By Brandon Easler
(1) Toronto Raptors vs. (8) Washington Wizards
This could be an intriguing matchup to watch, as John Wall has returned from injury at just the right time. Even though the Wizards have not exactly gotten the results they wanted since his return (2-5), Wall completely changes this team with his ability to consistently get to the basket and to dish out dimes. However, Toronto has presumably been the best team in the East for the entire season. They boast a very balanced top-rated attack (2nd in offensive rating and 5th in defensive rating) and will be a hard team to beat in the playoffs even though they have been known to choke in the past. The Wizards might be able to get a game at home, but I do not see them giving the Raptors much more trouble than that.
Prediction: Raptors in 5
(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Milwaukee Bucks
Boston is still trying to cope with the loss of their best player, Kyrie Irving. The Celtics have gone 8-5 since Irving went down with injury, but they lack a consistent offensive threat and that could derail them in the playoffs. The biggest problem for the Celtics comes in the form of the Greek Freak. Giannis has went off against the Celtics this year, as he has scored 37, 28, 40, and 29 along with having a double-double in three of the four games. However, the Celtics do have the best rated defense in the league, and if they want to win this series they will have to rely on some players with little to no playoff experience in order to survive.
Prediction: Celtics in 6
(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Miami Heat
The 76ers are on an absolute roll right now as the hottest team in the NBA. They are winners of 16 straight games, and just demolished the Bucks in the last game of the regular season to lock down the 3 seed. However, they are still without Joel Embiid, but he should be returning soon as he was just fitted for his mask. The Miami Heat are an average basketball team, but they were able to keep it close with the Sixers during each of their four games (lost two by 6 and 2 points and won two by 1 and 9 points). However, their offense is putrid (22nd in the league) and the statuses of Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside are up in the air. Depending on how many games, if any, these two will suit up could change this entire series.
Prediction: 76ers in 4
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Indiana Pacers
The Cavs have had two big problems for the entire season, injuries and defense. They will need to have everyone healthy in order to make a run at a fourth straight Finals and will also need to improve on their 29th ranked regular season defense. Ty Lue has said that they have saved some defensive packages for the postseason, and he will need to hope those pay big dividends. The Pacers are the definition of a middle-of-the-pack team, as they are average on both offense and defense (ranked 11th and 13th respectively). Victor Oladipo is easily having his best year as a pro, and Myles Turner could give the Cavs some problems due to his post presence. However, he will also have a hard time defending Kevin Love on the perimeter and LeBron is a matchup nightmare for any team. Indiana took 3 out of the 4 regular season matchups, but they were all before the Cavs roster overhaul at the trade deadline.
Prediction: Cavs in 5
All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com.
Follow @NbaNosebleed for more!