By Ryan Mayer–
(CBS Local) The East was seen as the weaker of the two conferences once again during the regular season, and rightfully so with three playoff teams that had losing records. That said, the first round should provide some fun series to watch, though only two teams are truly considered contenders to emerge from the East and play in the Finals come June.
#1 Atlanta Hawks vs. #8 Brooklyn Nets
Season series: Atlanta, 4-0
The Nets seem to be gaining ground as an upset pick in this series. The disrespect just continues for the Hawks as people still tend to say, “I just don’t think they’re that good.” News flash, folks: Winning 60 games in a season means you’re pretty good. You don’t just fall into 60 wins in a year.
Now, Atlanta does have some health issues, with Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, Mike Scott and Dennis Schroder are all dealing with nagging injuries and Thabo Sefolosha out. On the Nets side, Brook Lopez has been playing well and they have the makings and show flashes of being a good team. Brooklyn can make this a close series if they play to potential. That “if” has always been the question since this team has been put together, and I think the Hawks are just a better team.
Prediction: Hawks in 5
#4 Toronto Raptors vs. #5 Washington Wizards
Season Series: Toronto, 3-0
This could be a very fun series. You’ve got two of the best young backcourt duos in the game battling it out with John Wall and Bradley Beal taking on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Both teams played below expectations at times this season after being such a fun part of the playoffs last year. The Wizards’ biggest weakness is coach Randy Wittman, who still hasn’t figured out the best rotation or style of play for this core group of stars.
Meanwhile, Toronto has plenty of big-shot takers (Lowry, Lou Williams, DeRozan) who can bury opponents in the clutch. The Wizards are great when their starting lineup is on the floor, but it gets dicey once you get into their bench depth. It’s because of the bench players that the Raps can rotate in that I have them taking this series. Beal didn’t play in two of the three regular-season games though, so I don’t think this is a sweep. It takes the full seven.
Prediction: Raptors in 7
#3 Chicago Bulls vs. #6 Milwaukee Bucks
Season Series: Chicago, 3-1
The Bucks are a fun, young, long team. They make life a nightmare on defense because of their long limbs and guys who can guard multiple positions. Plus, they have one of the most enigmatic young players in the game in Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose ceiling is limitless.
All of that said, they don’t have much of a chance against the Bulls, who have much more experience and depth that can make an impact on this series. Derrick Rose has looked solid in return from the knee issues, Jimmy Butler has been superb and Tom Thibodeau may be coaching for his job. Don’t be surprised if this series is played in the high 80s to low 90s, because both teams can defend. But the Bucks really have trouble scoring.
Prediction: Bulls in 5
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #7 Boston Celtics
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Brad Stevens deserves to be Coach of the Year. He won’t get it because it will probably go to Steve Kerr, but I don’t think many other (if any) coaches could have done what Stevens has done this year. He can absolutely scheme up something to make the Cavs work and steal Boston a game, maybe two. But the Cavaliers have found their stride in the second half of the season, and last I checked they still have the best player on the planet in LeBron James.
Prediction: Cavs in 4