NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference First Roundby Jacari McRae April 16, 2022 0 comments
The 2022 NBA postseason teams and series are now finalized. This week we saw four Eastern Conference teams compete in single-elimination games for the final two playoff spots. Those teams were the Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, and the Charlotte Hornets. When reviewing the Play-In tournament games, it wasn’t surprising to see the final two teams make it. Brooklyn with their superstar duo was a given to lock a playoff spot while the Hawks took care of business against the Cavaliers last night. With the playoff matchups finalized, we’re going to start off the Eastern Conference first-round playoff preview.
Be sure to check out the rest of our NBA content.
Miami Heat (1) vs Atlanta Hawks (8)
Finally, the Heat learned their opponent. After waiting for five days, the Heat will open up their playoff run against the Hawks. The Heat won their season series against the Hawks 3-1, including a 113-109 victory last Friday. Offensively, the Hawks will present a challenge for Miami’s defense with their star point guard Trae Young. Young has the ability to shoot nearly everywhere on the floor and his playmaking has improved as well. The Hawks also have some good three-point shooters who can space the floor as well. During the teams’ previous matchups, Miami had either Jimmy Butler or P.J. Tucker defending Young at times. Expect to see most of the same throughout the series. Don’t be surprised if Miami also blitzes the pick-and-roll actions too.
Miami Heat X-Factor: Bam Adebayo
The Hawks are already without John Collins, who could return at some point during the series and Clint Capela injured his knee during the Play-In game against the Cavaliers. This is a matchup that Adebayo should take advantage of. There are times when Adebayo can be too passive. Miami needs him to be more assertive in this one. With Atlanta missing some frontcourt players, Adebayo needs to be on the attack at all times. Adebayo has the size and quickness to get to the basket. If he forces the Hawks to help, it’ll also open up the floor for the shooters as well.
Atlanta Hawks X-Factor: Bogdan Bogdanovic
As he’s shown throughout the season, Young is a problem for teams. However, in this series he’s going to need a second guy to help him out. That player will have to be Bogdan Bogdanovic. In three games against Miami, Bogdanovic has averaged 15.7 points per game while shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 28 percent from downtown. During the Hawks last meeting against Miami, he had a much better game with 25 points and seven rebounds. He took advantage of his mismatches every time Miami switched a smaller player on him. If Miami does that again, the Hawks will need that same aggressive mindset from Bogdanovic.
Series Prediction: Miami Heat 4 – Atlanta Hawks 1
Boston Celtics (2) vs Brooklyn Nets (7)
This is not your typical No. 2 and No. 7 series where the top seed has the upper hand. The Brooklyn Nets are a dangerous opponent. They have two big-time players in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, who have a career out of making big shots. This series between the Celtics and the Nets could arguably be the best one this round. Like the Nets, the Celtics also have two elite scorers in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Tatum recently went off for 50 points against the Nets the last time the two teams faced each other. The Celtics are going to have their work cut out defensively without Robert Williams, who is out with a torn meniscus. It also creates an opportunity for the Nets to take advantage of the Celtics lack of frontcourt depth.
Boston Celtics X-Factor: Marcus Smart
Smart will likely share the task of slowing down Irving with Brown. He is also one of the Celtics’ best playmakers on the team. With the Celtics being a switch-heavy team, Smart often finds himself on bigger players as well. He impacts the game in so many ways on both ends. However, there are times when Smart can shoot the Celtics out of the game. If Smart is shooting the ball at a good percentage, the Celtics are even tougher to beat. And he’s played well against the Nets in the season series. Through four games against the Nets, Smart is averaging 17.8 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from downtown. The Celtics are going to need him to continue that this series.
