NBA Eastern Playoffs preview: Can the Heat, Celtics dethrone the Bucks?

As we wrap up another season in the NBA, we have a clear picture of the teams that will compete for the championship in June. 

Moving forward to the playoffs, I figured I would give a playoff preview of what I expect to happen, who may be on upset alert and how these playoffs will impact specific teams moving forward. 

Today, I will start with the Eastern Conference, and the biggest takeaway is that the top end of this conference has a wide variety of contenders who are very evenly matched. 

The Miami Heat lead the way in the East with 53 wins this season, followed by the Boston Celtics with 51 wins, the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks round out the bottom four seeds. 

Out of the lower group of teams, the Bulls appear to be the easiest team to beat. They have dealt with a variety of injuries to Demar Derozan, Alex Curuso, and Lonzo Ball, who will not play for the rest of the year.

Toughest Series to Predict:

The matchups in the East look very intriguing, but the most appear to be the Raptors and the 76ers. 

Considering that 76ers starter Matisse Thybulle cannot play road games in Toronto because he’s not fully vaccinated, this series provides some tremendous individual matchups. 

76ers star Joel Embiid led the league in scoring this year, but the Raptors are uniquely positioned to try and stop him. With a multitude of long wings, such as Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, Thaddeus Young and Precious Achiuwa, Toronto can send waves of bodies at Embiid to try and slow him down. 

The biggest question for the 76ers is what James Harden will they be getting. Harden has been a mystery over the past few years, as it is unclear what production teams will get from him. After forcing his way out of Houston to Brooklyn and then turning around less a year later to push out to Philadelphia, Harden’s motives are questioned. 

If the Harden from last year’s playoffs shows up for Philly, it will spell trouble as he only averaged 20.2 points on 47% field goal shooting. Inefficiency has plagued Harden’s career dating back to his time in Houston, as he has never shot over 47% in the playoffs.

Who’s on Upset Alert?:

I look at a team like Boston who could be on upset alert, although the matchup is more the issue rather than any thing wrong the Boston themselves.

Brooklyn has the third best odds to win the East for a reason and their up and down season has left them in the position of being the seventh seed.

Nevertheless, Boston has the unfortunate task of drawing the Nets first, and the matchups are tough. Kevin Durant is a walking bucket and has been for most of his career. Kyrie Irving is a crafty point guard who can make magic with the ball and has an extra bit of motivation, considering he left the Celtics in the summer of 2019 for Brooklyn to play with Durant. 

The loss of Robert Williams for the Celtics will also affect them on the defensive side of the ball as he is out for the next 4-6 weeks due to a knee injury.

The Nets’ road record also plays into their favour as they actually play better on the road as opposed to home, mainly because of Irving’s vaccination status, which, until recently, forced him to sit out all Nets home games. 

So, who wins the East?

This is a tough one to call because of the multitude of contenders this conference has to offer. However, I will stick with the reigning champs, the Milwaukee Bucks, to head to the NBA finals. The team’s continuity compared to other counters such as the Nets and 76ers give the Bucks the edge.

Overall, I believe the East will be a bloodbath and one that I am looking forward to watching.