It is almost playoff time in the National Basketball Association, but this year is much different. No home court advantage, just two teams matching up in a pretty empty gym in a best of seven series. While the final playoff spot in the West is yet to be determined, the East is locked, loaded, and ready to go. So let's take a look at the East first-round matchups and give my predictions on each series.
(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Orlando Magic
The "home team" of this NBA bubble comfortably took the eighth seed in the East (mostly because all the other East teams are brutal). That being said this series is not going to be very long as the Milwaukee Bucks are an absolute buzz saw. The Bucks will have the two best players in this series (yes Khris Middleton is better than Nikola Vucevic by a mile) as Giannis and Middleton have had great years. The Bucks (who are number one offensively in the league) averaged over eleven more points than the Magic in the regular season. The Magic did give up fewer points per game than Milwaukee, but only by 0.3 points per game.
When it comes to the injury front, Orlando is coming in pretty hobbled. Al Farouq-Aminu was already out heading into the bubble, but then Jonathon Isaac, one of Orlando's best players, went down with a knee injury. Milwaukee, on the other hand, is at full strength, which when you are already the heavy favorite is a huge advantage. If Orlando had Isaac and Aminu would they have a chance to steal a game? For sure they would but without them, this matchup is completely one-sided. Outside of the center position Milwaukee probably wins every other starting position and has the better bench. Milwaukee will cruise to the second round.
Milwaukee wins in 4 games
(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Brooklyn Nets
If this was the beginning of the year and you saw Raptors vs. Nets you would think this would be a great series. The Nets have a roster containing talents like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Wilson Chandler. But none of those players I mentioned will play a single minute in this series so we have another one-sided series on our hands. All the credit in the world to the Nets that are playing though as they have fought in every game they have played, led by Caris Lavert, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen. Toronto has two all-stars in Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam, veterans like Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, and key pieces like Fred Van Vleet and Norman Powell.
So Toronto wins the injury battle and they sport the best defense in the league, giving up a league-best 106.5 points per game. These teams are closer in the points department, but that was before Brooklyn lost most of their players. Most people would likely point to Toronto sweeping this series, but this team usually finds one game where they don't show up (see their first game versus Orlando last year). Toronto will still win comfortably in five games, but do not be surprised if they drop the first or second game.
Toronto Raptors win in 5 games
(3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers
Another series that prior to the season people would have been itching for. In fact, up until a week ago, that was still the case, but then Ben Simmons went down and had surgery. Philadelphia has had chemistry issues all year, especially when it comes to integrating Al Horford into the team. The Celtics this year saw the emergence of Jayson Tatum into superstardom and they now have a bonified number one option. Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown have lived up to their contracts as well, so Boston has a strong roster heading into the playoffs. They also have the second-best defense in the league and are well-coached so this team could be peaking at the right time.
Philadelphia as I stated earlier will be without Ben Simmons, which is a massive injury for them. He is not only their best passer but best perimeter defender as well, which the desperately needed to guard this Celtics lineup. Josh Richardson is solid and Tobias Harris is serviceable, but with little to no bench depth, this team is gonna be at a disadvantage. The only question will be can Daniel Thies and Enes Kanter be able to contain Joel Embiid? Joel is a superstar in this league and if he wants it bad enough he could give the Celtics fits in series. The 76ers will get a few notable performances from him, as well as Harris and former Celtic Horford. They will steal a couple but without Ben, this series will be a Boston triumph.
Boston Celtics win in 6 games
(4) Miami Heat vs. (5) Indiana Pacers
This will be the best series to watch in the first round. While the other three have heavy favorites, due to either sheer dominance or injuries, this battle will be a back and forth encounter. We saw flashes of a potential rivalry earlier in the year when Jimmy Butler and TJ Warren went at it in a regular-season game. While their matchup in the bubble did not impress a seven-game series could reignite that fire. These teams are very similar in the way that they play. They have solid bigs, serviceable guards and a ton of talent on the wings.
What ultimately gives Miami the edge is that Indiana has no Jeremy Lamb or Domantas Sabonis. If those guys are playing this is a seven-game series that could go either way. With Miami having young sharpshooters like Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson I am not sure that Indiana has the firepower to match them. Malcolm Brogdon and Warren have had nice seasons, but they need more around them to beat the Heat. The only way Indiana could upset the Heat is if we see the Victor Oladipo of old. He was an all-star that has not played like it since returning from a major injury. I would love to see it as a basketball fan, but I think he needs more time which is why I am taking Miami.
Miami Heat win in 6 games
Looking to do some sports betting? Sign up for ThriveFantasy and use promo code BCMG when you do for $20 on your first deposit of $20 or more
Looking for more of Kenneth's content? Check out his Twitter page here!