The Eastern Conference playoffs looked to be just a formality a couple of months ago. The Indiana Pacers were rolling through everyone to the best record in the game, and the Miami Heat were being…..welll…..the Miami Heat. Lebron and the boys had their struggles, but those struggles were shrugged off by most. I think the Heat are still considered the favorite by some, because they’re expected to turn it on when it counts. That’s the thing that concerns me about this Heat team. In past seasons, they were able to turn it on in the regular season to make a statement. Like the 27-game win streak in 2013. There was no such streak this season. Not even close. Plus the Heat are missing key components that may be overlooked.
Udonis Haslem, while still on the team, is not the force he once was off the bench. Mike Miller, who was very instrumental in their 2013 Finals run, is now playing in Memphis.That’s not to mention the health of Dwyane Wade. It will also, be interesting to see if Greg Oden can give them anything. The Heat look vulnerable, but so do the Pacers. Their ONE major advantage over the Heat is quickly turning to be a disadvantage. Roy Hibbert, has been noticeably absent over the last month of the season. Andrew Bynum, is in the fold, but is he ready to contribute? And the turnovers have been mounting up. Can George Hill mininmize the mistakes? These questions and others, combined with surges in play by the Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, and even the Toronto Raptors have all of a sudden made the Eastern Conference Playoffs watchable and quite interesting. Let’s dig in to my predictions………..
The Indiana Pacers limped in to the final couple weeks of the season, but a huge win over the Oklahoma City Thunder has seemed to get the Pacers back on track. However, that nice win over the Thunder came after a thumping at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks just a few days before. There’s really no reason the Pacers shouldn’t win this series and even sweep the Hawks. For the Pacers, their biggest hope is that they take care of business early enough where they can get Roy Hibbert and David West back on track. The way things have gone lately for Indiana, nothing would surprise me. So, I think the Hawks get one. ……… Pacers 4-1
The last playoff appearance for the Washington Wizards was in 2008. A loss in 6 games to Lebron James, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their last appearance past the first round was the 2005 Eastern Semis against the Heat. For the Wizards, to win this series, the young Wizards, John Wall, and Bradley Beal will have to be spectacular. Also, Nene will have to play well against Joakim Noah, and the Wizards bench must contribute. That won’t be easy against the Chicago Bulls and their strong defense. The Bulls problem is scoring. Players like DJ Augustin and Jimmy Butler will have to shoot well from the perimeter and hope Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer are strong inside. Mike Dunleavy being back from injury should help things. Washington took 2 out of 3 from Chicago in the regular season, but the Bulls will get the better in the playoffs in what should be a very close and entertaining series………..Bulls win 4-3
Does playoff experience count for anything? If it does, the Toronto Raptors have no shot against the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have over 400 games of playoff experience under their belt. The Raptors have 24. With that, they have, of course the younger team. Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan make up one of the best back courts in the NBA. However, the Nets are deeper. Deron Williams is the guy, but Shaun Livingston is a difference maker, and Marcus Thornton has been a nice pick up late in the season. Of course, Paul Pierce will need to be ‘The Truth’ and Joe Johnson will have to step up. The Nets are a completely different team than they were early in the season. Expect that to continue but it’s will go seven………. Nets win 4-3
Heat win 4-1
There really shouldn’t be much drama in this series. The Miami Heat are clearly the better team, but that doesn’t mean the Charlotte Bobcats won’t cause problems. The Heat have no answer for Al Jefferson inside and look for Kemba Walker to have a strong series as well. Expect the Bobcats to get a game. The Heat have to get themselves in playoff form, and that starts with Dwyane Wade. This should be no more than a tune up for the 2-time defending champs………Heat win 4-1
That sets up the Eastern Conference Semifinals that look like this:
1. Indiana Pacers vs. 4. Chicago Bulls
2. Miami Heat vs. 6. Brooklyn Nets
While the Pacers have struggled down the stretch, the one thing they doe as well as anyone, including the Chicago Bulls is play physical defense. It would definitely be a rough and tumble series, but the Bulls lack of consistent scoring will be too much to overcome……….Pacers win 4-3
In the other series, The Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets is the matchup everyone has been waiting for. Brooklyn swept the Heat in 4 games in the regular season. That can’t be ignored. A healthy Dwyane Wade will make a difference, but I think the Nets have what it takes to beat the Heat. They’re not as strong inside as they would have been with Brook Lopez, but Kevin Garnett is back and Mason Plumlee has played very well as a rookie. Brooklyn pulls the upset………..Nets win 4-2
That leaves two standing for the Eastern Conference Finals:
1. Indiana Pacers vs. 6. Brooklyn Nets
A great matchup between two teams that will be very physical, but the Nets can score in a more variety of ways than the Pacers. Also, while the Nets are older, they’ve been in these situations before and delivered. The Pacers have been here as well, but they did not deliver. And they won’t deliver this time either. Nets do the improbable and make the NBA Finals………………Nets win 4-2
There you have it. Bold prediction for sure. Nonetheless, I’m a lot more excited about the Eastern Conference playoffs than I was a couple of months ago. It should be a fun ride. Be sure to look for my preview of the Western Conference playoffs later. Do you agree or disagree? Leave a comment and lets debate.