Cavaliers in 5
This is when the bell rings for the Cavaliers, the 57-25 record in the regular season was fine as they won just the right amount to get the number one overall seed in the Eastern Conference. At times it was a struggle as some nights the Cavs turned it off and continued to struggle to fully mesh. However, what is most important is the Cavaliers are healthy as the playoffs begin and their goal is to return to the NBA Finals with anything less being a failure. The Pistons meanwhile are just happy to be on this stage, after ending a seven year playoff drought. The Pistons have some talented forwards led by Andre Drummond, who led the league in double-doubles, which could give the Cavaliers problems. The Pistons are also well coached, but the lack of playoff expiernce and the play of LeBron James will be too big of obstacle for Detroit to overcome, as the Cavs win the series easily.
Warriors in 4
Last year’s Western Conference Finals is this year’s first round matchup as the Houston Rockets who squeezed into the playoffs at 41-41, face the record shattering 73-9 Golden State Warriors. The Warriors blitzed the Rockets last year in five games on the way to winning the NBA Championship. Golden State is even better this season, with Stephen Curry becoming the first player with 400 three pointers in a season. James Harden had a fine season with Houston, finishing second to Curry in shooting but after feuding with Dwight Howard, the Rockets are a far cry from last year’s squad. The only chance the Rockets have to win this game is to kidnap Stephen Curry or find some aliens that could snatch away the Warriors talent. Otherwise the series will be over in the blink of an eye with the Warriors sweeping in four games as the Warriors looking to show their dominance win each game by double digits.
Raptors in 6
The Toronto Raptors could be best equipped to win the East, as their balanced scoring and defense had them finish just one game behind the Cavaliers for the top spot in the regular season. However, the Raptors have been at the top of the East for the last few years and failed to get past the first round, completely fizzling out last season against the Wizards. The Indiana Pacers are capable of getting the upset if Paul George has a monster series, so Toronto needs to have their guards up. Specifically Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan must be at the top of their games any slip up especially in the first two games at home and the bad memories from last season could have an impact. The Raptors could also get a boost from DeMarre Carroll who returned for the last three weeks after missing 41 games with a knee injury. If Carroll has his legs early and can neutralize George this series will be over fast.
Spurs in 4
Everything in the Western Conference will be an undercard with the Golden State Warriors anticipated Conference Finals match with the San Antonio Spurs. With the Warriors winning 73 games it’s easy to overlook the Spurs, who won a franchise best 67 games. Besides 67 wins, the Spurs tied the 1985/86 Celtics best ever home mark of 40-1. San Antonio managed a 67-15 record despite resting several players down the stretch, including an April 10th game against the Warriors that was their only home loss. The Spurs boast the NBA’s best defense led by Kawhi Leonard, who is expert at shutting down the opposing teams’ best scorers, while Gregg Popovich continues to masterfully mix his veteran laden team. The Grizzlies, meanwhile come into the playoffs looking more like the Walking Dead with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley Jr. both sidelined. Even if Gasol and Conley were healthy the Grizzlies would have a hard time winning a game in this series.
Hornets in 6
This series will be a battle of the age against energy as the veteran Miami Heat after missing the playoffs last season return to take on the hungry Charlotte Hornets. The two teams split four meetings in the regular season and the Hornets have been one of the East’s best teams over the last six weeks, posting a record of 18-6 since March 1st. The Heat have also had a solid second half, posting a 19-10 record despite losing Chris Bosh due to another blood clot, thanks to the pickup Joe Johnson. The key to the series will be Kemba Walker, who had a breakout season for the Hornets averaging 20.9 points per game. Walker was especially strong against the Heat, with an average 19.5 points in four games. In addition Jeremy Lin has been a big spark off the bench down the stretch with their energy as an advantage the Hornets will simply have the legs the Heat no longer have after several long playoff runs.
Thunder in 4
After a frustrating year of injury, the Oklahoma City Thunder return to the playoffs hoping to spoil the Spurs-Warriors showdown. First they need to fend off the upset minded Dallas Mavericks, who after a mediocre 42-40 season hope to find some of that old Dirk Nowitzki magic. The Thunder have a big off-season a head of them with Kevin Durant’s free agency, the Mavs meanwhile could be seeing the end of an era as a bad second half shows that it may be time to rebuild. The Thunder had a solid season, posting record of 55-27 but too often let games slip away during the season, but that won be an issue as the Mavericks have played sub .500 ball in the second half. With the duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook who is capable of a Triple-Double every night, the Thunder who won all four meeting with the Mavs in the regular season will do the same in the playoffs.
Hawks in 7
The Atlanta Hawks take on the Boston Celtics is a meeting that looks every bit as even as their 48-34 records. When a series is this close, individual matchups often decide the winner. The marquee matchup is at Point Guard with the Hawks Jeff Teague taking on Isaiah Thomas of the Celtics. Thomas has found a home in Boston, making the All-Star team after struggling in Sacramento and Phoenix. Teague had an up and down season, but had one his strongest games of the season on April 9th against the Celtics in the game that enabled the Hawks to host Game 7 if needed. The key to the series will come down to what the Hawks can do on the outside, as they have better pure shooters, while the Celtics with a bruising front court will try to out physical Atlanta. The series is a toss-up and home court in Game 7 will be the deciding factor.
Clippers in 5
Not many expected the Portland Trail Blazers to be playing at this stage after losing four of five starters after last year. However, thanks to the coaching of Terry Stotts and a breakout season from C.J. McCollum the Blazers managed a 44-38 season. McCollum’s breakout season began in the Blazers elimination game last season when he scored 33 points against the Grizzlies. The Clippers continue to sail along, making the playoffs for the fifth straight season, but not quite good enough to go beyond the second round. In many ways the Clippers are a reflection of their Coach Doc Rivers who played on a similar Hawks team in the late 80s’ thanks in part to another big year by Chris Paul. However, if the Clippers are to make a long run they need Blake Griffin to have a big postseason. Griffin only saw limited action after returning from a series of injuries.