Yesterday, I recapped and previewed the NBA’s Western Conference playoff, but let’s focus in on the East this time around. In the first round, the Cleveland Cavaliers overpowered an overachieving Boston Celtics squad. The Atlanta Hawks met some unexpected resistance from Brooklyn until finally getting on track. Washington surprised Toronto with a basketball blitzkrieg of sorts and dispatched them quickly. The Bulls’ talent and skill overwhelmed the Bucks in a physical series. Now that you are caught up, let’s get into the second round matchups:
Washington Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks
The biggest surprise of the first round of the NBA playoffs was the resurgence of a Wizards team that floundered through the second half of the season. Coach Wittman played new, smaller lineups with Paul Pierce playing stretch forward. John Wall and Bradley Beal played like all-stars all series. The result was an blown away Toronto team that got swept. The Hawks also struggled to finish the season, but mostly due to some injuries and resting of their players after wrapping up the number one seed in the East early on. The Nets did their best to push Atlanta, but in the end the teamwork that has symbolized the Hawks all year long won out. This series looks way more competitive than analysts would have guessed just a couple of weeks ago. Despite their impressive first round showing, the Wiz are playing a much better team in the Hawks that looked like it was returning to early season form to finish off their first round series. The shooting of Millsap and Horford will pull the Washington bigs away from the basketball negating their defensive impact. Jeff Teague will be able to add some resistant to John Wall that he didn’t see last week. I expect a highly contested, back and forth, evenly matched series in which home court advantage proves to be a huge boost to the Hawks.
Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
In the first round, the Cavs swept a feisty Celtics squad, but didn’t leave the series unscathed. We are all aware of the shoulder injury to Kevin Love that will sideline him for the rest of the playoffs and hurt the Cavs championship aspirations. On the flip side, the Bulls met some competition from the Bucks after taking a 3-0 lead on them. After pushing the series to game 6, Chicago floored Milwaukee winning by 54 points. Their overall talent and skill won out after facing a couple of tests along the way.
The Bulls are the worst matchup for the Cavs of any Eastern conference team. They have a veteran roster full of skilled post players (Gasol, Mirotic, Gibson, and Noah), explosive guards (Butler and Rose), and quality role players (Dunleavy, Brooks, etc.). They will test the resolve of the Cavs. The loss of Love will hurt the Cavs in this series, no doubt. The scoring, spacing, and rebounding he adds to their team will not be easily replaced, but I don’t think it will cause them to falter in this series. At the end of the day, Cleveland has the two best players in the series: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. These two superstars will have a huge series and hold off the Bulls.