Earlier today, OBB published our 30-team NBA projection for the upcoming season, featuring over/under picks and forecasted records for every team in the league. Well, now that we have the pesky regular season out of the way, it’s time to delve into the Eastern Conference playoffs and see how we think things may shake out. Let’s jump right in with the eight teams OBB has making the playoffs in the East:
- Cleveland Cavaliers, 60-22
- Chicago Bulls, 57-25
- Toronto Raptors, 49-33
- Washington Wizards, 47-35
- Atlanta Hawks, 46-36
- Charlotte Hornets, 46-36
- Miami Heat, 44-38
- Brooklyn Nets, 43-39
No major surprises there, really. The two teams that I think could make a playoff push are the Pistons and the Knicks. For me, the Pistons are more likely, even though I picked the Knicks to finish with a better record. I just think that a team coached by Stan Van and with Andre Drummond on it is a better bet than whatever the hell is going on at MSG this year. The Knicks are a lock to be a bottom ten defense, and I have them projected in bottom five. That does not bode well for playoff chances.
On to the first round match-ups:
1. Cleveland vs. 8. Brooklyn
Well, uh, I don’t much to say about this.
Cleveland in 4.
2. Chicago vs. 7. Miami
This is a match-up with some intrigue, as Coach Spo and Coach Thibs know each other well at this point, and there is some genuine dislike between the two teams. Miami has playoff chops, but they aren’t especially deep. Good subplots here because Dwyane Wade is from Chicago and Luol Deng played there for so long.
In the end, Chicago is too deep, too savvy and too physical. I just don’t see a way the Heat get out of this one.
Chicago in 5.
3. Toronto vs. 6. Charlotte
Now we’re getting into the really fun stuff! My favorite time of year in the NBA is the first round match-ups! So many weird series going on that feature mini-battles that are intriguing to NBA nerds. These are two teams that project to be very good defensively and that have a weird craziness to them. The Raptors were the secret tough guys of the NBA last year, and Charlotte is owned by Michael Jordan and now has Lance Stephenson. I would watch every minute of this series just to see how Lowry and Lance tried to get in each others’ heads. I love it.
Down to the X’s and O’s, Toronto would need Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson to play very well on the inside in this series. Charlotte would need Kemba to hold his own against Lowry, but they do have MKG and Lance to lock down Terence Ross and DeMar DeRozan, which is a nice luxury to have.
The big question mark for me in this series is shooting. Can Charlotte convert the triples? Marvin Williams, Lance and the bench guards (Gary Neal, Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts, Jeffrey Taylor) need to shoot the long ball well in this match-up. I’m just not confident that they would be effective enough against a strong, deep Toronto team with a crazy intense home crowd.
Toronto in 6.
4. Washington vs. 5. Atlanta
Another high-intrigue series for me. I LOVE this Hawks team. Al Horford and Paul Millsap are both on my All-Undervalued team going into this season without a doubt. Jeff Teague actually is an honorable mention for that squad, as well. I’m wild about Budenholzer as a coach, and I think that this roster fits his style really well. I mean, come on, Kyle Korver in a Spurs-based system? Ideal.
With Horford, the Hawks project to be a top-10 defense in 2014-15. The Wizards already accomplished that feat a year ago, but lost Trevor Ariza, their best wing defender. Paul Pierce can still defend to some extent, but not the way Ariza did.
John Wall can take over a series, though, and Bradley Beal is a player that I am just waiting to explode in a big playoff game. I love Gortat and Nene, and the general toughness of this Wizards team. This is the hardest series for me to call.
The coaching in Washington really bothers me, though. I think that Washington’s ceiling is higher than Atlanta’s, but that Atlanta is more likely to play above themselves while Washington lacks key direction and has it’s weaknesses exposed more readily. I’m going Atlanta here.
Atlanta in 7.
1. Cleveland vs. 5. Atlanta
This is the match-up the Cavs should want, really. Nothing here really threatens them outside of Horford down low, and that’s not enough to swing this far enough in the Hawks favor. Atlanta won’t be able to bully the Cavs the way the Wizards potentially could, and that’s the one thing I would be worried about for Cleveland: they don’t have playoff chops, so composure will be essential.
Cleveland will be too fast and with too much range for this to be much of a series. Barring a Millsap or Teague hero game, I see this one being over fairly quickly as well.
Cavs in 5.
2. Chicago vs. 3. Toronto
If Toronto can hang on to their attitude from a year ago and stay tough, this is going to be a very interesting series. Kyle Lowry will LOVE going against Derrick Rose on a big stage. He lives for that kind of competition. Jonas Valanciunas will get the biggest test of his career, and Amir Johnson and Taj Gibson are incredibly similar and both just all around great to watch.
Chicago has all the star power here, though. The match-ups line up well for the Bulls, and while these rosters are constructed similarly, it’s like Toronto has A- and B- players to Chicago’s A and B players. Dwayne Casey has become a coach I really like, but Thibs is a level above as well.
The one argument that trips me up a little bit here? Thibs minutes philosophy in the regular season. He shouldn’t be playing all his best guys 35+ minutes for 82 games, but he probably will. I love his competitive nature, but look at what the Spurs are doing, and do more things like that. That’s just a basic NBA rule: Emulate the Spurs whenever possible. The Bulls are at risk to be rundown and tired early in the playoffs if Thibodeau keeps up his shenanigans this year.
The talent is clearly here, though, and they should take down Toronto in a fun series that is closer than some think.
Chicago in 6.
1. Cleveland vs. 2. Chicago
Ah, finally. This is what everyone is predicting, isn’t it? There’s really not much way around it if all teams remain healthy, unless the Wizards really gel, Bradley Beal takes a crazy leap and Randy Whitman goes missing around game 45 of the regular season.
Chicago is tough, seasoned, well-coached, motivated and deep. They will abuse you and make every possession difficult. They will play the game the right way, and if Derrick Rose is the player we know he can be, they could be the best team in the entire NBA.
Cleveland is an offensive juggernaut. David Blatt has the perfect personnel for his style here, and LeBron and Love are a dream pairing that happens to get Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters as complimentary pieces. This team will be ridiculous.
This series lines up as a all-timer, but I’m predicting some serious sloppiness here. This is where the Cavs composure element really comes into play, and if they falter for a few minutes in one game, it could swing the whole series. Luckily, LeBron is one of the sport’s ultimate leaders, and Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving have played in big games for Team U.S.A. despite having no playoff experience. That helps (a little).
Logic tells me to pick the Bulls. It says that defense is a safer bet than offense here, and that experience matters and makes up for the talent differential.
But in the end, I see this Cavs team as the team with the best player in the series. People can talk all they want about how it took the Heat a year to gel and come into their own, but LeBron now is a different guy than LeBron then. He has become a leader and is able to unite people in a way that makes him even more special than before. I don’t think this Cavs team is like the Miami Heat teams. I don’t think they will be as unique, as innovative. But I think they’ll be better.
Cavs in 7.