NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference First-Round Picks and Predictions
No. 8 Washington Wizards vs. No. 1 Toronto Raptors
Let’s not fool ourselves, Washington isn’t winning this series — barring a catastrophic injury to DeMar DeRozen (if at that). If you want to bet that -700 on a Raptors series win, then be our guest.
However, it’s more lucrative to wager on the exact series outcome, or how many games Toronto will win in. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be a cakewalk for Toronto.
Its offense ranked second in offensive efficiency and fifth defensively resulting in a 59-win season — most in franchise history en route to a first-ever top seeding.
Even more, the Wizards tailspinned to end the regular season, dropping nine of their last 12 games. The wheels appeared to come off for Washington following the All-Star break.
For comparison sakes, they ranked 11th offensively and 12th defensively before the break. After All-Star weekend? Those rankings plummetted to 20th and 18th, respectively.
This series either ends in a sweep or five games. Wizards do have John Wall and Bradley Beal (though, they may or may not have tension together off the court), so we’ll give them one game.
No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 2 Boston Celtics
The closest series in the Eastern Conference has the Bucks as +125 to win and the Kyrie Irving-less Celtics at -155 to avoid the upset.
Boston head coach Brad Stevens isn’t only NBA Coach of the Year worthy, but at this point, he should be viewed as a miracle worker. Over the offseason, the entire roster was redone with a mere four holdovers. Once the season began, injury after injury bit the team.
Gordon Hayward was lost for the season in game one. Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart have missed over 20 games apiece. And now, Irving is done for the year.
Despite all of that, the Celtics limped their way to 55 wins (more than last season) and a two seed. It’s safe to say, we’re not betting against Stevens — arguably the game’s second-best head coach after Gregg Popovich. The mastermind will surely scheme up a way to minimize Giannis Antetokoumpo’s impact this series.
The Bucks, despite their abundance of talent, just don’t have that same coaching pedigree. Interm coach Joe Prunty has done an admirable job since taking over midseason following Jason Kid’s firing, but this likely his final hoorah as Milwaukee will be the hottest job in the NBA come the offseason.
Pick: Celtics (-115)
No. 6 Miami Heat vs. No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers
Talk about a dicey series. With Joel Embiid’s status hanging in the balance, there’s no telling what could happen here.
At the moment, all we know is Embiid has been ruled out for Game 1. His status for the remainder of the series is anyone’s guess. However, after already missing eight games, and his injury history, it’s not smart to assume he’ll be back soon.
The Sixers have rolled without him, though. On a 16-game winning streak, no one enters the postseason hotter than Philly — despite only three of those wins coming against playoff teams.
If Embiid does return, Miami can throw Hassan Whiteside on him, a rare matchup feature two true bigs. If not, Miami will stretch the floor with sharpshooters. The Heat have five different players that have sunk 100 three-pointers this season.
Seemingly the only sure thing this series is it’ll be a barn burner. The two split their season series, with all four games being decided by single digits (and two coming down to a single possession).
The smart approach is to take this game-by-game. If you absolutely have to bet the series winner now, we’re taking Philly in seven. Miami just doesn’t have a legit difference-maker like Ben Simmons.
No. 5 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers
It’s playoff time, meaning only one thing: time for Cleveland to flip the proverbial switch like always.
All good, right? We’re not so sure. This is the weakest LeBron James-led team in a decade with serious warts up and down the roster, most notably on the defensive end. The Cavs defensive rating this season was an abysmal 109.5 — second-worst in the entire league.
Indiana, while not necessarily an offensive powerhouse, should still be able to exploit Cleveland’s vulnerabilities, and it’s mostly on breakout star Victor Oladpio to do so. In four regular-season games against the Cavs (three of which were Pacer wins), Oladipo averaged 25 points — two above his yearly average.
Despite all the doom and gloom in Cleveland with James’ contract expiring at season’s end, disaster won’t strike in the first round. Just don’t expect Indiana to rollover.
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