The NBA’s eastern conference made progress compared to years past. The Toronto Raptors took a plunge as most expected, but the Brooklyn Nets are the team everyone’s interested in. Philadelphia took the next step to being a complete team with coach Doc Rivers, and Atlanta looks to be a contender for years to come.
The playoffs are now upon us and that means predictions for the first round. Time to break down which teams have the best chance of advancing to the second round.
#4 New York Knicks v. #5 Atlanta Hawks
Both teams deserve praise for reaching the playoffs where many analysts and fans didn’t have either getting in. One team will be blessed to make it to the next round where they’ll have a shot at the conference finals.
The hiring of Tom Thibodeau was the best move the Knicks made since superstar Carmelo Anthony left. The acquisitions of Julius Randle, Derrick Rose and Nerlens Noel made New York a dangerous team on defense. Randle is the team’s star and likely wins the league’s Comeback Player of the Year award.
Nate McMillan was hired in the second half of the season for the Atlanta Hawks after the team blew their 17th lead of the season. Rajon Rondo was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for Lou Williams, and Atlanta rose in the standings. The incoming coaching staff and the upgraded roster made the most of these quick changes.
The only downside is both Nate McMillan and the Hawks still need better experience in the playoffs, and the Knicks have more answers to shut down Atlanta than the other way around.
Prediction: New York wins series 4-1
#3 Milwaukee Bucks v. #6 Miami Heat
Probably not the series Milwaukee wanted in the first round. Miami was built for the playoffs while the Bucks succeed best in the regular season. Coach Mike Budenholzer has to learn from his mistakes the last few years.
Jimmy Butler counters Giannis Antetokounmpo better than any player in the east. It comes down to who’s supporting cast can put better numbers up. Miami added Trevor Ariza while Milwaukee traded for Jrue Holiday and signed Bobby Portis. The rosters are as good as it gets and they’re close to even.
Coaching determines who advances. Budenholzer is known for not adapting in the playoffs. The offense goes through Giannis, but that doesn’t mean he should drive down the middle most possessions. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra knows how to get the most out of his roster, even if long-range shooting didn’t show up in the latter half of the season.
Upset Prediction for the East: Miami wins series 4-1
#2 Brooklyn Nets v. #7 Boston Celtics
A lopsided series would be an understatement. Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams ensure they won’t advance past the first round. Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum will take the Celtics as far as they can.
Brooklyn needs a full return for Kyrie Irving and James Harden. They haven’t played much with superstar Kevin Durant or mid-season pickup Blake Griffin, and they need chemistry in a series to make a push to the finals.
Prediction: Brooklyn wins series 4-0
#1 Philadelphia 76ers v. #8 Washington Wizards
Washington had less than a one percent chance of making the playoffs in mid-April. They made the eighth seed and have a better shot of taking out the 76ers than most analysts think. Russell Westbrook struggles in the playoffs, but he’s not the only star player. Bradley Beal makes everyone better, and the tandem combined with Scott Brooks’ better coaching is why they stand a chance.
Defending Joel Embiid in a seven game series is why Philadelphia is favored to win. Despite flaws in Doc Rivers’ playoff coaching, Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle are a solid supporting cast to help lock down premier players or help out on offense.
Prediction: Philadelphia wins series 4-1
Regular Season playoff picks: 6-2