will have an efficient series, and will outplay Robin Lopez.

The Celtics are the deeper team and have the better coach by the landslide. And unless Isaiah Thomas disappears (which I don’t think he will) the Celtics should have no problem beating Chicago. The Bulls lack of identity as a team will be the main reason why they can’t pull off the upset.

Boston wins the series 4-1.

Playoff Preview- (2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Indiana Pacers:

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been struggling mightily as of late. After their defense fell apart in the month of march, resulting in 10 losses, the defending champions are looking to get back to the NBA Finals. But this year seems a little bit different. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving sat out the teams final 2 games of the regular season. These games resulted in losses and dropped the Cavaliers to the 2nd seed in the East. Obviously Tyronn Lue and company don’t seem too concerned about not being the East’s top seed. But should their poor play as of late be concerning?

As for the Indiana Pacers, they’ve been playing a great brand of basketball as of late, winning 7 straight going into the postseason. Led by star forward Paul George, this Pacer team has more talent than their 42-40 record had to show for. Their under-achieving regular season can be due to the lack of chemistry the team had early on. Indiana added two new starters this season in Thaddeus Young and Jeff Teague, and also got a new head coach in Nate McMillan. Will the return of Lance Stephenson and their winning streak help them pull a major upset on the Cavs?

Cleveland won the season series 3-1, winning the last three they’ve played against the Pacers.

Expected Starting Line-Ups:

Cleveland: PG Kyrie Irving, SG J.R. Smith, SF LeBron James, PF Kevin Love, C Tristan Thompson

Indiana: PG Jeff Teague, SG Monta Ellis, SF Paul George, PF Thaddeus Young, C Myles Turner

Schedule:

Game 1: at Cleveland, Saturday, April 15, 3 p.m. ET, ABC

Game 2: at Cleveland, Monday, April 17, 7 p.m. ET, TNT

Game 3: at Pacers, Thursday, April 20, 7 p.m. ET, TNT

Game 4: at Pacers, Sunday, April 23, 1 p.m. ET, ABC

Game 5*: at Cleveland, Tuesday, April 25 (TBD)

Game 6*: at Pacers, Thursday, April 27 (TBD)

Game 7*: at Cleveland, Saturday, April 29, TNT

Key Matchup- Irving vs. Teague:

We all know what LeBron and George are going to do in the playoffs. They’re both going to play premier defense and be the primary scorer on offense. Due to that, I find the point guard matchup to be for more intriguing. Kyrie Irving is one of the best guards in the league. He’s a high volume scorer, but as of late, he has been extremely inconsistent. It could be due to the Cavs poor play as a whole, but Kyrie is going to have to get his game back on track for the playoffs. He’s going up against one of the most underrated players in the league in Jeff Teague.

Teague’s a pesky defender and a very reliable 2nd option on offense. If Teague can neutralize Kyrie, then the series can get interesting. But if he’s unable to do so, then the Cavaliers shouldn’t have a problem, even with their defensive holes. In my opinion, the play of Teague will determine whether or not the series will go seven games, or a mere five.

Prediction:

I really like how the Pacers have been playing lately, but unfortunately for them, they have to run into LeBron James. Do you see LBJ letting his team lose in the first round, no matter how poor they’ve been playing? I don’t. If anything, that’ll fuel The King to raise his game to an even higher level. Love, Smith and Thompson will all put up better efforts than their most recent performances. And although the Pacers resigned Lance Stephenson, who gives the team a huge boost in energy and scrappiness, I don’t think he’ll have much of an impact. Myles Turner will prove why he’s one of the league’s rising talents, but no matter how many times Lance blows in LeBron’s ear,

the Pacers are overmatched from a talent stand point, and won’t be able to keep up with Cleveland.

Cleveland wins the series 4-1.

 

Playoff Preview- (3) Toronto Raptors vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks:

Kyle Lowry missed most of the 2nd half of the season with a wrist injury, yet the Raptors were still winning. After getting little to no production from the power forward position, Toronto knew it was time to make a move. Before the trade deadline, the team acquired former OKC Thunder and Orlando Magic power forward Serge Ibaka. The team also acquired forward P.J Tucker from the Phoenix Suns, another great defender. This has helped Toronto’s defense immensely since the trade deadline. DeMar DeRozen has led the Raptors through the six with his woes, posting the 2nd best record in the NBA since the all-star break at 18-7.

As for the Milwaukee Bucks, their season’s success can be credited to one person, and I think we all know who that is. Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” leads the team in virtually every category, including points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. His ability to play point guard at 6’11 is unheard of. But he does it extremely well. After losing Jabari Parker to a torn ACL midseason, do the Bucks have what it takes to win their 1st round season?

Toronto won the season series 3-1, with it’s only loss coming in Milwaukee without Lowry.

