Cavaliers Likely Unchallenged In NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs
LeBron James has played in the past four NBA Finals with the Miami Heat. This is LeBron’s first season back with Cleveland and even though the Cavaliers are the No. 2 seed in the East behind 60-win Atlanta, it’s the Cavs who are heavy -240 favorites to win the Eastern Conference title — something LeBron did only once in his first stint with the team.
Cleveland opens the playoffs on Sunday against Boston, the No. 7 seed. The Celtics have played great basketball since acquiring Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline and Coach Brad Stevens has quickly established himself as one of the best in the NBA. But the Celtics have no shot in this series even though they won two late-season matchups with Cleveland — the Cavs had nothing to play for in those. The Cavs clearly have a major talent advantage over the Celtics. LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are light years ahead of the best Celtics players of the moment. It’s perhaps ironic that LeBron is facing Boston because his final playoff game with Cleveland the first time around was a Game 6 loss to the Celtics in the 2010 East semifinals. The Cavs are heavy -4000 favorites and probably won’t lose more than one game to Boston. Presumably the Cavs would play Chicago in the semifinals.
Bulls-Cavs Showdown Coming?
The Bulls are the No. 3 seed and open their series against neighboring Milwaukee on Saturday, with Chicago a -750 series favorite after taking three of four during the regular season. True, the Bulls are a bit banged up with guys like Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson battling injuries but all will play against the Bucks, a surprise playoff team under first-year coach Jason Kidd. Ideally, the Bulls would sweep this series and get as much rest as possible before facing Cleveland. Expect little offense in Bulls-Bucks as during their season series, neither team reached 100 points in any game.
Atlanta is the disrespected No. 1 seed after winning those franchise-record 60 games. However, the Hawks ended the season losing three straight games and were just 7-8 overall in their final 15. They are -1200 favorites over No. 8 seed Brooklyn and easily swept the season series with the Nets. Atlanta won by an average of 17.2 points per game in those contests, with the most embarrassing one for Brooklyn coming in a 32-point shellacking on April 4. Atlanta is one of just three teams (including Golden State and San Antonio) to rank in the top seven in offensive and defensive efficiency. The Hawks will face either Toronto or Washington in Round 2 — a break avoiding either Cleveland or Chicago until the Finals and letting those two beat up on each other in the semifinals.
Raptors-Wizards A Crapshoot
Finally, No. 4 Toronto is a -170 series favorite over No. 5 Washington in probably the only first-round East series that could go either way. Led by their guards, the Raptors had the best offense in the Eastern Conference. They took care of the ball, shot a lot of threes, and got to the free throw line. The Wizards, meanwhile, had the East’s second best defense. They kept their opponents out of the paint and rebounded well. The Raptors swept the regular-season series 3-0, but all three meetings took place before the All-Star break and two were decided in the final seconds.
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