The NBA Playoffs Series Breakdown will take an in-depth look into each of the series in the Eastern Conference Playoffs First Round action. This will include: the top players to look for, which players could be the breakout stars, and a series prediction.
1. Atlanta Hawks vs. 8. Brooklyn Nets
This should be a series of high scoring games between two teams who like to play fast. The Nets dropped all four to Atlanta this year by a combined total of 69 points. The Hawks averaged 114 in those games and held the Nets to an average of 97. if you add those two together, it means we are looking at a series where 205-210 point totals should be the norm, with the Hawks probably favored by 7 or more at home and 4 or less when on the road in each game.The Nets have made the dramatic turnaround on the backs of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. They will be the two guys who have the ball in their hands the most in this series. Williams is the point guard and trigger man for this offense and Lopez has become the focal point on the block. The team plays off of these two guys as they draw attention and create shots for others.
For the Hawks, Al Horford’s play will be the deciding factor in how far they go. His coach is a disciple of the Spur’s system, so while the minutes were limited during the season, I think he is ready to unleash Horford on the league. When he gets 35 minutes, his production is as elite as any player in the league at his position. He can score, rebound, pass, and Defend. Basically think he’s the Hawks Tim Duncan and we all know the kind of games that guy has had in NBA Playoff history. The other star to watch for the Hawks is PF Paul Millsap. He is coming off an injury, but looked good in his last tune up against the Bulls a few days back. Millsap needs to be healthy and filing the stat sheet to keep this Atlanta machine running on both ends.
Players to Watch
- Deron Williams
- Brook Lopez
- Paul Millsap
- Al Horford
For the casual fan, I think this is going to be the Dennis Schroder coming out party. He may not win the 6th man of the year award, but he was so valuable to this hawks team in my eyes. Schroder is like having a second point guard for them, and his defensive abilities allowed Atlanta to match up late in games and avoid Kyle Korver’s man going off. Teague has good size for a PG, so those two saw a lot of floor time together.
Schroder may be the best PG in the NBA not starting right now and there’s a half dozen teams in the lottery who would love to have him. His ability to keep the tempo high and the offense running smoothly with the second unit is a huge advantage the Hawks have over other teams. If you do not know who Dennis Schroder is yet, I bet you will by next week.
The Hawks should win this series in five games. They may drop one game in Brooklyn, but I doubt they lose on their home floor. They will want to end this one quickly and get maximum rest before the next round.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 7. Boston Celtics
Boston has played better than anyone expected them to this year. Coach Brad Stevens did a marvelous job with this team. When Isiah Thomas came over, they had enough firepower to play up tempo and really push the pace. They were pretty solid down the stretch. They were scoring more and the defensive concepts and rotations looked very crisp. With all that being said, they are playing a team with superior talent and athleticism at almost every position. Lebron James is one of the best players in the game and it’s his time of year to shine. Kyrie can score on anybody. JR Smith is a pure scorer, Kevin Love can score, and guys like Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov handle the dirty work of defending and rebounding. We should see both teams push the pace and finish with some very high scores all series long.
Kyrie Irving thrives in the uptempo game. Put Kyrie in a track meet with the ball in his hands and it is pretty obvious why he was a former #1 overall pick. Put a guy like Lebron running the floor with him and shooters like JR and Love to spread the floor and it’s downright scary. Kyrie and Lebron should be the catalyst for this team. Kyrie relies more on his scoring for fantasy points, but James is a guy who fills a stat sheet. He is quite possibly the most gifted athlete to ever lace up a pair of basketball shoes. The Cavs will rely heavily on those two guys for the bulk of their offense.
As for the Celtics, the guards have been carrying them as well. If I have to choose two, I am going with Isiah Thomas and Evan Turner. Thomas is explosive. He pushes the ball and drives fearless to the rim. His ability to get into the paint and either score or distribute sets him apart from other undersized guards. Turner is more of a swiss army knife kind of guy. He does a little of this, a little of that, and at the end of the day it adds up to a lot of fantasy points. Avery Bradley is a little banged up, but he is the third guard in that system who can do a lot of things for Boston. If the Celtics do keep it close, they are going to need those guys to play well above their usual top quality selves and take their games to another level.
Players to Watch
- Kyrie Irving
- Lebron James
- Isaiah Thomas
- Evan Turner
JR Smith tends to get lost in the shuffle with all the stars on Cleveland, but he plays a ton of minutes and has never been bashful to shoot. When JR is hot, he can score points in bunches and his range forces defenses to stay home on him, which opens up lanes for Kyrie and Lebron going to the hole. He’s usually mid range priced for the position, but when push comes to shove he is putting up 25-35 fantasy points per game with ease.
The Cavs should win this series easily. They probably wind up with a sweep as well. The Celtics had a nice run, but I would take the under on them winning two games in this series. Should be quick and painless, with the Cavs moving on.
