(1) Toronto Raptors vs (8) Washington Wizards
As many people believe this series is a wash for the Raptors, I think the series could be slightly competitive. Not because of the Wizards, but because of the “Playoff Raptors”. Toronto always starts its postseason awful and sluggish with poor shooting and little energy. The last four playoff runs by the Raptors have all started with a loss in the very first game. These Raptors seem more composed and collected than years past, but old habits die hard. Toronto’s stars have come out with great performances and should close out this series as quickly as possible.
The Wizards, on the other hand, are coming in with a ridiculous loss to the Orlando Magic. Although it was a game where they didn’t play John Wall or Otto Porter at all, is that excusable? After all, they are still playing the Orlando Magic and had the chance to jump over the Milwaukee Bucks and face the depleted Celtics. The motivation should have been there, but it wasn’t enough apparently. The Wizards failed to win with shooting so bad you would think that Orlando was a top 10 team in opponent shooting percentage. They must improve that if they want to have a chance.
Toronto X-Factor: Kyle Lowry getting off to a hot start
Washington X-Factor: Role players making an impact scoring
Prediction: Toronto in 5
(2) Boston Celtics vs (7) Milwaukee Bucks
This matchup is one of the more intriguing series this postseason. On one side you’ve got great young talent that plays defense as well as anyone in this league, and a great coach to go with them. On the other side, you’ve got a team that has more experience in the playoffs and has arguably a top 5 player in the league. This series will ultimately be about Brad Stevens vs Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Brad Stevens knows how to beat the Bucks’ defense that is known for being over aggressive and hectic. The Bucks are one of the worst teams in the paint and opponent three-point percentage. With Al Horford, Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics have enough firepower to beat Giannis, Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, and Jabari Parker. Most NBA Playoff series go to the team with the most talent. This would be the Milwaukee Bucks. However, this series may go to the better-coached team instead, which would be the Boston Celtics. These teams split the season series 2-2. Brad Stevens will have his hands full on the defensive end with Playoff Giannis who already averages just over 33 points and 10 rebounds against the Celtics this year. This series could very well be a coin toss. I expect most games between these opponents to come down to the wire.
Boston X-Factor: Paint defense
Milwaukee X-Factors: Three-point shooting and creating turnovers
Prediction: Celtics in 7
(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs (6) Miami Heat
The season series between these two teams was split and each game was basically down to the last couple minutes or even seconds. Many people think the 76ers will fly by the Heat for an easy series, but I wouldn’t think that’s the case. This Miami team is well coached and can be very tough on defense. Miami has some shooters but is missing a key offensive weapon. They are one of the few teams in this league that has a more of a collective effort on offense than multiple key weapons. They also have Hassan Whiteside to match with Joel Embiid. I think Embiid is better than Whiteside but not many teams have someone at Whiteside’s level to match with the 76ers.
One of the most important things for the 76ers is going to be the play of Markelle Fultz. If he can provide some extra scoring and ball movement, it would create an even more difficult task for the Miami defense. 76ers are one of, if not, the hottest team in the NBA going into the playoffs, having won their last 16 games. Ben Simmons has been a flash of Magic Johnson of late and if he can continue that into these playoffs then the 76ers very well could make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Each one of these games should be close, even if the series doesn’t say so.
Philadelphia X-Factors: Markelle Fultz and how soon Joel Embiid is back
Miami X-Factor: Who will prevail as the best scoring option and clutch shooter
Prediction: 76ers in 6
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (5) Indiana Pacers
All we’ve been hearing this week is how the Pacers won the season series 3-1. Throw that stat out the window because it literally means nothing. The Cavs lost those games before the trade deadline which means they are quite literally a whole new team. This team has more chemistry and a will to win. They want to and feel the need to be successful and I’m not sure if the Cavs of old felt that same way. The Cavaliers will need to start playing some defense this series because Indiana can get hot from three quickly.
Indiana is a tough team who plays well in the clutch. They have easily been considered one of the biggest surprises this season and have the probable Most Improved Player of the Year in Victor Oladipo. I’m looking for Myles Turner to get going. I feel all we heard this past offseason was how good he was going to be and yet all I hear out of Indiana is Oladipo. His presence both offensively and defensively needs to be felt or the Cavs may have a cake walk. Also, the more threes the Pacers can hit the better because the Cavs’ dismal defense could be highly exploited if Indiana gets hot.
Cleveland X-Factor: Defensive consistency
Indiana X-Factors: Myles Turner and three-point percentage
Prediction: Cleveland in 5