Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

By: Ravneet Singh

This is sadly shaping out to be one of the worst 1st Round Eastern Conferences match-ups we have seen in recent memory. However, we do have one possible exciting series in Toronto vs. Washington!

(1) Atlanta Hawks vs. (8) Brooklyn Nets

NBAE/Getty Images

You can honestly argue the current NBA Playoff format by using the Nets as an example. They are six games under .500 and were the only team in the playoffs this year with a negative net rating (-2.9). They also ranked 23rd in the league in defensive efficiency (the amount of possessions a team permits for every 100 possessions), according to ESPN.com. That’s the lowest for any Playoff team to no one's surprise.

Since the Thaddeus Young trade the Nets have played better. They are 13-9 after putting Young in the starting lineup. He’s a good offensive fit next to Brook Lopez, which is why Lopez was playing out of his mind near the end of the year. It’s no surprise that the Nets’ best lineup was with those two:

Per Basketball-Reference.com (sorry for the small picture - click to enlarge)

The most likely scenario is that the series ends pretty early. When the Hawks are playing their best ball, they are a top 3 team. Losing Thabo will hurt, but this team is deeper than most people think with Mack, Bazemore, and Schröder taking up those lost minutes. As long as the Hawks’ starting five is healthy, look for them to make a deep playoff run.

Hawks in 5

(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Boston Celtics

David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images

What a feel good story the Celtics have been this year. They have a Coach of the Year candidate and a legit 6th Man of the Year Candidate. No one thought that this team would make the playoffs and look at them now. They will gain valuable playoff experience.

That’s where the story will likely end for this year. The Cavaliers are on a mission to make the finals and anything green does not scare them. What does scare them is how Love is playing since the start of 2015. His points per game have gone down each month starting from January. Look at his stats post All-Star break, per NBA.com:

Per NBA.com

Even though the Celtics don’t oppose much of a threat for the Cavaliers, this series is still vital for them to get their big man going.

Cavaliers in 4

(3) Chicago Bulls vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks

Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

Roses’ shot selection has been suspect this year. He has been taking too many 3’s and doesn’t attack the basket enough. That doesn’t mean the Bulls are better without him. They finished 10-11 without Derrick Rose this year. The Bulls will go as far as Rose takes them. Rose has been taking more shots in the paint since he has come back, which is a good sign.

Michael Carter-Williams might give Rose trouble in the paint. Overall the Bucks are more than decent defensively. I’ve always been unimpressed from Jason Kidd as a coach, but he’s proved it to me that he is at least a good defensive coach. The Bucks rank 4th in the league in opponent’s FG%, and the Bulls ranked 5th, per ESPN.com. Playoff games tend to slow down and with these two teams we aren’t going to see too many high scoring games.

Since the Brandon Knight – MCW trade, the Bucks have struggled. They are 10-15 since the trade and have gotten worse shooting the 3. The Bucks aren’t ready to have any affect in the Playoffs. They may win one game, but the Bulls may have gotten the easiest opponent of any Playoff team.

Bulls in 4

(4) Toronto Raptors vs. (5) Washington Wizards

Ron Turenne/Getty Images

By far the toughest series to predict in the Eastern Conference (and maybe even the whole Playoffs) is this series. Yes, the Raptors won all regular season meetings. That doesn’t mean much. Two of those games were decided by four points or less, and the Playoffs are another whole ball game. Both teams were in similar positions last year, but the Raptors couldn’t make it past the first round.

One obvious benefit for Toronto is that they have home court advantage. During the regular season Toronto isn’t that hard to play in. During the post-season it can get pretty rowdy with super-fans Drake and Nav Bhatia getting everyone going.

Washington, for some reason, doesn’t seem as confident as they were last year. Nenê doesn’t look like the same guy, and his numbers have dropped from last year:

The Raptors rank 3rd in the league in offensive efficiency, while the Wizards rank 19th. On the other hand Toronto ranks 23rd in the league in defensive efficiency, and Washington ranks 5th. Hence, this match-up is essentially good offense and bad defense versus bad offense and good defense.

Per ESPN.com (higher the offensive rating, the better and the lower the defensive rating, the better)

Paul Pierce’s Championship experience will come in handy for Washington, but I believe the Raptors home court advantage will be the deciding factor in this series.

Raptors in 7