Eastern Conference 1st Round - Update and Predictions
All of the Eastern Conference 1st Round matchups have either already been decided or are sitting at 3-1. Do any of the teams with only one win have a three game winning steam in them to wrestle the victory out of the jaw of defeat? Or, should we all begin to look forward to the 2nd Round?
Philadelphia 76ers (1 Seed) vs Washington Wizards (8 Seed)
Going into Game 4, this series looked over and headed for a sweep UNTIL the Wizards pulled out a victory, sending the series back to Philadelphia for Game 5. The Wizards kept Embiid limited before his injury and went with the Hack-A-Ben tactic to slow the game down and put a Simmons (a bad FT shooter) on the line.
To this point, the series has been defined by how none of the marquee players for either team have taken over. Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook have both played well and put up stats, but were not able to surprise the 76ers with an early win. On the other side of the ball, it's been Tobias Harris who has driven the series for Philadelphia, leading the team in points and rebounds with 24.3 and 10.3 respectively.
Prediction: 76ers in 5.
Despite coming out of Game 4 with a win, the Wizards do not the pure talent from on the court to compete with the well rounded 76ers. Expect Westbrook to earn another triple double, but to come up short in the fourth and lose the series in a Gentleman's Sweep.
New York Knicks (4 Seed) vs **Atlanta Hawks **(5 Seed)
In what has been by far the most competitive and most surprising series in the Eastern Conference 1st Round, the Atlanta Hawks will head back to New York to try and finish the Knicks in 5.
Going into this series, it was a clear strength vs strength matchup as the defensive minded Julius Randle and the Knicks were matched up against the offensively gifted Trae Young and the Hawks. Despite being the 4th best team in Defensive Rating during the Regular Season, the Knicks have failed to stop the Hawks from shooting the lights out with the team collectively shooting over 44% from the field. Making matters worse, Clint Capela has found new life in the playoffs averaging over 2 blocks and 13 rebounds a game, compounding the Knicks poor shooting and ball movement.
Prediction: Hawks in 6.
A week ago, I would never have picked the Hawks to take this series, yet their mix of veterans like Gallinari and young players like Young have propelled them into the drivers seat of the series. I expect Game 5 to feature a lot of Randle but for Derek Rose to be the hero... all for nothing as the Hawks steal the series at home in Game 6. A tough ending to project for an incredibly entertaining Knicks who should use the offseason and come back stronger next year.
2nd Round Matchup
Brooklyn Nets (2 Seed) vs Milwaukee Bucks (3 Seed)
With the Nets taking care of the Boston Celtics in 5 and the Bucks sweeping the Miami Heat, the first matchup of the 2nd Round is set!
Will Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and the Bucks have enough to overcome the trio of James Harden, Kevin Durrant and Kyrie Irving, or will they fail again in the playoffs?
*All images in post from NBA.com and Clutchpoints, respectively.