The playoff picture in the East is centered around LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers rightfully so, since they have came out of the East for the past 3 years and are clicking heading into the playoffs. Other than the Cavaliers teams such as the Sixers and Raptors are looking to dethrone the King’s Cavs to come out of the East. Whether these teams are successful dethroning the King could be determined by these key factors for each team going into the playoffs.
1. Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry’s appearance in the playoffs For the last 3 seasons now, including this one, the Toronto Raptors have been a top 3 seed in the East. They have also been looked at as the team with the best chance to beat the Cavs, if another team were to make it out of the East. This year the Raptors clinched home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. They also greatly improved their bench this year with additions such as Frank Van Fleet and CJ Miles. But in order for the Raptors to finally beat the Cavaliers they need their star players, in specific Kyle Lowry, to show up in the playoffs, where in years past he had disappeared. During the previous 3 seasons, Kyle Lowry has decreased his ppg and APG total in the playoffs by about 5 points and 2 assists. When in the playoffs you would expect teams star players to exceed what they did in the regular season Lowry continues to underperform. If the Raptors expect to dethrone LeBron and the Cavaliers Kyle will have to play beyond expectations this year.
2. Boston Celtics – Tatum and Brown The Boston Celtics have finished the season as a top 3 defensive team this season. Even though they will be playing in these playoffs without Kyrie, the Celtics are a better defensive team without him. Defense seems to have been this teams identity this year anchored by Al Horford. But in the playoffs, the Celtics are going to need players to make big-time shots and plays especially late in games which are where Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown come into play. This is the year for these two young players to learn in the playoffs while also carry the load for this team on the offensive end. If the Celtics expect to make a run Brad Stevens will do his job to put Tatum and Brown in positions to succeed but it will ultimately be up to Tatum and Brown to follow through and make things happen for this team night in and night out in the playoffs.
3. Philadelphia 76ers – Ben Simmons makes a name for himself early The 76ers are riding a 16 game win streak into playoffs which is the longest winning streak recorded by a team heading into the playoffs. Even though the 76ers were hot during the end of the regular season they will have to adjust to the playoff atmosphere. This team in particular will have to adjust since most of their key players have yet to play in a playoff game such as: Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Robert Covington and Dario Saric. I do not believe this will be a problem for this team, instead I think if this team wants to make a name for themselves that will be because of Ben Simmons. Simmons has the basketball IQ and build that translates to his abilities to possibly go down as one of the best ever. Simmons will take this team as far as they go because he controls this team; whether that be because of their pace, creating offense for others, or taking the responsibility to guard the best player on the opposing team. I believe how Simmons plays determines this teams success in the playoffs
4. Cleveland Cavaliers – Defense The Cavaliers are the favorite to come out of the East once again after people began to doubt them midway through the season. With additions of almost a whole new roster right before the trade deadline, this new look team is almost finally healthy and are hot heading into the playoffs. LeBron will undoubtedly take his play to another level which means players such as Kevin Love will also play better than he did in the regular season. But the key factor for this team to continue their recent playoff dominance will be their defense. The Cavs currently rank 26th in the league in opponents ppg. They will have to flick the switch and lock down on defense during the playoffs or they could possibly get upset by a team such as the Raptors or 76ers.
5. Indiana Pacers – Guard Play The Indiana Pacers will be playing the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs who are the biggest threat to any team in the East. The Pacers won the season series with the Cavs by beating them in 3 out of 4 games. In those games the biggest factor seemed to be the guard play of the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers who are led by Victor Oladipo will not be able to single-handedly rely on him to beat LeBron Cavs so players such as Darren Collison and LeBron’s “best friend” Lance Stephenson will have to come to the support of Victor if they want any chance of doing almost the impossible, which is beating LeBron in the first round of the playoffs. If they happen to do this unlikely task by beating the Cavaliers they will then be the team to beat in the East.
6. Miami Heat – Erik Spoelstra
The Miami Heat have been relatively quiet this year making the playoffs as the 6th seed in the East. Being the only Eastern Conference playoff team with no all-stars on their roster, Erik Spoelstra will have to do his part as head coach to create both offensive and defensive schemes in which allows his team to thrive in the playoffs. That means creating a game plan in which to slow or at least alter the other teams from their strengths. For example the first round of the playoffs they play the young Sixers team who led the league in rebounds this year. Spoelstra will have to create a game plan that only allows the Sixers one opportunity on the offensive by limiting their offensive boards. He will also have take advantage of the Sixers little experience in the playoffs by allowing players such as Dwayne Wade to do his thing. Overall Spoelstra’s Heat will have to take it game by game and adjust, while also attacking teams weak spots throughout the playoffs if they hope to have any chance this year.
7. Milwaukee Bucks – Rebounding Rebounding is without a doubt the biggest factor for the Bucks to make a run in the playoffs. The Bucks rank last in total RPG which is astonishing considering their length and size. Rebounds play a large role in the playoffs since every possession matters. Giving up offensive rebounds could be very costly and could likely cost them a game or even a series. If the Bucks look to make some noise in the playoffs they will have to emphasize rebounding and control the glass during their playoff games. By doing this, it can translate into more possessions for them and ultimately allowing them to control the pace of the game.
8. Washington Wizards – Backcourt Play You could say this was a disappointing year for the Washington Wizards finishing as the 8th seed in the East this year, after being the 4th seed last year. But that label for this year could all change in the playoffs, if the Wizards happen to make a deep run. In order for that to happen will be decided by their backcourt consisted of John Wall and Bradley Beal. This team will go as far as these two take them. John Wall and Brad Beal will have to play like they never have before if they want to be taken serious in the playoffs and pull off a string of upsets. That means Beal will have to shoot the lights out each night and score from a variety of ways, while Wall will have to bring it consistently on both sides of the floor while also creating good looks for his teammates such as Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter Jr.
Stats, info and records courtesy of espn.com and basketball-reference.com
Image via: sportingnews.com