March Madness came and went and we saw the Virginia Cavaliers on top in the end (BOOOOOOOOO!). It’s now time to turn our attention to the NBA Playoffs which get underway this Saturday. We’re in for a wild ride this postseason, especially in the Eastern Conference. The Nets and Magic both ended playoff droughts of four and seven years respectively while the Bucks and Raptors flew through the regular season without many hiccups. Here is the first of two installments breaking down every first round matchup.
(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Detroit Pistons-Game 1 Sun, April 14th, 7 ET
The Bucks come into the playoffs fairly healthy with their only key injury being Nikola Mirotic (thumb). Luckily, the team is optimistic that he can return for Game 1. I don’t expect the Bucks to have any problems with the Pistons. Giannis has leveled up once again this season and seems primed to make an appearance in the NBA Finals. One year removed from being embarrassed by Terry Rozier, Eric (Drew) Bledsoe should have a much better showing in the playoffs. Milwaukee is on a mission this year. Bucks in 4.
(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Orlando Magic-Game 1 Sat, April 13th, 5 ET
The Raptors have literally no injuries as they glide into the playoffs. With Kawhi Leonard up for a player option this offseason, the Raptors will be doing everything they can to keep him and that starts with a deep playoff run. The Magic were a nice surprise this season making the playoffs over the likes of the Hornets and Heat. Big man Nikola Vucevic is the key to their success averaging over 20 points and 12 boards a game. However, let’s not forget that the Raptors have Marc Gasol down low in what still remains as one of the most underrated trade deadline moves in the league. It was a good ride for the Magic but it ends here. Raptors sweep.
(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Brooklyn Nets-Game 1 Sat, April 13th, 2:30 ET
I’m ecstatic to see the Nets make the playoffs. I’m a big D’Angelo Russell fan and it’s refreshing to see him find his footing in Brooklyn. Russell and company will have their hands full with the 3rd seeded 76ers who are itching to win a playoff series. They went all in by trading for Tobias Harris at the deadline and he has proved to be a valuable asset to them. I think the Nets can actually matchup fairly well with the 76ers and make this an interesting series (I wouldn’t be surprised if they advance past Philadelphia). On top of that, the Brooklyn fans will be ecstatic to see their team return to postseason play and will inevitably have the Barclays Center rocking. In the end, the 76ers should make it out of this series but not before some significant adversity hits. 76ers in 6.
(4) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Indiana Pacers-Game 1 Sun, April 14th, 1 ET
This series doesn’t feel like it will be as close as the seedings suggest. Usually it’s a toss-up between 4 and 5 seeds but I don’t see the Celtics getting bounced by the Pacers here. The Pacers lost their franchise player for the season due to a ruptured right quad tendon. However, even after Oladipo got injured the Pacers continued to win games and surprise people. On the other hand, the Celtics have had countless issues both on the court and in the locker room this season. Kyrie Irving is all but gone after this season and on top of that, do-it-all guard Marcus Smart (oblique) could very well be out for the entirety of these playoffs. Regardless of their differences, Boston will be able to pull themselves together when it counts because of their depth and coaching. Boston in 6.