Brooklyn Nets X-Factor: Ben Simmons
A few days ago, ESPN reported that Simmons could potentially make his debut with the team in the first round. If he’s available, he gives the Nets an additional option, especially defensively. We all seen how Simmons can be a liability offensively because he barely shoots the ball. But when healthy, Simmons has shown he’s an elite defender. He was second in votes for Defensive Player of The Year behind Rudy Gobert in 2021. He’s some the Nets could use to slow down Tatum, who has been a thorn on the Nets’ side.
Prediction: Boston Celtics 4 – Brooklyn Nets 3
Milwaukee Bucks (3) vs Chicago Bulls (6)
The Bucks won their season series against the Bulls 4-0. They’ve done it in dominating fashion winning by an average of 14.8 points per game. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a nightmare matchup for the Bulls. Over four meetings against the Bulls, Antetokounmpo has averaged 26.8 points, 13.5 rebounds and five assists. Demar Derozan has had some scoring success against the Bucks averaging 31.3 points per game but not much help from other teammates. This will be the first postseason matchup between the two teams since 2015.
Milwaukee Bucks X-Factor: Jrue Holiday
Milwaukee’s defense relies heavily on Holiday, who is the team’s best perimeter defender. While Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez help the Bucks’ defense, it is Holiday who is the engine. Since the all-star break, Milwaukee’s defense has ranked 20th in defensive rating, 19th in opponent field goal percentage, and 28th in opponent three-point percentage. If there’s one concern the Bucks may have it’s the defense. Holiday has the ability to guard anyone on the floor. The Bucks are going to need him to set the tone.
Chicago Bulls X-Factor: Nikola Vucevic
Both Zach Lavine and Derozan have had scoring success against the Bucks in the four meeting. But if the Bulls are going to make this series interesting, they’re going to need Vucevic to show up. In four meetings against Milwaukee, he has averaged 16.8 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 42.2 percent from the field. He’s going to have to be more of an inside presence against Milwaukee’s frontline. We have seen too many times where he’s relying too heavily on his outside game. If he’s doing well inside, that relieves some scoring pressure off the Bulls top two scorers.
Series Prediction: Milwaukee Bucks 4 – Chicago Bulls 0
Philadelphia 76ers (4) vs Toronto Raptors (5)
Out all the first-round matchups, this series could be the most interesting one. The Raptors won the season series against the 76ers 3-1. Throughout the matchups, the Raptors’ ability to switch on the defensive end has been troublesome for the 76ers. Outside of Fred VanVleet, the Raptors have the length and size to cause havoc on the perimeter. If there’s one weakness the Raptors have it’s against big centers like Joel Embiid. Embiid is likely going to have multiple players double-team him to get the ball out of his hands. It’ll be up to James Harden and the other 76ers to step up when that happens. Don’t be surprised if this series goes seven games.
Philadelphia 76ers X-Factor: James Harden
The star with the most pressure in the playoffs is Harden. He’s the one who requested two trades in the last two years to contend for a title. Now, he’s on a team with a superstar teammate who can go off at any time. With so much attention expected on Embiid, this is where the 76ers will need Harden to be the star they traded for. Harden’s ability to attack the Raptors’ defense is one of the biggest questions coming into the series. He struggled in his two recent games against Toronto, finishing with only 30 points on 8-24 shooting and nine turnovers. The 76ers star guard was able to pick apart the defense with his passing but was unable to attack mismatches when a big switched on him. He really needs to step up for the 76ers to get by this series.
Toronto Raptors X-Factor: OG Anunoby
The Raptors have plenty of versatile defenders and Anunoby is one of them. This will be a series where Anunoby can cause all sorts of problems for Philadelphia. Defensively, he’s going to be tasked with containing Harden, Tobias Harris, and even helping on Embiid at times. While we know Anunoby is a great defender, it’s his offense that can be helpful as well. This year, Anunoby has grown offensively in his post and three-point game. With Philadelphia lacking elite defensive wings, this provides Anunoby an opportunity to take advantage.
Series Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers 4 – Toronto Raptors 3
Follow Jacari McRae on Twitter @JMcRae23
Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images