Despite eight great teams and four fun matchups, the eastern conference first round ended fast. Philadelphia is desperate to reach the championship and feels they have a lot to prove. Boston is the hottest team on both sides of the ball. Miami and Milwaukee prove why they were the last teams to make the championship round the last two years. Two of the remaining four will advance to the conference finals. Time to break down which of the two have the best chance to make the conference finals.
#4 Philadelphia 76ers v. #1 Miami Heat
The 76ers and Heat have a lot in common; both have underperformed despite talented rosters, coaches Erik Spoelstra and Doc Rivers had tensions with certain players the past few months, and both have a chance to make the championship despite holding themselves back. It’s fitting one team has to advance to the conference finals despite ups and downs.
The most important factors in this matchup are coaching and depth. Rivers is notorious for losing second round playoff series, highlighted by failure to adapt to opponents with multiple superstars while Spoelstra is not. Bench depth is something Philadelphia doesn’t have past Matisse Thybulle. Miami has Victor Oladipo, Tyler Herro, Markieff Morris and Duncan Robinson. All four range from starter if necessary to critical minutes.
The series comes down to Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid playing better than P.J. Tucker and Jimmy Butler. Tucker’s one of the most valuable players to have in decisive series. We’ll know which duo stands out after game two.
Prediction: Heat win series 4-2
#3 Milwaukee Bucks v. #2 Boston Celtics
We knew the winner of the Celtics-Nets series would make a fun and physical matchup against Milwaukee in round two. Brooklyn-Milwaukee went to seven games in round two last year. That could happen with Boston-Milwaukee this year with Khris Middleton diagnosed as out the entire series.
The simplest way to break down this series comes down to who stands out in all five positions. Middleton’s absence gives Jayson Tatum an advantage whereas the older Al Horford cannot contain Giannis Antetokounmpo one-on-one. Brook Lopez and Serge Ibaka give Milwaukee the edge at center over Daniel Theis and Robert Williams. This series will be won by which guard duo steps up in second halves: Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown or Jrue Holliday and Wesley Matthews.
There’s no doubt the Celtics are the hotter team and will give the Bucks all they can handle. Boston however hasn’t been tested by a competent playoff team and face defending champions that adjusted deep in their series last year. The Celtics have to prove they can adapt against veteran champions with poise. It’s hard to see that happening with how the Bucks were built.
Prediction: Bucks win series 4-3
Eastern Conference first round playoff picks record: 3-1