It’s always en vogue to pick a first-round playoff upset or two, but this might not be the year for many of them. The opening round of the NBA postseason contains some interesting matchups, but when examining the teams playing each other, it’s hard to think the favored squad won’t come out on top. The second round may be where the real drama begins, but there will surely be some exciting games early on. Here are some quick picks for each Eastern Conference first-round series:
Bulls (4) vs. Wizards (5): Bulls in six games.
This series will be discussed ad nauseam in this space, but long story short, while the Wizards are plenty talented, they are also virtual playoff novices, giving the Bulls an advantage. The slow-paced, grind-it-out nature of the postseason favors the Bulls and although Washington has a high-powered scoring attack, a dynamic young backcourt, quality size and depth, all of which should help them steal a game or two, a it’s playing against the wrong type of team to just be getting its sea legs.
Pacers (1) vs. Hawks (8): Pacers in five games.
As poorly as Indiana played to close out the regular season, Atlanta simply doesn’t have the type of offensive firepower or defensive resistance needed to present a real challenge. Another to consider is that the three-point bombing Hawks recently embarrassed the Pacers—in Indiana, no less—so with that loss still fresh in the minds of the top seed, there should be some motivation to get things together. Undersized, undermanned Atlanta has few answers for Indiana’s size and athleticism and two of the Pacers’ more consistent players during their uneven second half to the season have been rugged power forward David West and explosive shooting guard Lance Stephenson, tough matchups for the Hawks. While point guard Jeff Teague, All-Star power forward Paul Millsap and sharpshooter Kyle Korver should have some big games for Atlanta, their collective effort won’t be worth more than stealing a game from Indiana.
Heat (2) vs. Bobcats (7): Heat in five games.
Miami has also underachieved down the regular season’s stretch run, but we’re talking about the two-time defending champion here, with their opponents being Charlotte. This has been a remarkable turnaround campaign for the defensive-oriented Bobcats and post-up scorer Al Jefferson will give the Heat fits. But their inexperience and lack of scoring are major issues against the Heat, meaning that it will take playing out of their minds for the Bobcats to even win a single contest. LeBron James won’t need to go for a career-high against Charlotte, like he did earlier this season, for Miami to win this series, but it would be nice if All-Star counterpart Dwyane Wade could find his rhythm after being in and out of the lineup all season.
Raptors (3) vs. Nets (6): Nets in seven games.
For all of Brooklyn’s late-season maneuvering—it became apparent that they were avoiding the Bulls in the first round, though having to face the Heat in the second round doesn’t exactly seem like a reward—getting by Toronto won’t be a cake-walk. The Raptors are certainly inexperienced in the postseason, but match up well with the Nets, who do have a first-year head coach in Jason Kidd. Expect Toronto to have a chip on its shoulder because of the presumed slight, but Brooklyn’s cadre of perimeter scorers and the veteran edge of future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will ensure a trip to the second round.