By Seth Rivello
The NBA regular season has come to a close and seeding has been determined. The playoffs are when you can finally tell what teams are real and what teams are fake. What I mean by that is all number one seeds aren’t guaranteed a trip to the finals. Regular season records mean nothing anymore.
The Toronto Raptors hold the number one seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 59–22. That is a very impressive record but the Raptors have shown to be a bad playoff team. Toronto always seems to lose in the first or second round. The eight seed Washington Wizards will give Toronto trouble. Point guard John Wall is finally healthy after playing only 40 regular season games. Wizards’ shooting guard Bradley Beal has shown he can lead a team with Wall’s absence, and not to mention the young talent surrounding that backcourt.
Toronto also has a nice back court with point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. During the regular season those two combined for about 40 of the teams 111 average points per game. What sticks out is the production of Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto’s center. Averaging 13 points, nine rebounds and a block per game that gives Toronto a huge advantage over Washington and its center Marcin Gortat.
The rest of the Eastern Conference is just average. The Cleveland Cavaliers will take on the Indiana Pacers. Cleveland has had a lot of problems this season but Indiana shouldn’t be one, especially with playoff LeBron James. Indiana’s main piece is guard Victor Oladipo who showed how much he could shine without Russell Westbrook holding him back, but that’s not enough to stop Cleveland.
The Boston Celtics looked good until star guard Kyrie Irving went down with a knee injury. Now led by young role players and rookie Jayson Tatum they should take down the Miami Heat. I don’t see them getting further after that. The best matchup of the first series could be the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Philadelphia has a mixture of pieces with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, JJ Redick, Dario Saric, and Robert Covington. Rookie guard Markelle Fultz may also play a big factor after coming off a long injury absence, not really showing too much in his games back. The Bucks are led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who averaged 27 points per game and 10 rebounds. Khris Middleton silently averaged 20 points, four assists and five rebounds. The 76ers are just too young right now to make a huge run. I think Milwaukee will advance, not easily but it will.
The Western Conference comes down to two teams and maybe one sleeper. The Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and my sleeper, the Utah Jazz. Houston led by future MVP James Harden, Warriors led by Kevin Durant with Steph Curry injured, and Utah lead by rookie guard Donovan Mitchell and defensive stud Rudy Gobert.
The Rockets will roll through the first round without a problem. Harden averaging 30 points, five rebounds and eight assists with Chris Paul and Eric Gordon averaging close to 19 points. Clint Capela handles the pain averaging a double-double.
The Warriors, most likely without Steph Curry, will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder. Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green should be able to handle OKC with ease. If OKC does go down, it will be the best team to ever lose in the first round of the playoffs. Triple-double machine Russell Westbrook, future hall of famer Carmelo Anthony, and star Paul George will put up a fight. If they lose, I don’t see them being together next season.