No.1 Boston Celtics v No.8 Chicago Bulls (Season Series: 2-2)
The last time the Boston Celtics were the No.1 seed in the playoffs, they captured their 17th NBA championship in 2008 with the “Big 3“. Now they’re led by the 5’9 phenomenon Isaiah Thomas and tremendous depth. The Bulls fought their way into the playoffs through Jimmy Butler’s heroics gaining them key wins down the stretch as he averaged 27.3 points per game in his last 10 games. The Celtics and Bulls split the season series 2-2, with each team snagging wins at home. Thomas averaged 24 points and almost six assist against the Bulls this season. The Celtics are 30-11 at home this season which will give the Bulls many problem, but Dywane Wade is back for the Bulls and they’ve won 7 of their last 10 entering the postseason. Hopefully they didn’t run out of gas just to make it to the playoffs. Let’s be clear, the Celtics aren’t the No.1 seed by accident. Defense isn’t their strong point, but they can flat out score the ball, averaging 108 points per game.
Series: Boston 4-1
LeBron James has reached the finals 5 times as the No.2 seed, so with all due respect he’s been here before. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are healthy, and Tristian Thompson should be coming back from his wrist injury. But, the Cavaliers have not played well in the second half of the season as they’ve recorded a 10-14 record since March. Meanwhile the Pacers positioned themselves in playoff position with wins over the Raptors, Bucks, and Hawks to lock up the No.7 seed. Paul George has electrified this group averaging 30 points per game and shooting 43 percent from three in the Pacers last 10 games. The Pacers finished fourth in three-point percentage (37%) which is a soft spot for the Cavaliers as they give up 36% on average from distance. Defense is a weak point for the Pacers though, as they give up 108 points per 100 possessions. Maybe adding Lance Stephenson will help, I don’t see it doing too much especially with Jeff Teague now having a bummed ankle, even though he is expected to play. Ultimately, the Pacers gave the Cavaliers their best shot in their 135-130 loss on April 2. No matter the way you cut the cake, it’s playoff time and the Cavaliers will be ready to play.
Series: Cleveland 4-1
The big story here is Giannis Antetokounmpo vs Demar Derozan. two budding stars in the Eastern Conference going head to head and it will live up to expectation. The playoffs are all about momentum and the Bucks has been hot down the stretch. They’ve won a league high 14 games in March including five back to backs, sweeping through four of them. The Bucks have length up front with Thon Maker, Tony Snell and Greg Monroe along with Antetokounmpo. Having Khris Middleton back at full strength will spread the floor in the Bucks favor as he shoots 40 percent from three. The Raptors are fortunate to have all-star guard Kyle Lowry back in time for the postseason after overcoming injury, that just serves as icing on the cake. By the way, Derozan has scorched the Bucks this season, averaging 22 points and shooting 50 percent from the field in their season series. For the record, this is the only series I have going 7 games in the first round. The additions of Serge Ibaka and P.J Tucker will benefit the Raptors, but I don’t have him locking down Antetokounmpo. Record aside, the Raptors and Bucks are evenly matched statistically. If the Raptors can force Antetokounmpo to be a jump shooter, they’ll come out on top.
Upset alert: Bucks (4-3)
John Wall and Bradley Beal lead the Washington Wizards into the most intriguing opening round matchup against Paul Millsap and the Atlanta Hawks. With the Wizards having home court advantage in this series, it will be tough for the Hawks realistically. The Wizards are one of the NBA’s best home teams as their record stands 30-11 at the Verizon Center this season. In their three wins against the Hawks this season, the Wizards have won by an average of 11 points per game including a 26-point blowout in late January. The play of Dwight Howard (13 points, 12 rebounds per game) and Dennis Schroeder (17 points, 6 assists per game) will heavily impact the performance of the Hawks throughout this series. Likewise, Marcin Gortat (10.8 point, 10.5 rebounds per game) will be relied on heavily against Howard to maintain him on the boards as Ian Mahinmi is banged up. Overall, the Wizards have pulled out wins against the Hawks all season, don’t expect much to change here.
Series: Wizards 4-2