Yesterday, I’ve published my predictions for the Regular Season Award winners that you may check here. As we approach the tip-off for the postseason, I will be sharing my analysis and predictions for the world’s greatest basketball tournament.
As I’ve said, I can’t wait for the Playoffs and see our favorite players perform under the spotlight. Every year, we have new stories and heroes, making the Playoffs a must-watch spectacle. I’m sure it’s the same story for this year.
The Eastern Conference continues to be the weaker of the 2 groups in the NBA. Of the 8 teams that will play in that bracket, 3 teams have a record of .500 or less (Milwaukee, Boston, and Brooklyn). The Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City, who are 8 games above .500, could have been the 6th seed in the East. The clamor of removing the conferences and have the top 16 teams in the Playoffs instead continues to grow. But that’s for another blog post.
We focus on each match-ups, starting with:
(1) Atlanta Hawks v (8) Brooklyn Nets
Why Atlanta will win: If there is 1 team that could beat the defending champions, San Antonio Spurs, in their own game, it’s the Atlanta Hawks. Mike Budenholzer has done a magnificent job surprising everyone, even themselves, by clinching home court advantage. The lack of a superstar has helped them trust each other more, not needing to feed off someone’s ego to save the game, giving them an assist to turnover ratio of 1.81 (3rd best behind LAC and GSW). The Hawks are very deadly on the outside, shooting 38% from the 3pt line (2nd best behind GSW), where almost 30 points of their score would come from. To make matters worse? Atlanta leads the league in Catch and Shoot Points per game with 33.70. Make it rain.
Why Brooklyn will win: Despite losing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Nets still have 3 respectable players in Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, and Deron Williams. Granted that none of them are superstars anymore, they can still affect the outcome of the game. Jarrett Jack has been playing well for the Nets until recently. Thaddeus Young could very well surprise everyone if he decides to do more than just taking questionable shots.
Who takes this: If somehow Lionel Hollins finds a way to resurrect his players’ star power, then this would be an interesting series. Until then, this matchup is for the Atlanta Hawks taking. It should be a walk in the park. Atlanta in 4.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers v (7) Boston Celtics
Why Cleveland will win: LeBron James returned home for one reason alone: he realized Cleveland was primed to get back to the Finals since they lost almost 8 years ago. LeBron has been their best player this season, but their most pivotal player will continue to be Kyrie Irving. Irving dropped 53 and 57 points against Portland and San Antonio, and seeing him drop big numbers in his first postseason is something that’s not hard to imagine. JR Smith and Iman Shumpert have added scoring and, somewhat, defense to cover for Irving and Kevin Love’s inefficiency. But it all starts and ends with the man who calls himself King.
Why Boston will win: Brad Stevens. This guy is the reason why Boston wasn’t tanking anymore. Boston has the smartest coach on their bench, and he successfully imparted his personal motto on this team, that they have nothing to lose but everything to gain. Evan Turner, who was the #2 pick behind Kyrie Irving, is ready to go against his former favorite basketball player in LeBron. Isaiah Thomas, my Sixth Man of the Year pick, will provide Cleveland more problems than answer. Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley, 2 young defensive stalwarts, are ready to shut down Kyrie. Winning a game or 2 for the Celtics will already be a success, far from what they had in mind when they started this season.
Who takes this: I like to say it’s a sweep for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Garden has always been unfair and unruly to LeBron. I see the Celtics taking a game against the Cavaliers, if they successfully cover Irving for just one game. But we’ve witnessed time and time again that LeBron can do it all. Cleveland in 5.
(3) Chicago Bulls v (6) Milwaukee Bucks
Why Chicago will win: Bias or not, I’d like to say that the Bulls are built perfectly to win their 7th ring in franchise history. They have a defensive center in Noah, a smart power forward in Gasol, a shooter to space the floor in Dunleavy, a 2nd star in Butler, an alpha star in Rose and a depth that could compete with any other starting fives. But injuries continue to ravage their title dreams. Good thing though is they have Tom Thibodeau, a coach who continues to lose his voice as the game progressed. “Coach Thibs’ knows all defensive game plans needed to stop teams from gaining any momentum to steal the game, but the Bulls championship hopes continue to rest in Derrick Rose’s shoulder. One more thing, the Bradley Center (the Bucks’s home court arena) continues to be a Chicago home stage whenever the Bulls come to visit.
Why Milwaukee will win: Nothing to lose but everything to gain. The Bucks were not even supposed to be here in the Playoffs, but here they are, thanks in large part to Jason Kidd. They had to cut Larry Sanders, and trade away their star player, Brandon Knight, downgrading to a struggling sophomore Michael Carter-Williams. Still, they managed to get the 6th seed, and they now have the world’s attention. They’re just hoping they have that attention a little bit more.
Who takes this: Experience matters, and the Bulls have a lot of that. They’re ready to go, while the Bucks are only here because they want to be here. Milwaukee might take a game, but the Chicago Bulls are ready to eliminate any doubts of them being a championship team. Chicago in 4.
(4) Toronto Raptors v (5) Washington Wizards
Why Toronto will win: “We the North” remembers the heartache they suffered against the Brooklyn Nets that eliminated them in the 1st round last year, and they’d tell everyone that they’ve learned from it. Dwane Casey continues to be one of the game’s underrated coaches, while Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan continue to step up for Toronto. The Raptors would need more from Terrence Ross, the unlikeliest player to ever have a 50-point game, and Jonas Valanciunas, who has been battling with inconsistent play. The important thing is they have the whole of Canada supporting them as they try to march on to the 2nd round.
Why Washington will win: Even though they struggled midway into the season, they’re one of the teams that no one wants to face. John Wall has been playing like a true superstar, pushing the tempo and finding holes to attack. Bradley Beal may have been struggling with injuries but still can shoot off the 3-pt line. Gortat and Nene will provide much needed offense in the paint. And they have Paul Pierce, who eliminated the Raptors last season through clutch plays.
Who takes this: It’s a toss-up between the 2. They both deserve to advance in the 2nd round, and may come down to whoever executes down the stretch. I believe that the Wizards have the more complete and experienced team over the Raptors, and that would prove to be the turning point of the series. Washington in 7.
– David Gamboa
(image from: http://bit.ly/1aDymlw)