The East is shaping up similar to what most predicted except for one big variable, Atlanta is the #1 overall seed. Here’s a look at what the games would look like if the playoffs started today.
#1 Atlanta Hawks vs. #8 Miami Heat
Currently Atlanta is 6 ½ games up on the second place Raptors, and on the pace their going they’ll win the East by ten games. No one could have predicted this before the season, but everyone is sure jumping on the bandwagon now! Am I the only one that’s suspect, though? Sure they are a very good team, and they have the ability to make a deep run into the playoffs, but can anyone tell me with a straight face that they think Atlanta can win the NBA Championship, or even the East for that matter. I would still take the Cavs or Bulls in a seven game series, as my NBA pick regardless of home court advantage.
The Heat are basically getting into the playoffs based on pity and respect for the last three seasons. They are eight games below .500, and Detroit, or perhaps a surging Indiana Pacers could easily overtake them. It would not surprise me to see the Heat fall out of the hunt in the East, but that Hassan Whiteside guy might single handedly take them there with all the shots he sends into the third row. This would be an adequate playoff matchup considering it’s the East. Who wouldn’t want to see the Hawks take on Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh?
#2 Toronto Raptors vs. #7 Charlotte Hornets
Toronto’s hot start to the season has cooled, but they are still the #2 seed with only 29 games to go. It helps that they play in a division with the Sixers, Celtics, Knicks and Nets. Toronto is 9-1 SU against their division this season, but guess what they are against winning teams since December 30th? They are 5-7 SU. This team is talented and they could make a run, but no matter where they finish, they are still at best the 4th best team in the East.
The Hornets might be the most dysfunctional team that currently is holding onto a playoff spot, and while the Raptors could very easily dispose of them, if Lance Stephenson ever integrates into the offense, and Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker stay healthy down the stretch, this team is dangerous. They are a lot better defensively that people think, and while they don’t matchup particularly well with the Raptors, they have some guys who could give them trouble. If this series occurs, it might be a good one to take the underdog.
#3 Chicago Bulls vs. #6 Milwaukee Bucks
Chicago might not be in this position for long, because the Cavs are climbing despite Chicago beating them up right before the All Star Break. The Bulls are coming back together after a bad month between the middle of January and now. However I still think Cleveland is going to make it into the 3rd seed, which would mean the Bulls would have to battle it out with Washington for the 4th seed. However Chicago I think would rather avoid a first round matchup with the Bucks and a potential second round one against the Cavs. So if Cleveland climbs to the #2 seed, I think Chicago would be much happier to play the Wizards in the first round, and potentially the Hawks in the 2nd.
The Bucks are another good story in the East, and with their youth, length and defense, they could be a tough out. They are limited up front which will ultimately be their undoing, but they are also very capable of taking almost any team in the East to five or six games in a playoff series. They are going to be a pesky out, but with their youth and inexperience, they don’t have enough to beat any of the top four teams, with the exception of maybe Toronto.
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#4 Washington Wizards vs. #5 Cleveland Cavaliers
This is probably the most likely matchup to change, but it would be an interesting one. However the Wizards have really faltered against the top teams in the East. They are 3-8 SU against the Raptors, Cavs and Bulls this season, and arguably they got their three wins when the Bulls and Cavs were in their slumps. If the Wizards face any of those three teams in the playoffs, it’s over.
The Cavs are probably going to pass the Bulls for the division and ultimately the 3rd overall seed, but even if they don’t, this first round matchup would be easy for them, even on the road. Plus then in the second round we would likely see the Cavs and Hawks, which would be an excellent battle and better for my Bulls!