The 2017 NBA Playoffs begin this Saturday, April 15. Although there are a couple of days left in the regular season, I think it’s time to get going with our 2017 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs Previews.
This article is all about the Eastern Conference where Cleveland is a heavy favorite to beat the other 7 contenders in the East and make it to their second straight NBA Finals. I preview each team in the 2017 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs!
2017 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs Preview
Top 4 Seeds
1 Cleveland Cavaliers
After winning 4 games in a row, the Cavaliers have lost their last 2. As of April 9, Cleveland is tied with Boston atop the NBA Eastern Conference Standings. A lot could be decided before the playoffs begin on April 15.
One thing to keep in mind is that both losses were to the Atlanta Hawks. It could be that Cleveland just doesn’t match up well with likely 5th seed Atlanta. Or, it could be that the Cavs are taking it easy knowing that every series in the NBA Playoffs is a potential 7-game series. In either case, Cleveland’s hold of the 1-seed is tenuous at best.
2 Boston Celtics
The Celtics lost 2 games in a row last week. Like Cleveland, they lost to Atlanta. The Hawks beat Boston 123 to 116. What’s worrisome about the loss to the Hawks is that Cleveland pummeled the Celtics in Boston 114 to 91 only a day before.
Straight up, the Celtics are destined for a 1 or 2 seed. Against the spread, Boston has been terrible in their past 8 going 2 and 6. The Celtics could be a vulnerable top 4 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs once April 15 rolls around.
3 Toronto Raptors
Toronto is undefeated since Kyle Lowry has come back from a wrist injury. The Raptors beat Detroit 105 to 102 on April 5. On April 7, they beat Miami 96 to 94. Then, this past Sunday on April 9, Toronto punished the New York Knicks 110 to 97 in Madison Square Garden.
Lowry returns to a team that now plays terrific defense. Serge Ibaka is an enforcer in the paint while former Utah Ute big 7’ 0” center Jakob Poeltl is ultra-efficient when playing under 15 minutes per game. He only played 14 minutes and 51 second versus the Knicks. Poeltl managed 8 points and 7 boards.
4 Washington Wizards
Washington hasn’t played their best basketball going into the final week of the NBA Regular Season. Washington has underperformed since the end of March. The Wizards are 2 and 6 straight up in their last 8 games.
They’re not playing the way they must to beat Atlanta in Round 1, much less upset a team like the Cavaliers or Celtics. I think Washington’s biggest issue is that they don’t appear to have a player with a killer instinct. Point-guard John Wall is great. But, he’s a point-guard first. He can’t take over every phase of a game ala Steph, LeBron, or Kawhi.
Rest of the 8
5 Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta has been on fire in their past 7 games. The Hawks did lose to Brooklyn 82 to 91 on April 2. But, save for that inexplicable loss, Atlanta has been a machine against the spread going 5 and 2 ATS. They’ve also been great straight up by going 5 and 2 SU.
In their last 3 as of April 9, Atlanta has beaten Boston 123 to 116, Cleveland, 114 to 100, and Cleveland again 126 to 125. The 126 to 125 game was in overtime.
6 Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee is 1 and 3 straight up in their last 4. They did win their last game as of April 9, a 90 to 82 victory over Philadelphia as a -7 favorite. But, Milwaukee also lost to Dallas, Oklahoma City and Indiana in 3 of their last 4.
One of the games was a 105 to 109 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on the road. That game was on April 2. The other two battles weren’t even close. Oklahoma City demolished Milwaukee 110 to 79 on April 4. Indiana pummeled Milwaukee 104 to 89 on April 6. The Bucks, like Washington, don’t go into the NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs hot.
** 7 Indiana Pacers
One team that is hot is Indiana. The Pacers were in 9th place as of last Monday, April 3. All they did was win all 3 games this past week. They won all 3 games in dominant fashion.
Indiana throttled Toronto 108 to 90, they beat the Bucks 104 to 89, and they tore up Orlando 127 to 112. Going back to their 130 to 135 overtime loss to Cleveland on April 2, Indiana has gone 4 and 0 SU and 4 and 0 ATS in their last 4 games as of April 9.
The Pacers have yet to clinch a spot in the playoffs. They must win their games this week to do that.
** 8 Chicago Bulls
The Bulls haven’t clinched a playoff spot yet either. Chicago has gone 1 and 3 straight up in their last 4 games as of April 9. The two losses were downright awful. The Bulls dropped a game to the terrible Knicks 91 to 100 on April 4. On April 8, they lost to the Brooklyn Nets 106 to 107.
If Chicago wins out, they should grab a playoff spot. There next two games are versus the Orlando Magic and the Brooklyn Nets. The last time they faced both teams, the Bulls ended up with losses.
** 9 Miami Heat
Could the Miami Heat make it to the NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs? I think so. The Heat battle the Cavaliers on April 10. They take on Washington on Wednesday, April 12. The last time Miami played Cleveland, they beat the Cavs 106 to 98. In Monday night’s game, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, and Kyrie Irving are all taking a seat.
On April 14 versus Washington, it’s likely the Wizards rest John Wall. Even if Washington doesn’t rest Wall, Miami beat the Wizards 106 to 103 on April 8. Miami has a great shot of making it to the playoffs because it’s unlikely that Chicago wins both of their games.
Team to Watch Out For
The Atlanta Hawks are hot. Atlanta was in a precarious situation as of last Sunday, April 2. No worries. The Hawks came out and won all 3 of their games, including beating Cleveland twice, this past week.
Atlanta has an emerging star in guard Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway Jr. has scored 20 points or more in 6 out of Atlanta’s past 10 games. That makes Dennis Schroeder a true point-guard while Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard make for a tough front court.
What impresses me about Atlanta is how they beat Boston and Cleveland, the top two teams in the NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs, last week. I think the Hawks are dangerous going into the post-season.
NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Finals Prediction
Toronto Raptors vs Cleveland Cavaliers
Toronto is a different team with Serge Ibaka. The former Oklahoma City great adds an inside presence that does more than try to shoot the 15-foot jumper, or tries to bury three-pointers. Ibaka is an enforcer. He’s going to open things up for Kyle Lowry, who’s been great since returning from the injury, and the smooth DeMar De Rozan. The Raptors are at full strength. I think they beat Boston in Round 2 and make it to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
There’s no reason they shouldn’t end up facing Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavs have shown flashes of the defense that secured their first ever NBA Championship last season.
That’s why I believe Toronto’s season ends when they face Cleveland. When Cleveland turns on the defensive intensity, no team can hang with them. Just ask Boston after the Cavs obliterated the Celtics in Boston last week.
I like the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the East.
Winner: Cleveland Cavaliers over Toronto Raptors in 6 games