Atlanta Hawks (1) vs. Brooklyn Nets (8)
The Hawks impressed this season with their selfless, team-oriented passing game and surprisingly finished first in the East, while most analyst did not even expect them to win their division. Brooklyn barely made it into the playoffs and the prospect of playing against Atlanta might not sound appealing to them. The Hawks won their regular season series 4-0, averaging 114 points per game and winning by an average of 17.2 points.
The loss of Sefolosha will hurt the Hawks in terms of veteran leadership and perimeter defense, but the point guard match-up will probably determine the series. Deron Williams has to slow down Jeff Teague, which he hasn’t been able to do this season. Teague averaged 9 assists per game against the Nets, the most the had against any opponent.
Brooklyn hopes Joe Johnson will catch fire this series against the team he played for for 7 seasons. They will need it, because the regular season taught us that Atlanta’s passing game has been very effective against slow-paced teams such as the Nets.
Prediction: Hawks in 5
Game 1: Monday, April 20 at 7:30 AM AEST
Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs. Boston Celtics (7)
After a slow start, the Cleveland Cavaliers righted the ship, and with the additions of Mozgov and J.R. Smith, they are looking like a real championship contender. Their opponent in the first round, the Boston Celtics, surprised everyone by making the playoffs after trading away their two best players (Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green). Avery Bradley and Evan Turner have improved drastically this season, and with the addition of Thomas, they have a true scorer coming of the bench.
All the pressure will be on Cleveland, who are expected to make it to the NBA Finals. With the exception of Lebron James, none of the starters have played meaningful playoff basketball, so the question remains how playoff rookies Irving and Love will handle the pressure.
The match-up is one between the two hottest teams in the East: Since the All-Star break, Cleveland has gone 20-7 and the Celtics 20-11. The regular season series ended tied 2-2. The two losses by the Cavaliers, however, were without James and Irving.
Prediction: Cavaliers in 4
Game 1: Monday, April 20 at 5:00 AM AEST
Chicago Bulls (3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6)
The Chicago Bulls had another injury-plagued regular season. Rose, Gibson, Butler and Noah all missed a substantial amount of games, but it seems they all got healthy at the right moment. It will be the first playoff game for Rose in 3 years, and the Bulls will need him if the want to have a successful run.
Their opponent in the first round will come out of Milwaukee. The Bucks (41-41) are the most improved team in the league (after only winning 15 games last season) and they got here by playing solid defense. Milwaukee has the highest opponent turnover rate and ranked first in the conference in defensive rating.
Defense will be the main theme in this series. Both teams play at a rather slow pace, and stress defense above all. Chicago’s advantage in this series is their huge front line with Noah, Gibson and Gasol who, at 34, is playing some of the best basketball of his career.
A sluggish series is to be expected, in extend to their regular season games. The Bulls won the series 3-1, but no team scored more than 95 points in any of those games. Will the Bucks surprise the Bulls and win their first playoff series in 15 years?
Prediction: Bulls in 6
Game 1: Sunday, April 19 at 9:00 AM AEST
Toronto Raptors (4) vs. Washington Wizards (5)
The series between the number 4 and 5 seed are usually close encounters. The Raptors and the Wizards both came out of the gate blazing, but both have been struggling since the All-Star break. Nevertheless, it turned out to be the most successful regular season in Raptors’ history (49 wins), while the Wizards had their best season since the late 70s.
The two teams have an opposite style of play. The Wizards rank second in defensive rating in the conference (behind the Bucks), the Raptors hold the highest offensive rating in the east.
The Raptors won the season series 3-0, but a lot will be determined by the Kyle Lowry vs. John Wall match-up and whether Lowry can keep Wall out of the paint (8.33 FTG against Toronto). If the Raptors win, it will be the first time in their history they will win a best-of-seven series.
Prediction: Raptors in 7
Game 1: Sunday, April 19 at 2:30 AM AEST