#8 Detroit Pistons vs. #1 Milwaukee Bucks – The Pistons have made it back into the playoffs for the first time in 4 years and only the second time since 2008-09’. However, their re-inclusion in this year’s playoffs come with the daunting task of trying to take out the most statistically sound team in the NBA. Milwaukee has had a great season and is comfortable winning shootouts or defensive contests. The Bucks won all 4 meetings with the Pistons and have the means to completely overwhelm them in this series. Ranked top 5 in the majority of offensive and defensive categories, Milwaukee will be able to make quick work of their 1st round opponent.
Prediction: Bucks in 4
#7 Orlando Magic vs. #2 Toronto Raptors – The Magic put together a strong winning streak to mark the first franchise playoff appearance in 7 years. Winning 11 of their last 13 games, Orlando found another offensive gear against many of the Eastern Conference playoff teams. One of their two losses came at the hands of their first round opponent, Toronto. Despite not achieving the 1-seed, the Raptors have become a much more dangerous team after the additions of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Marc Gasol. Player development in Toronto has been exceptional and the emergence of Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby has provided this team with solid two-way players creating versatility at both ends of the floor. Orlando split the season series with the Raptors, but tallied an 0-2 record when Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard played together. Health is not an issue for the talented pairing and will be the root of Orlando’s demise.
Prediction: The Magic runs out, Toronto in 5
#6 Brooklyn Nets vs. #3 Philadelphia 76ers – The Nets were a pleasant surprise this season, recording only their 3rd winning campaign since 2007-08’. Led by D’Angelo Russell’s All-Star year, Brooklyn defends the 3-point line fairly well and will pressure 76ers shooters to hit on a consistent basis. Philadelphia’s star big man Joel Embiid is on the mend with an injured knee and is questionable for the first game of the series. His presence is vital to Philly’s chances at avoiding the upset. Despite playing all and splitting the 4 matchups against the Nets, Embiid’s presence was significant enough to avoid a season sweep. If Embiid misses any time, this already dangerous series may tip the scales in Brooklyn’s favor.
Prediction: 76ers outlast the pesky Nets in 7
#4 Boston Celtics vs. #5 Indiana Pacers – This matchup is featuring two teams trying to find their identities, while limping into the playoffs. Boston, despite a healthy core of stars and firepower, managed to go 6-6 in their final 12 games of the season. The Celtics have looked lost throughout the season on the offensive end and may have been better off last year when there were fewer cooks in the kitchen. Indiana on the other hand was playing exceptionally well in the first half of the season until star guard Victor Oladipo ruptured his quadriceps muscle. His absence has caused the Pacers to sputter post-All-Star break. For all of Boston’s inconsistency, a series against Indiana may be just what the doctor ordered. 3 wins in 4 tries on the season puts the Celtics in prime position to make quick work of the Pacers and regroup for round 2.
Prediction: Celtics control the Pacers in 5
#4 Boston Celtics vs. #1 Milwaukee Bucks – Gaining a little momentum from their first round series against the Pacers, the Boston Celtics have a much tougher test with the 1-seed Bucks. Fairing well in the regular season against Milwaukee, this series does not automatically scream mismatch for the Celtics. Boston has a talented offensive game and strong defensive base to force Milwaukee into a physical series. The C’s do a good job of contesting shots at all areas of the floor. However, the Bucks will just be a bit too much in this series. They can do everything Boston can and then some.
Prediction: Bucks over the Celtics in 6
#3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #2 Toronto Raptors – If Philadelphia is fortunate enough to escape the upset-minded Brooklyn Nets, they will be praying that Embiid is healthy enough to face a much tougher Toronto opponent. The Raptors have had the Sixers number this season, 3-1, and will be looking to make another statement against a pre-season conference favorite. Unfortunately for the 76ers, this season ends in another disappointing fashion.
Prediction: Raptors dispose of the Sixers in 6
#2 Toronto Raptors vs. #1 Milwaukee Bucks – This is the matchup fans should want to see, The Greak Freak against The Klaw! The Raptors and the Bucks are very evenly matched teams, despite the 3-1 record in favor of Milwaukee during the regular season. The Raptors get the nod in this heavyweight matchup, BUT the victor will be more so decided by health than anything. Milwaukee enters the playoffs pretty banged up and several key players are slated to miss some significant time. Their returns should align with the start of the playoffs, but that’s hoping for ideal timing. The Raptors improved at the deadline and have increased depth to compete with the physicality of the Bucks.
Prediction: Toronto over Milwaukee in 7