Expected Starting Line-Ups:

Toronto: PG Kyle Lowry, SG DeMar DeRozen, SF DeMarre Carroll, PF Serge Ibaka, C Jonas Valanciunas

Milwaukee: PG Malcolm Brogdon, SG Tony Snell, SF Khris Middleton, PF Giannis Antetokounmpo, C Thon Maker

Schedule:

Game 1: Sat. April 15 Milwaukee at Toronto, 4:30 p.m., ESPN/Fox Sports Wisconsin

Game 2: Tue. April 18 Milwaukee at Toronto, 6 p.m., NBA TV/Fox Sports Wisconsin

Game 3: Thu. April 20 Toronto at Milwaukee, 7 p.m., NBA TV/Fox Sports Wisconsin
Game 4:  Sat. April 22 Toronto at Milwaukee, 2 p.m., TNT/Fox Sports Wisconsin

Game 5*: Mon. April 24 Milwaukee at Toronto, 6 p.m., NBA TV/Fox Sports Wisconsin

Game 6*: Thu. April 27 Toronto at Milwaukee, Tip TBD, Broadcast TBD/Fox Sports Wisconsin

Game 7*: Sat. April 29 Milwaukee at Toronto, Tip TBD, TNT/Fox Sports Wisconsin

Key Matchup- Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Serge Ibaka

This should be a fun matchup. The Greek Freak will be guarded primarily by Ibaka. When Giannis has the ball, all eyes will be on him and help will come from all over the place. But in this case, I don’t think Serge will need help. He’s one of the leagues best defensive players, and scouts players very well. Milwaukee’s phenom isn’t a great outside shooter, as he’s shooting 27 percent from beyond the arc. Ibaka knows this and will give him the deep jumper every time. If Ibaka can make the Greak Freek a facilitator, “We The North” should be able to sweep Milwaukee. The Bucks forward needs to be sensational if the deer have any chance of stealing a game or two.

Prediction:

I don’t think the series will be close at all. Jason Kidd’s done a great job with this team, as in my opinion they’ve overachieved. But Dwayne Casey’s squad is too talented and well-rounded for the Bucks to even make this remotely competitive. I think Valanciunas will have a field day in the paint against this young Buck team. This is the only matchup in the playoff preview that I think will be a sweep. The experience differential will be the difference maker into why it will be lopsided in Toronto’s favor. You will see Drake in the front row for at least one more series.

Toronto wins the series 4-0.

Playoff Preview- (4) Washington Wizards vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks:

The Washington Wizards have had a great season after a slow start. Led by their dynamic backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, D.C. is able to play with anyone. Beal has had a terrific season, posting career highs in points (23.1) and field goal percentage (48.2). Head coach Scott Brooks has found a consistent rotation to help aid his star backcourt, as they grabbed the 4th seed in the East.

As for the Atlanta Hawks, after losing Jeff Teague and Al Horford in the offseason, the team has made the playoffs yet again, making it their 10th consecutive playoff appearance. All-star Paul Millsap and new starting point guard Dennis Schroeder have led the show for the Hawks. Dwight Howard has brought this team solid interior defense and rebounding in his 1st season with Atlanta. Although they struggled late, losing eight straight at one point, the Hawks were able to stand their ground and hold onto the 5th seed.

Washington won the season series 3-1, winning three straight against the Hawks.

Expected Starting Line-Ups:

Washington: PG John Wall, SG Bradley Beal, SF Otto Porter Jr., PF Markieff Morris, C Marcin Gortat

Atlanta: PG Dennis Schroeder, SG Tim Hardaway Jr., SF Taurean Prince, PF Paul Millsap, C Dwight Howard

Schedule:

Game 1: Hawks at Wizards, Sunday at 1 p.m. (TNT)

Game 2: Hawks at Wizards, Wednesday, April 19 at 7 p.m. (NBA TV)

Game 3: Wizards at Hawks, Saturday, April 22 at 5:30 p.m. (TNT)

Game 4: Wizards at Hawks, Monday, April 24 at 8 p.m. (TNT)

Game 5*: Hawks at Wizards, Wednesday, April 26 (TBD)

Game 6*: Wizards at Hawks, Friday, April 28 (TBD)

Game 7*: Hawks at Wizards, Sunday, April 30 (TBD)

Key Matchup- Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. Bradley Beal

Both of these players have had tremendous seasons. While we expect Beal to be a very good player, Tim Hardaway Jr. came out of nowhere this year for Atlanta. After averaging only 6.4 points per game last year, the Michigan Wolverine product has been flying high this year, increasing his point total to 14.5 this season. It will be interesting to see how Hardaway Jr. is able to handle his increased role come game 1 on Sunday. Although he’s been great in the regular season, the post season is a different story.

If Beal blatantly outplays Hardaway Jr., trouble may be brewing for the Hawks. If Bradley becomes inconsistent at the wrong time, Wall and the Wizards could have trouble scoring the ball. I think whoever outplays who in this matchup of guards will give his team the edge in the series.

Prediction:

This matchup is easily one of the hardest series to do a playoff preview for, due to the inconsistency of both teams. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has done a great job preventing his team from collapsing late in the season after the Millsap injury. The Hawks have stayed competitive for the last decade despite a lot of roster changes. However, this D.C. team is extremely talented, and they have a lot of confidence going into the playoffs. I think this will be the closest series in the East, but I think the guard play of the Wiz will be too much for the Hawks to handle. I like Washington to move on.

Washington will win the series 4-2.

*- indicates if necessary

Predictions of this playoff preview are those of NBA Writer Austin Grad.

If you liked this playoff preview, check out Zack Rogers’ Western Conference Playoff Preview at  http://www.thasportsjunkies101.com/2017-western-conference

 

 

 

 

 

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