The Eastern Conference playoff race is, regardless of the comparisons with the west, going to be highly competitive with several seeds likely to remain up for grabs until the last of the 82-game regular season. With the postseason right around the corner, all eyes are on the playoffs seeds and potential first round matchups. While there is still plenty of basketball to be played in both conferences, it is not too early to look at what those matchups would be if the playoffs started today. Here is a breakdown of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, if the first round were to start today.
#1 Atlanta Hawks vs. #8 Indiana Pacers
The Atlanta Hawks have run past the Eastern conference, and are currently the only NBA team that has secured a playoff berth. They have the second best home record in the NBA, behind Golden State, and will more than likely earn the right to stay in Atlanta through the Eastern Conference finals. The Indiana Pacers are peaking at the right time of year, and will not be an easy out for the Hawks, regardless of seeding. The Pacers play solid defense, are very physical in the front court, and have enough veteran leadership to believe that they can win at least one game in a series against the Hawks. Atlanta will be heavily favored in the series, but don’t expect any blowout victories.
Click “Next” to see the matchup between the #2 seed and the #7 seed!
#2 Chicago Bulls vs. #7 Charlotte Hornets
The Chicago Bulls currently own the #2 seed by way of a tiebreaker with the Toronto Raptors, and would face the Charlotte Hornets in the first round if the standings remained the same to finish the season. Both teams are dealing with injuries to key players, especially the Bulls, who will be without Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler for at least another three weeks. The Hornets have been without point guard Kemba Walker, but should have him back healthy very soon. The Bulls will perhaps be a stronger favorite in this matchup than the Hawks would be against the Pacers, mainly because of their size up front and their ability to defend even without key players. The Hornets simply do not have the offensive weapons necessary to spread out the Bulls, so a 4-game sweep in this series would not be out of the question.
Click “Next” to see the matchup between the #3 seed and the #6 seed!
#3 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #6 Milwaukee Bucks
The Cavs hold a half game lead over the Toronto Raptors for the #3 seed as of Saturday night, and they’ve split the two games they have played against Milwaukee so far this year. The Cavs have the advantage in talent, chemistry, and experience, and would be heavily favored in a matchup with the untested Bucks. Milwaukee is young and athletic, but probably a few years away from being a serious threat in a playoff series to a superior team. Earning the #3 seed or better is very important for the Cavs. The path to the NBA Finals from the #4 seed would likely go through Washington, Atlanta, and then Chicago. The #3 seed would require them to beat Milwaukee, Toronto, and then Atlanta, so long as the higher seeds win.
Click “Next” to see the matchup between the #4 seed and the #5 seed!
#4 Toronto Raptors vs. #5 Washington Wizards
The Raptors are getting healthy in time for the playoffs, with Demar DeRozan back from injury and Kyle Lowry taking some time off to rejuvenate. Toronto has an underrated home court advantage as well, so look for them to jump ahead early in this series and close it out as soon as possible to prepare for a second round matchup with Atlanta. The Wizards are a dangerous team because of the speed and playmaking ability of John Wall, and their physical front line. They have not played good basketball since the all-star break, and unless that changes quickly, they will be limping into the playoffs against a very motivated Toronto team. To make this series more interesting, remember that Paul Pierce, who blocked Kyle Lowry’s series-winning shot attempt last year, now plays for the Wizards.