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The East seems more open than usual

By: Anirudh Sridhar

John Wall and Bradley Beal are a matchup nightmare for opposing backcourts.

March Madness is over, but the NBA playoffs are here to bring the excitement for basketball fans in April and May. But it was like playoff basketball for the past few weeks in the Eastern Conference as seeding went all the way down to the wire.

Heck, the last seed in the Eastern Conference wasn’t decided until the last game of the season, as the Miami Heat’s incredible 29-12 record to close out the season came in vain as the Chicago Bulls squeaked in as the eighth seed by virtue of a tiebreaker.

Fortunately for the Bulls, they won’t have to face Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round as the Cavs recent struggled opened the gate for the Boston Celtics to snatch the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Celtics are certainly as dangerous as they come, but the Bulls split with them during the season with each team winning twice. That will set up for a fun playoff series.

No matter the situation, Isaiah Thomas has shown off the ability to turn things around and lead the Celtics to a win.

Three years removed from being the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, Paul George and the Indiana Pacers will look to get revenge against James, who knocked them out while with the Miami Heat. A team that most would say underperformed this season, the Pacers boast a strong starting five with Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young proving to be great additions last offseason. But the team only won 42 games and claimed only a seventh seed to set up a date with the defending champions in the first round.

The Cavs own the 3-1 series victory against the Pacers this year, but a recent slump in Cleveland could be a cause for some concern. Winning only 11 of their last 25 games, the Cavs lost home-court advantage throughout the East playoffs, but that hasn’t affected James in the past. Since 2010, a James-led team wasn’t a No. 1 team five times, but he’s left his squad to the championship game each of those years. Cavs fans should not worry because Cleveland should return to the NBA Finals again because the competition in the East is not very strong. There might be only one team in the East that can contend with the defending champs, and it’s not the top-seeded Celtics, it’s the Washington Wizards. They will be a tough matchup for the Cavs should be meet in the conference finals.

To get there, the Wizards would have to beat their division rival Atlanta Hawks in the first round and with backup center Ian Mahinmi dealing with an injury. Defending Dwight Howard in the paint may be difficult for the Wizards. Fortunately for Washington, they have arguably the best backcourt in the East with John Wall and Bradley Beal and pose a matchup nightmare for opposing guards. And Kelly Oubre has been called “a really good x-factor” by Wall.

Oubre has emerged as a spark off the bench for the Wizards and will matchup with Atlanta’s younger start Taurean Prince in Atlanta’s second unit. After a terrible 2-8 start, the Wizards tallied 49 wins to ensure home-court advantage in the first round. And if all the higher seeds do win their first round matchup, The Wizards would face the Celtics for a John Wall vs. Isaiah Thomas series. Thomas almost single-handedly has made the Celtics into the power that they are. Of course, there is some talent around him but no matter the situation he’s just able to turn the game around and lead them to victories.

And if we’re bringing up star players, we can’t not mention Giannis Antetekoumpo. The Great Freak is a shoo-in for the Most Improved Player award this season and is going to be an issue for the Toronto Raptors in the first round. But even though the Raptors will have no answers for him, their big men should guide them to a victory. Newly acquired Serge Ibaka provides the Raptors with a perfect stretch four alongside big man Jonas Valanciunas. The Bucks, which haven’t had a healthy front court all season, will have to try to combat the Raptors’ size to advance to the second round.

It’s been a long time since the Eastern Conference playoffs have been about something other than James, but this year is different. The Cavs certainly can win it all, but a lack-luster last month of basketball has the rest of the East salivating. Could it be the Celtics’ time? The TD Garden Arena gives then such a great advantage. But every team in the East has stars that could win them games and series.

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Anirudh Sridhar

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