NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference Series Previews
The NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday and as has been the case in recent years there’s a real division between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. In the East, the Milwaukee Bucks appear to be the class of the field though they could receive some competition from Toronto and maybe even Boston or Philadelphia. Out West, it will be the Golden State Warriors show until someone can flip the script. NBA futures betting odds have Golden State installed as a -400 choice to win the Conference Title and a -225 choice to repeat as NBA Champions.
Here are the opening round series in the Eastern Conference:
NBA PLAYOFFS–EASTERN CONFERENCE ROUND 1 SERIES PREVIEWS
(1) MILWAUKEE BUCKS VS. (8) DETROIT PISTONS
Milwaukee should dominate this opening round matchup, In one corner, we’ve got the Bucks who finished with the best record in the NBA (60-22), arguably the best two way player in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo and the #1 scoring offense to carry some of the load. Antetokounmpo is an absolute monster in the offensive paint, has a nice touch passing out of double teams and is an extremely versatile defender. The scary thing is that he’s just 24 years old and is only going to get better. In the other corner, the Detroit Pistons backed into the postseason finishing the regular season with 41-41 record. They’re a decent defensive team (#7 scoring defense in the league) but can be downright pitiful trying to put up points (#25 scoring offense in the league). Blake Griffin is their best player and he’s been dealing with knee issues for weeks (he’s listed as probable here). Without or without Griffin, this is a mismatch. BUCKS IN FOUR
(2) TORONTO RAPTORS VS. (7) ORLANDO MAGIC
Nice turnaround year for the Orlando Magic who are back in the playoffs after a several year hiatus (last postseason play in 2012). They actually won their division title–even if it is the Southeast Division aka the most miserable division in the NBA that means something. Steve Clifford in his first year as head coach deserves props for the team’s lottery to playoff improvement. Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon are a couple of budding stars up front but the Magic are overmatched everywhere else. Vucevic missed the regular season finale with a ‘stomach bug’ but he should be OK here. The Magic could steal a game at home but hard to expect them to do much more. RAPTORS IN FIVE
(3) PHILADELPHIA 76ERS VS. (6) BROOKLYN NETS
Brooklyn is relevant again after three miserable seasons in which they won 21,20 and 28 games. D’Angelo Russell (21.1 PPG) is the scoring catalyst of a very talented backcourt that includes Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. This could become an interest series. 76ers struggled down the stretch losing 4 of their last 6 games (only wins in that stretch against the lowly Chicago Bulls). Jimmy Butler has been upgraded to ‘probable’ for the Sixers but Joel Embiid still a ‘game time decision’ with a hurt knee. No way Philly can replace Embiid’s 27.5 PPG and 12.6 RBG if he can’t play. Sixers should prevail but expect to see the Nets put up a good scrap. SIXERS IN SIX
(4) BOSTON CELTICS VS. (5) INDIANA PACERS
Both teams will be missing key contributors here–Boston will be without point guard Marcus Smart who suffered a torn oblique in a meaningless late season game against Orlando. The ‘glass half full’ diagnosis is that he’ll be back for the Conference Finals. The ‘glass half empty’ view is that Boston doesn’t make it that far. Indiana will be without Victor Oladipo but since he went out in January they’ve been able to compensate. Not sure that Boston has the ability to replace Smart on short notice. Celtics were horribly inconsistent all season with serious questions about their chemistry with most fingers pointing to Kyrie Irving. Pacers slumped down the stretch but catch a favorable first round matchup as Boston is nothing special this year. Indiana plays nasty team defense (104.7 PPG #1 in NBA) and that could spell trouble for a Celtics team without their starting pointguard. Upset special. PACERS IN SEVEN
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