What the hell is wrong with the Eastern Conference? During the regular season, Cleveland and Toronto dominated the conference, and Atlanta was arguably the best team in the East during the final two months of the year and they were covering the NBA betting lines. None of these three of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference looked dominant in their respective first round NBA betting playoff matchups. The #2 home- favored Toronto Raptors were upset by the #7 Indiana Pacers on Saturday; the #4 Atlanta Hawks blew a 19-point lead and had to squeak past the #5 Boston Celtics in a oh-so-close 1-point home victory; and the #1 Cleveland Cavaliers trailed the #8 Detroit Pistons at halftime (and even after three quarters), having to rally back in the fourth quarter to secure an ugly 106-101 home win.
The only team Eastern team that showed it was ready for the playoffs was the #3 Miami Heat, who blew past the #6 Charlotte Hornets for a convincing home win.
This is a stark contrast to the West, where all the top-four seeds not only won their games by double digits, but also covered the huge spreads in the process. Can the East see an improvement in the remaining games of Round 1, or will the murky nature of their playoff contention continue? Read on below to find out what our analysis has to say…
2016 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Round 1 Predictions
Cleveland vs. Detroit
Make no mistake, there was nothing fluke about the fact that the Pistons won three of the four regular season meetings against the Cavs this season. Like in the regular season, Cleveland had no answers for Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who wore down the Cavs in the paint on Sunday, with the rest of the team chipping in with solid shooting performances from downtown. So tough were the Pistons in Game 1 that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love all scored 20-plus points yet Detroit led the home-playing Cavs at the Q for the majority of the game. Obviously, the Cavs are good at finishing games and will almost definitely win this series eventually. Nonetheless, if the Pistons can play in the same way they did against Cleveland on Sunday, there is no doubt that they will be able to steal one or two wins (if not deliver an altogether upset) in this best-of-seven.
Prediction: Cleveland wins the Series, 4-1
Toronto vs. Indiana
Despite coming off a franchise-record 56 wins (which was just one win short of the Cavaliers for the best record in the Eastern Conference), the Raptors continued with their postseason woes by losing to Indiana on Saturday. This, of course, is not a new thing, as the Raptors failed to go past the first round of the playoffs in each of the last two years, including a four-game losing sweep at the hands of the Washington Wizards last tear. And after Paul George and George Hill led Indiana to a morale-boosting win over a packed Toronto house in Canada in Game 1, you can be sure that the Pacers will be feeling confident of riding that motivation all the way to a possible upset in this series. On paper, Kyle Lowry, DeMarre Caroll and DeMar DeRozan are talented enough to bounce back from the ugly loss in Game 1, and then steady the Raptor ship to a win in this series. After all, the Raptors won three of their four meetings in the regular season against Indiana. In reality, though, we can’t say that with any confidence, given the grinding nature of the Pacers team and the fact that Toronto has an ominous record of tripping down in the postseason games.
Prediction: Toronto Fights Heartily to Win the Series 4-2
Miami vs. Charlotte
Miami and Charlotte split their four regular-season matchups this year and appeared to be evenly-matched ahead of their Game 1 meeting, making bettors to expect a close encounter between the two. That was not to be case… Led by Luol Deng’s 31 points (11-13 FG, 5-7 FT, 4-6 3Pt), seven rebounds, an assist and a steal in 32 minutes of play; the Heat delivered a scorching statement in a 123-91 win over Charlotte on Sunday, which turned out to be the biggest win of the four teams favored in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Miami was pure class in this game, especially in the offense, underlining the fact that the Heat won’t be an easy out in the Eastern playoffs this year. It’s hard to see Miami shooting hot like this throughout this series, and the Hornet trio of Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams failing to find their stride. But with a crucial home court advantage to Miami’s side (and the fact that Charlotte has had sputtering road performances this season), the Heat look likely to seal out the deal in this series, probably in six or seven games. Prediction: Miami Wins the Series 4-2.
Atlanta vs. Boston
If only Boston can correct its increasingly-annoying trend of starting games slowly, it’d surely be a solid pick to win this series. Not only are the Celtics playing their best basketball in a while, but they’ve shown the ability to hang with anyone this season, including their famous road win at the Oracle Arena against the nation’s best team, the Golden State Warriors. And after finishing the season with a similar record like the Atlanta Hawks at 48-34, you can’t help but feel that Isaiah Thomas and Co. are a team to watch. That being said, the Hawks have better depth in the team, led by Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, which doesn’t bode so well for the young Celtics. Furthermore, Atlanta boasts of better experience in the playoffs, including a run to the Eastern Conference Finals last year. And above everything, the Hawks have home advantage in this series, something that proved pivotal in helping them to secure the 1-point home win over Boston on Saturday. This sets up a matchup that gives Atlanta a slight edge. Don’t, however, be surprised if head coach Brad Stevens and his Boston team rally up to upset this series.
Prediction: Boston Thrillingly Wins the Series 4-3.