Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview

By: Ravneet Singh

I hope you have your popcorn ready. This is going to be one heck of a round.

(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Chicago Bulls

Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

There were some entertaining scuffles between the Bucks and the Bulls, but boy, I can’t wait to see what happens in this series. It’s no secret that Joakim Noah hates whatever team LeBron is on. The Bulls seem to play up to their opponent, as it was pretty evident in the first round.

The Bucks did fair up well to the Bulls thanks to their long wingspans and athleticism. Jason Kidd deserves praise for installing an impressive defensive scheme. Nonetheless, the Bulls should have finished them off in four games or five. During the last game, we finally saw what the Bulls were made of. They destroyed the Bucks by 54 points. If that Bulls team shows up against the Cavaliers, then we should be in store for some fun.

Kevin Love’s injury won’t show on the defensive end much, but there aren’t many big men in the game that can spread the floor like he can. In the last game against the Celtics, Cleveland still put up 31 three’s without Love. This team is full of shooters, but having Love spread the floor draws his defender away from the paint. That’s one less big man in the paint LeBron and Kyrie have to worry about when they attack the paint (no pun intended).

There are a few things David Blatt could do. He could go small ball and play LeBron at the four. This would create issues for the Bulls, because none of the four big men in Chicago can guard him. On the other hand, Chicago would win the boards and could create more opportunities with offensive rebounds. Even if Blatt doesn’t elect to go small, Mozgov is going to have to play heavy minutes. Foul trouble could be an issue with him if he has to spend his time guarding Pau Gasol.

Jimmy Butler recently admitted that he hasn’t really played much defense this year. Well, better late than never. They will need his defense on LeBron, as in year’s past he has slowed LeBron enough. Coach Thibodeau usually finds a way to play decent team defense on LeBron or at least his players will ruff him up a bit.

Hey! Maybe, this is why the Bulls have been saving a roster spot for Nazr Mohammed:

Anytime we see the Bulls vs. LeBron match-up, the James has always come out victorious. Without the team’s third best player, this might be the most difficult task yet. That being said, he’s the Chosen One for a reason. Irving and LeBron will have monster games, willing the Cavs to the next round.

Cavaliers in 7

(1) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Washington Wizards

The Associated Press

How things change so quickly. If we go back to early February this year, we would find that the Hawks were playing exceptional basketball, while the Wizards were playing average. Skip forward almost three months and we have the Wizards playing exceptionally, while the Hawks are playing average basketball.

Now maybe, I’m just overreacting. This Hawks team was the most fun team to watch this year in January. At the time it seemed like they were going to the Finals. If they can play somewhat close to that level, they will be the favorites. To do that, they have to push the ball. PACE is the key word in this series. The Hawks are best when they move the ball and go on the break. The Wizards want to slow things down.

Is Playoff Randy Whittman is some genius? No, he’s no genius for sure. We all saw this, but just for the heck of it, here it is again:

Let's look at the team’s stats against the Raptors:

Per Basketball-Reference.com

As you can see, the Wizards got the pace they were looking for. They also had the size advantage over Toronto. That size could be worrisome for the Hawks. Brook Lopez’s length really gave Teague and Schröder some trouble finishing at the rim. Gortat and Nene’ won’t give the same issues Lopez did, but those two still could struggle from inside. That’s why it’s important for Horford and Millsap to hit their outside shots and spread the floor.

This series is a toss-up. It really depends on which Hawks team and which Wizards team we will see. If both teams play like they did in the previous round, then the Wizards have this one in the bag. If the Hawks can open up in transition and hit their outside shots, then Atlanta has a very good chance of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Washington has shot off the charts in Round 1, and Atlanta has struggled shooting the ball. I am expecting both teams to regress to the mean and the Hawks to come out on top.

Hawks in 6