If last year was a lucky beginner’s performance for the Milwaukee Bucks, then this year is an affirmatory stamp for the Bucks’ consistency and pedigree.
The Bucks sit atop both the Eastern Conference and the NBA with a healthy dose of confidence.
The defending Champions, on the other hand, has been blazing a path of wins despite the doubt from naysayers who predicted that the Toronto Raptors will not advance now that they lost veterans Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
Scanning the rest of the field, the Bean Town boys, Boston Celtics, have regained their egalitarian style of team basketball with two trustable veterans and two budding young stars. Suddenly, the Celtics look promising again.
It makes one wonder what kind of must-watch television we will get for the first round of the NBA Playoffs in the East. Here are the possible match-ups that the East Conference may present.
Most Dangerous Match-up – Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
The physicality of both teams is sure to raise the competitive intensity by a notch or two.
Despite losing All-Star Domantas Sabonis to injury, the ascension of TJ Warren during this NBA bubble has been impressive and bringing positive outlooks for the team’s prospect in the Playoffs.
Coach Nate McMillan has successfully encapsulated his coaching pedigree from the Seattle Supersonics and Portland Trail Blazers of the yesteryears and raised the Pacers to become the dangerous dark horse team that they are now.
With the return of their perennial superstar in Victor Oladipo, the Pacers have regained their composure. Their steady backcourt contribution from TJ McConnell, Malcolm Brogdon, Aaron, and Justin Holiday does help to stabilize the Pacers schemes. Miles Turner provides the premier post presence to help add protection and defense to the versatile Pacers team.
Miami Heat is always a dangerous and relentless competitor to face. Pat Riley and Eric Spoelstra are already well known for their strategic whizz during the Playoffs. The legendary body fat standard imposed on all roster members just puts the team on a different level when pushing rivals to their physical brink.
The arrival of Jimmy Butler and Finals Most Valuable Player, Andre Iguodala, helps provide the much-needed veteran mentorship to the quality young core that the Heat has already masterfully assembled.
This season saw promising defensive-minded, tenacious, and attack driven young guns like Kendrick Nunn, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro transform into legitimate winners for the Heat. Bam’s efforts have since been recognized league-wide as an All-Star.
Bolstered with the high flying Derrick Jones Jr and strong, smart minded players like Udonis Haslem, the Miami Heat packs just as much fight as the Indiana Pacers in every category and promises to be a dangerous match-up to watch out for in the first round.
Most Entertaining Match-up – Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Both teams have Playoff experience. Both teams have championship aspirations. Both teams have tasted success in the first round. Both teams have fought for years to get towards the Finals. Therefore, no one can doubt the quality of basketball and the passionate drive you can expect from this match-up.
In terms of star power, the Celtics and Sixers are probably the biggest names in the Eastern Conference. Each team has its multiple former All-Stars. Celtics has Kemba Walker, Gordan Hayward, and Jayson Tatum while Sixers has Al Horford, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons.
In terms of scoring production, both teams have players who are or were in the top 20 in scoring contributions, such as Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, and Joel Embiid.
In terms of schemes, the Celtics’ Brad Stevens is known for his strategic genius when it comes to game-planning for the opponents and tearing apart the offenses and defenses. The Sixers’ Brett Brown is known for putting his players in a position to exploit the mismatches and optimizing whatever he has on the roster. The time-out situations will be just as entertaining to watch as the quarters of competitive basketball.
One thing for sure in this series is that we will get a hard-fought series, with intensive defenses, hustle plays after hustle play,s and clutches shots after clutch shots when it matters.
Most lopsided Match-up – Milwaukee Bucks vs. Orlando Magic
In terms of winning basketball and Playoff experience, this match-up is perhaps the most lopsided one. The Bucks are the top-seeded NBA team (55-14) while the Magic is the weakest Playoff team (32-38).
In terms of coaching pedigree, the Bucks are led by the two-time reigning Coach of the Year, Mike Budenholzer, while the Magic is led by Steve Clifford, whose only Head Coaching experience was leading the downtrodden Charlotte Hornets.
In terms of a quality team, the Bucks are built around the league Most Valuable Player in Gianni’s Antetokounmpo while the Magic has an amalgamation of players who have not proven themselves.
In terms of battle experience, the Magic lack meaningful Playoff experience and have not won any significant Playoff series with their current roster but the Bucks were on the brink of reaching the NBA Finals last season and have consistently made the Playoffs.
Firepower-wise, the Bucks overpower the Magic by a mile. Almost every position has a shooter. From guards like Eric Bledsoe to forwards like Khris Middleton, Kyle Korver, Ersan Ilyasova, and Wesley Matthews, to even centers like Brook Lopez, the Bucks boasts of the league’s most consistent shooters and makes them formidable. The Magic only can depend on spotty shooters like DJ Augustine, Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier, and Terrence Ross, who are streaky but inconsistent during clutch moments.
This Bucks-Magic match-up is probably one of the most lopsided first-round series and may also be the fastest sweep to happen.
Most Unexpected Match-up – Toronto Raptors vs. Brooklyn Nets
Most analysts had the Toronto Raptors free-falling in their NBA standings after the exodus of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. However, they continue to prove us wrong.
The Raptors are sitting proudly at second on the Eastern Conference table with a largely healthy, hungry, and driven roster.
Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet are showing up when it mattered the most, leading the team in quality plays, defensive stops, statistical and non-statistical areas that impact winning. The heart and soul of the Raptors, Kyle Lowry, is playing confident, fearless, and playmaking for the team at a higher level than even their championship season.
The younger players like OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, Chris Boucher, and Patrick McCaw are all contributing selflessly and seamlessly.
The veteran bigs, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, both look even better after training laboriously during the NBA shutdown. With a brilliant mind like Nick Nurse and motivated hearts of the Raptors, you can never underestimate how unexpectedly good this team can be.
The Brooklyn Nets were on a roller coaster ride this year after two NBA superstars arrived. First, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant came in injured and could not play. The team had internal struggles and team meetings. Next, coach Kenny Atkinson got fired. Everyone was lost and roles were hanging. Finally, Jacque Vaughn took the reins as interim coach. No one had any expectations but the next moment, the Nets were downing strong opponents like the Bucks.
This makes one wonder if the Nets have really found their groove again? Injured superstars aside, the roster is essentially healthy, with Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, and DeAndre Jordan forming a stable core team. On good days, these starters are delivering quality minutes.
Coupled with the firepower of Three-Point Contest Winner, Joe Harris, and the slew of small forward weapons like Michael Beasley, Garrett Temple, and Taurean Prince, the Nets look like a decent Playoff team. With the addition of three-time Sixth Men of the Year winner, Jamal Crawford, the Nets now have many more years of Playoff experience and veteran leadership that serves as an X-factor in their battle against the Raptors.
In summary, the Eastern Conference is no longer the “Least-ern” Conference that it once was anymore. All things seem to point to the likelihood that this year’s playoffs are going to be more unpredictable, more anticipated, and more exciting to watch than ever. With that, the greatest beneficiary should be nonother than us fans!