Who Will Make it Out of the Opening Round
After another long regular season, the NBA playoffs officially return on Saturday!
With exciting first round matchups wherever you are to look, we start off are 2017 NBA playoff preview breaking down the Eastern Conference! The journey towards a repeat is officially underway for the Cleveland Cavaliers with the Indiana Pacers the first to stand in their way!
Playoff basketball, there really is nothing better!
(1) Boston vs. (8) Chicago Bulls
Has there ever been a so non-intimidating one seed?
The Boston Celtics enter the first round and will go up against the largely inconsistent Chicago Bulls who weren’t able to clinch a playoff spot until game number 82. The best player in the series is on the lower seeded squad. Jimmy Butler will have the responsibility of trying to will his team over the favourited Celtics and will be in tough with the variety of different wing players that the Celtics can throw his way. Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart are all very versatile defenders who can make things difficult for Butler all series long.
The main thing for Boston of course will be to slow down Butler and Dwyane Wade, while finding secondary scoring behind their star point guard, Isaiah Thomas who has averaged 29-points per game during the regular season and led the entire league in fourth quarter scoring. Whether it is Bradley (16.9-points per game), or Al Horford (14.0-points per game), or Boston’s other weapons, Head Coach Brad Stevens will need to try to find a consistent and reliable scorer behind Thomas.
Unlike the Bulls, the Celtics do have a very potent attack from long range, something that will give the Celtics a huge cushion going into this series. On the other end, the Celtics enter the series sitting 27th in the league in defensive rebound percentage, while the Chicago Bulls enter fourth in the league in offensive rebounding. In the two Chicago wins over the Celtics this season, the Bulls outmuscled the Celtics on the glass and outscored Boston in the second chance points category 40-9. In the two Celtics regular season wins, Boston was able to keep pace with the Bulls.
Overall, the Celtics are the far deeper team with strong individual defenders and a prominent three-point attack. The Bulls will most definitely make things interesting with their advantage on the offensive glass, but will ultimately fall to Thomas and the Celtics.
Preview: Boston in 6
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Indiana Pacers
When you look at how the Cavaliers finished their regular season, rocky is most definitely an understatement. Through all the resting complaints and the drama, the Cavaliers have no more excuses and are as vulnerable as they ever looked.
Staring their way from across the floor are a very interesting Indiana Pacers club. One that rekindled an old flame when bringing back Lance Stephenson, someone who has immediately given the Pacers more of an edge right at the nick of time. The Pacers will not have much trouble scoring against a largely dysfunctional Cleveland defense, but the Cavaliers offense with ‘The Big 3’ has the potential to fire on all cylinders. LeBron James is the orchestrater of a really great offence that set a franchise record in three-pointers made in a season (1,057). Of course James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love can score in bunches, but the key for the Cavs will be if their shooters can cash in on their good looks created by James. Paul George will be a handful for the Cavs, but fortunately for the Cavs, he does not have enough talent around him to push the Cavaliers to the edge of the cliff.
It is hard to see the Pacers being able to hold up against LeBron James and Cavaliers over the span of a seven game series, but they can make it a long and difficult road for the Cavs to advance. At the end, LeBron is too good of a player and will never be eliminated this early to an inferior seven-seed.
Prediction: Cleveland in 6
(4) Washington Wizards vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks
In one of the more interesting round one matchups, it will be up to the dynamic Washington Wizards backcourt to find a way to solve the defensive-minded Atlanta Hawks.
It was a season of new beginnings for the Wizards. After a massive step back the year prior, the Wizards started fresh, firing Randy Wittman and bringing in Scott Brooks, as well as re-signing Bradley Beal to a massive, long-term deal. That was followed by an explosion as Beal and his backcourt mate, John Wall, willed the Wizards back into the playoffs after an underwhelming 2-8 start to the season. The Wizards were able to right the ship, going on a 17-game home win streak and becoming one of the hottest teams in the league in a hurry.
Meanwhile the Atlanta Hawks had an up-and-down year, but were able to lock down the fifth seed with two huge wins against the Cleveland Cavaliers. They finished the year with the four highest defensive effeciency in the NBA and will be tasked with shutting down a backcourt that has averaged 46.1-points per game (second in the NBA among starting backcourts).
With John Wall and his 10.7-assists per game running the Wizards offence, the Wiz can put up points. The question will be – are the Hawks capable of matching that firepower. The big man battle between Dwight Howard and Marcin Gortat will be a fun one to watch, but the Wizards based on talent and offensive firepower, will be able to squeak out on the winning side of the series.
Predictions: Washington in 7