Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat
What a week for the Celtics. Boston claimed the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and landed the No. 1 spot in the upcoming draft lottery. The Bulls barely made it into the playoffs with a win against the Nets, whom rested six players in the last game of the regular season. The last time the Celtics and the Bulls met in the playoffs was in 2009, a series that went the distance and featured four overtime games. The Celtics, a team that relies on 3-point shooting, ball movement and suffocating defense, should easily dispatch the Bulls, one of the worst shooting teams in the league. Chicago is going to miss Taj Gibson’s defensive presence in the paint and his rebounding prowess. Rajon Rondo gets a chance to play against the Celtics in the playoffs for the first time since he was traded in 2014.
Prediction: Celtics 4, Heat 1
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers
The Cavaliers stumbled into the playoffs on a four-game losing streak. The defending champions will face the Pacers in the first round, a rematch of 2012-13 when Paul George was a game away from dethroning LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavs have an abundance of problems- defense being the most significant one- they need to work out before the playoffs begin Sunday. Lance Stephenson, an enigma in himself, adds a new element of surprise to the Pacers’ stagnant offense and lackluster defense. Since Stephenson’s return to Indiana, the Pacers have posted a 5-1 record and placed themselves in the top 3 in offensive ratings. It shouldn’t matter much, because James has never lost in the opening round in 11 trips to the playoffs.
Prediction: Cavaliers 4, Pacer 2
Toronto Raptors vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The matchup with the most unknowns is the one between the Raptors and the Bucks. How well will Toronto integrate Kyle Lowry back into its new offense? How will Milwaukee’s inexperienced youngsters perform in another playoff run? A small sample size, but the Raptors are 4-0 since Lowry’s return and have looked dominant on both ends of the floor. Only five players on the Bucks have made it past the first round of the playoffs in their careers, compared to the Raptors’ 10. With no veteran leaders on the team to guide the younger players, it’s hard to pick the Bucks to come out as the winner in this one.
Prediction: Raptors 4, Bucks 1
Washington Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks
As it should be, the four-five matchup is the most intriguing one in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks will bring their top-4 defense and bottom-4 offense against the Wizards, in what is possibly Paul Millsap’s last season in Atlanta, and the team’s last year as a playoff contender. Washington, a team that has found its groove post All-Star Break, will feature one of the most electrifying guards’ duo in the league with John Wall and Bradley Beal. Washington defended its homecourt well in the regular season with a 30-11 mark, but the Hawks finished the season as the ninth-best team while playing on the road.
Prediction: Wizards 4, Hawks 3