3. Chicago Bulls @ 6. Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee beat Chicago on April 1st for the first time all season. Neither team has scored more than 96 points in any of these match ups, and the highest total combined from any of them is 186. While both teams play solid defense which should make for a hard fought series, it’s absolutely killer for fantasy purposes. These match ups should be the lowest scoring games in the east every night they play. Both teams expect to be fully healthy and at full strength here, so that is a positive, but I still do not see this as a high scoring slugfest by any stretch of the imagination. Both teams will be content to play solid defense, chew up the shot clock, and walk away with close victories if they can. The main offensive weapon for the Bulls has been Pau Gasol all year. His ability to pick and pop, score inside, and pass has added a new dimension to this always solid, defensive minded Bulls team. Pau adds rebounds, assists, and a few blocks to what is usually a nice scoring total nightly. I’m not really scared of Ersan or Zaza defense, so he should be able to put up some nice numbers.
Jimmy Butler looks to be back to his early season ways. The SG is one of the most underrated players in the NBA at the moment. His defensive abilities are well know and will be needed in the later rounds, but his offensive improvement is what makes me love him for fantasy purposes. He has picked up his scoring and playmaking, while remaining the high minutes guy with a lot of defensive stats and rebounds to bolster his score. It’s rare to get a guy who can contribute in every category at the SG spot, so his value is even higher based off the scarcity of guys who do what he does. For the Bucks, it’s harder to predict. At different times during the season, Giannis, Middleton, Zaza, Ersan,and Carter-Williams have all led the team in scoring. The Bucks can come at you with balance from all over and match up with almost any backcourt they need to.
My concern here is how the big men will handle all the talented Center/Forward type guys the Bulls have. MCW and Giannis are probably the two guys who could pull off the upset if they played huge, but they also could easily pull a John Starks game and go 2-20 while gunning up shots. Still if the Bucks are going to make some noise, those are the two guys I think they need to lead them there. Butler will take Middleton out of the game and I do not love the Bucks big men, so the two I mentioned have the best potential match ups on paper here.
Players to Watch
- Jimmy Butler
- Pau Gasol
- Michael Carter-Williams
- Giannis Antetekounmpo
Jimmy Butler is really, really good. I do not think people realize just how good he is and can become. A lock down defender with the ability to score, pass and rebound that routinely plays close to 40 minutes a game is a nice piece to have. Nikola Mirotic is another under rated guy on the Bulls and I think people are going to have their eyes opened to both of them in this series. Giannis Antetekounmpo is a third guy who could be the big star here, so if you have not seen these three guys play much, be sure to watch them closely and see what all the buzz is about.
Chicago has the veterans and the depth now to make a little run this season. The Bucks are a young team and they will eventually have their day. I do think they steal a game or two here and I would venture to guess the Bulls in six is a safe bet here.
4. Toronto Raptors vs. 5. Washington Wizards
If I had more certainty about which Wizards or Raptors team was going to show up, than it would be easier to decipher how this series goes. Both of these teams have talented back courts and a few decent front court options, but neither is a complete team to me. While most expect the guards here to dictate this series, I think the team who gets better production from the forwards and center will ultimately be victorious. Guys like Amir Johnson and Nene Hilario have been limited all season to be fresh for the playoffs. Now that it is here, we should see their minutes and usage tick up a bit. I think the match up to watch is going to Kyle Lowry vs. John Wall. Lowry is as tough as they come and stuffs the stat sheet. Wall is as explosive with the ball in his hands as any guard in the league. That cat and mouse game will be an interesting one to follow. Can Lowry keep Wall from penetrating into the paint and scoring or dishing? Can Lowry’s toughness beat up Wall’s soft defense on the other end? I think both guys are going to play heavy minutes, have high usage rates, and end up as the focal point for their teams. Which one plays better could determine the series.
For the Wizards, Nene Hilario is going to be a big key to any potential victories. Nene was limited all year to be kept fresh for now. I expect his minutes to jump up well above 30 per game here. The big bruising Brazilian is a load down in the paint, and with Amir Johnson banged up, it falls on Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson to help slow him down. Tyler is too unathletic and Pat Pat is too small. Nene should be able to do what he pleases when Amir Johnson is out of the game. The only place I really think the advantage is with the Raptors is at the shooting guard spot. While I like Bradley Beal, he is no Demar Derozan. Derozan is very under rated and can score with the best of them. He reminds me of Rudy Gay with less attitude and more heart on both ends of the floor. The drawback to him is he relies a lot on real life points for his fantasy production. In a series with two pretty solid defensive teams, he might not get enough chances to put up big numbers.
Players to Watch
- Kyle Lowry
- DeMar DeRozan
- John Wall
- Nene Hilario
Jonas Valaciunas has been really solid for stretches of this season. The Raptors have tried to limit the minutes of all the big men on their roster to keep them fresh and healthy. Jonas to me is the dirty work guy who will rebound and protect the basket from those Beal and Wall drives. Unlike Gortat who put up numbers in 30+ minutes of action most of the season, Jonas was limited to under 30 and still produced. With a shortened bench for the playoffs, I think his minutes will rise and his production will go with it.
This one realistically could go to the seventh game, but the Wizards would really have to pick up their play to make it happen. They were free falling into the playoffs near the end of the season, so it would take a lot to convince me they have righted the ship. Toronto is the better team if they are healthy. Lowry, Valaciunas, and Amir have all been taking it easy near the end of the season. If all three are healthy, I would think Raptors in five or six makes the most sense.