The NBA playoffs are set and with the end of march madness, basketball attention has completely shifted towards the NBA. All eyes on the star-studded cast of characters set to fight to keep their seasons alive. The East is filled with rosters of blue-chip, playoff-experienced talent, many NBA franchises are proud to have even made the post-season having low expectations the year prior. Without further introduction, here is the matchups filling in for the bottom half of the Eastern Conference bracket.
Toronto Raptors #2
It comes to no surprise that the Raptors are amount the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Following a top seeded season with a far weaker and inexperienced roster, the Raptors’ current roster has proven to be not only be an Eastern Conference favorite, but a championship contender. Nick Nurse and the entire Raptors training staff has done nothing short of spectacular when handling the complexity of the “Kawhi Leonard Situation”. The Raptors management has treated their one-year MVP rental, Kawhi Leonard, as the gatekeeper of the 6ix. The Klaw has been averaging a career high 26.6 ppg and has been in the discussion as being the best player in the Eastern Conference. With 22 games off for Kawhi due to “load management”, expect a fresh animal to unleash come playoff time.
But the most interest part about this team is the myriad styles of play and personalities with in the team’s roster. The Raptors seems to have a solid mix of young and veteran personnel that can provides and edge that no other team brings in the East. Young guys like Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, and MIP Candidate Pascal Siakam provide the energy and hunger, while veterans like All-Star Kyle Lowry, who has made one Eastern Conference Finals appearance, former champion with the Spurs Danny Green, and 3 time All-Star Marc Gasol provide that playoff DNA the Raptors have never had before. The Raptors have had a tough time in the playoffs, underachieving a countless amount of times postseason after postseason. But if there is a year that one can predict Toronto will be NBA champions, this is the season.
Orlando Magic #7
Orlando is back in the playoffs for the first time in the “Post-Dwight Howard Era”. Led by All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, young star Aaron Gordon, and veterans Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross, the Magic are this years Southeast Division Champions. A great deal of credit must be given to head coach Steve Clifford for getting this team to this point. Coach Clifford in his first season in a new setting has ended Orlando’s longest playoff drought in franchise history. The addition of second-year stud Jonathan Issac, the Magic are doing this without their lottery pick Mo Bamba.
As a team who was the outside looking in for the majority of the season, the Magic were able to slide past the Hornets and the Heat who have battled for the Southeast division for the later half of the season. The culture of the team has permeated all throughout the roster. With no real playoff experience present on the roster, the Magic are an excited a young squad who is ready to make some noise in the playoffs.
Its a battle between two division champions. The Raptors of the Atlantic vs the Magic of the Southeast. With a season split between the two teams at 2-2, this series poses some interesting matchups. The first being the length and energy of the magic’s youth against the MVP talent of Kawhi Leonard. Its going to be hard to stop Kawhi on the defensive side for Orlando, but the length of Jonathan Issac and the athleticism of Aaron Gordon can provide somewhat of a challenge for Leonard if anything.
Another matchup that catches my eye is the battle inside the paint. Orlando is a team that is very long and frontcourt-heavy. The Magic thrive in half-court play by playing through Vucevic inside and out. Not to mention that both Issac and Gordon are three-point scoring threats. A tough challenge for Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol to handle. The Raptors on the other hand love to push the pace and run the floor with Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam usually speeding the tempo of the game. Its going to be interesting to see which team’s style of play will dictate the pace of the game/
The last matchup highlighted are the guard play between the two teams. Danny Green has proven to be a reliable 3-and-D wing, Fred VanVleet has come off the bench and provided playmaking and scoring, and Kyle Lowry is having nothing short of a spectacular season setting a career high 8.7 assists per game. On the flip side, the Magic have been relying on the scoring of veteran guard Evan Fournier. He has been terrific for the Magic averaging a little over 15 points per game.
This series is the Raptors series to lose. The Raptors are top 5 in both offensive and defensive net rating, and seem to match up very well against this Magic squad in every aspect except for post play. The Raptors have had trouble during the postseason in the past, but expect a quick series win for the Raptors. Any series longer than 5 games will be a success for the Orlando Magic.
Philadelphia 76ers #3
The Sixers are back in the playoffs for the second consecutive year. They hold the same seed as they did last season, this go around however, the Sixers are loaded with talent all across their starting 5. The young cornerstones of Simmons and Embiid are now joined by mid-season acquisitions Jimmy Butler from the Timberwolves and Tobias Harris from the Clippers. All of a sudden a team who started the season lacking wing-scoring and perimeter shooting has found its rhythm at just the right time. Philly is an offensive juggernaut averaging top 5 in points per game despite being only 19th in 3-pointer made at just over 10 a game. This style of inside play will pose as a great advantage when the game slows down in the post season.
Many believed in the beginning of the season that the 76ers were at times too talented for their own good. Last year showed it as the 76ers faced a 0-3 series deficit against a Boston Celtics team playing without their two best players. The youth and inexperience of Simmons and Embiid proved not enough come playoff time. The same can be the case, but the presence of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris will aid the team tremendously when the game slows down. The city of brotherly love is ready for another ring. A taste of champagne for the first time since the Dr. J days.
Brooklyn Nets #6
Brooklyn’s in the building! And by surprise to almost everyone including the delusional Nets fans from the beginning of the season. Caris Levert has bounced back from his horrific leg injury he suffered earlier in the season, Spencer Dinnwiddie is a 6th Man of the Year Candidate averaging just over 16 points per game, 3-Point Champion Joe Harris has been pulling his weight, and MIP favorite D’Angelo Russell is having an all-star year for the ages averaging 21 points per game, 7 assists per game, and 3 3-pointers made per game.
The Nets have finally emerged from the ashes created by Billy King and Danny Ainge trading away the boatload of draft picks. The trading of D’Angelo Russell has proven to be a great success (short-term if worse case), the selfless and dynamic nature of the roster proses intrigue and excitement within the team, and the culture planted by coach Kenny Atkinson has set Brooklyn as a playoff lock for years to come.
Its a true example of David vs Goliath, at least within the first unit. The star power within the starting unit of the Sixers will prove to be too big of a challenge for even D’Angelo Russell to handle. Offensively, Simmons is already a matchup nightmare for most small defenders, Redick and Harris are perimeter scoring threats, Butler can play make and create his own shot, while Embiid proclaims himself to be “the most unstoppable player in the league”. Its hard not to count out D’Angelo Russell as he is a scoring threat the minute he crosses half-court. Russell needs to stay poised and not trigger happy throughout this series. DLo is just as capable shooting the Nets out of a game as his shooting them into a game.
The bench play will deem to be in favor of the Nets. Although the Sixers have a strong first five, they are very shallow. The Sixers bench offense usually runs through back-up point guard TJ McConnell who has shown moments of promise in the playoffs before, but has struggled to stay consistent. The Sixers’ bench is offensively limited and to a great fault. Mike Scott has given energy and playoff experience to the team, but that will prove to be not enough for the Sixers bench to withstand the offensive firepower of the Dinwiddie and Levert.
The deciding factor in all of this will end up being playoff experience. The Sixers have plenty while the Nets have little to none. We have seen time in time again, the team with playoff experience know how to gut out wins and pull out victors in a series. The opposite personnel between star power and team cohesion will show throughout the entirety of the series. Expect the series to stretch out to seven games.