By Monte Cristo
The first round of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Playoffs should be much more competitive than the Western Conference.
There were four teams in the east who finished with the exact same record.
#3 Seed Miami Heat 48-34.
#4 Seed Atlanta Hawks 48-34.
#5 Seed Boston Celtics 48-34.
#6 Seed Charlotte Hornet 48-34.
#1 Seed… Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25) vs. #8 Seed… Detroit Pistons (44-38):
ESPN’s Dan Le Batard said, “This is the worst Cavalier team LeBron has ever had.” No disrespect to Mr. Le Batard but that is the dumbest statement I have ever heard on radio and I listened to Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith for years.
In 2007, James took a bunch of ‘stiffs” to the NBA Finals. Only one player on that roster averaged more than 14 points per game for their career (Larry Hughes 14.1). When this Cavs teams plays focused and as a team they are almost unbeatable. The Cavs can lock a team down defensively but can also score with anyone in the league. They were second in 3 point shots, making 10.7 per game.
Their Big Three of Kevin Love (16 points and 9.9 rebounds per game), Kyrie Irving (19 points per game) and James (25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game) are the best “Big 3 in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs are the deepest team in the league, They have 9 players who can put up 15 points per game.
I expect Kevin Love who was injured last year in the playoffs to have a monster series.
The Detroit Pistons had a good season after a few years of futility. Stan Van Gundy has done a good job leading this team. The Pistons are led by PG Reggie Jackson (18.8 points and 6.2 assists per game) and Center Andre Drummond has been double/double machine (16.2 points and 14.8 rebounds per game). at 6’9 Tobias Harris has been a great pick up. He can cause LeBron some problems on offense and defense.
This will be a competitive series, Detroit can score, defend and rebound. But unless Detroit’s own Kid Rock has a week long party for the Cavs at his mansion… This should be a quick series.
Cleveland should win this series in 5 games.
#2 Seed… Toronto Raptors (56-26) vs. #7 Seed…Indiana Pacers (45-37):
This should be one of the best matchups in the first round. The Raptors have turned themselves into a very reputable franchise over the past few years. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are a formidable backcourt. They average a combined 45 points, 9 rebounds and 11 assists. Center Jonas Valanciunas averages 12 points and almost 10 rebounds per game. The Raptors aren’t very deep but they have solid role players like Luis Scola and DeMarre Carroll.
One thing you can always expect from the Pacers is that they play hard under head coach Frank Vogel. Paul George has had a very good comeback year after being injured ( 23 points and 7 rebounds per game) The problem here is the Pacers starters aren’t consistent enough. Monta Ellis and George Hill average a combined 25 points. That is not going to get it done in the playoffs. A lot of experts are predicting that Indiana can win this series. I don’t see it at all.
I like the Raptors in 5.
#3 Seed…Miami Heat (48-34) vs. Charlotte Hornets (48-34):
The Miami Heat had to kind of reinvent themselves when Chris Bosh went down with an injury. Dwayne Wade is still the “go-to-guy on offense (19.1 points per game) but the heart and soul of this team has become Center Hassan Whiteside.
He is one of the few Big men in the league that can actually control the game on both sides of the floor ( 14.2 points 11.8 rebounds and 3.68 blocks per game). PG Goran Dragic can still score 20 points per night and SF Luol Deng is a decent scorer and long defender. Joe Johnson went from hell with the Brooklyn Nets to heaven in South Beach with Miami. He looks rejuvenated and is averaging 13 points per game since the Heat acquired him late in the season.
The Charlotte Hornets continue to be led by PG Kemba Walker (20 points per game). Walker can carry a team for a game or series. When he gets hot he is almost impossible to stop. Former Knicks guard Jeremy Lin has provided some offense off the bench (11.7 points per game).
Nicolas Batum is a solid shooting guard. At 6′ 8 he provides size and some scoring. (14.1 points per game). Center Al Jefferson has had a down year (12.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game). In order for Charlotte to win this series they will have to control the boards and force an up tempo game. I expect Walker to average over 25 points per game in the series but they just don’t have enough scoring.
I like the Heat in five close games.
#4 Seed… Atlanta Hawks (48-34) vs. #5 Seed… Boston Celtics (48-34)
No one outside of Atlanta or Boston will watch this series, but it should be the most competitive match up in the first round. The Celtics scored 105 points per game (5th in the NBA) and the Hawks score 102 points per game (12th in the NBA) This should be high flying up and down match up.
Brad Stevens has done a very good job of rebuilding the Celtics brand and they have a lot of good players. PG Isaiah Thomas leads the team scoring 22 points per game but Boston has 9 players who can score and contribute. They are very well balanced.
The Hawks are a three headed monster led by Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Al Horford. The three combined for 50 points 18 rebounds and 11 assists per game. The problem here is sharp shooter Kyle Korver, has had a down year in shooting 39% from three.
As the playoffs games go deeper and deeper the defense tightens up. Korver won’t have room to shoot like he does during the regular season. In order for the Hawks to win this series he will have to contribute and hit shots to keep the defense honest.
This is a tough call. The Hawks have more impact players but the Celtics have depth and coaching. But I have got to go with talent here.
I am taking the Hawks in seven, but I would not be shocked if Boston wins
Follow the Sports Whisperer on Twitter: @Montetjwitter11 and Listen to the Monte Cristo Sports thing on WRNJ Radio, Thursday’s at 7pm.
Editor’s Note: This article also appears on Nuts and Bolts, a content partner site of INSCMagazine here.