Atlanta took the NBA by surprise this year and had a playoff spot secured so soon that it made the end of their regular season anti-climatic.
Most people refuse to pick a team to win the Eastern Conference that doesn’t have a player named LeBron James, but the Hawks went 3-1 against Cleveland in the regular season and have home court advantage.
But that’s getting too far ahead. Atlanta has to get through Brooklyn first (which, let’s be honest, shouldn’t be hard) and the Cavs have to put down a Boston team that surprised many by slipping into the playoffs despite a sub-.500 record.
The East, however, isn’t a two-horse race. Chicago is easing Derrick Rose back just in time for the playoffs. It’s not easy recovering from your third knee surgery in four years but, if he’s ready, Rose cannot be discounted. And the Bulls were a threat even without him. They secured their spot in the playoffs despite his lengthy absence. But, with him healthy, the rest of the conference will not be looking past Chicago.
Here are capsules for each matchup:
(1) Atlanta (60-22) vs (8) Brooklyn (38-44)
Hawks won the regular season series 4-0
It’s difficult to see this as anything more than a warmup for the Hawks run to the conference finals.
(2) Cleveland (53-29) vs (7) Boston (40-42)
Season series was tied 2-2
LeBron and his crew have too much talent for the Celtics but Boston has a great coach and has wind in their sails. That won’t be enough, but the Celtics have a chance here to build some momentum for next year even if they’re out in five.
(3) Chicago (50-32) vs (6) Milwaukee (41-41)
Bulls won season series 3-1
Things are taking shape for the Bulls but the Bucks have one of the best defenses in the league. If Derrick Rose falters, though, maybe Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd can lead his squad to an upset. That’s a fuzzy maybe.
(4) Toronto (49-33) vs (5) Washington (46-36)
Raptors won season series 3-0
The Wizards’ defense meets the Raptors’ offense. Something has to give—and something will give—but this might be the series that goes seven games. Surviving a brutal slugfest isn’t the best way to gear up for the likely matchup with the Hawks.
And here’s the TV schedule for TNT and ESPN:
Saturday, April 18
Washington at Toronto, 12:30pm (ESPN)
Milwaukee at Chicago, 7pm (ESPN)
Dallas at Houston, 9:30pm (ESPN)
Sunday, April 19
Brooklyn at Atlanta, 5:30pm (TNT)
Portland at Memphis, 8pm (TNT)
San Antonio at Los Angeles, 10:30pm (TNT)
Monday, April 20
Milwaukee at Chicago, 8pm (TNT)
New Orleans at Golden State, 10:30pm (TNT)
Tuesday, April 21
Boston at Cleveland, 7pm (TNT)
Dallas at Houston, 9:30pm (TNT)
Wednesday, April 22
Portland at Memphis, 8pm (TNT)
San Antonio at Los Angeles Clippers, 10:30pm (TNT)
Thursday, April 23
Cleveland at Boston, 7pm (TNT)
Golden State at New Orleans, 9:30pm (TNT)
Friday, April 24
Houston at Dallas, 7pm (ESPN)
Toronto at Washington, 8pm (ESPN)
Los Angeles Clippers at San Antonio, 9:30pm (ESPN)
Saturday, April 25
Atlanta at Brooklyn, 3pm (TNT)
Chicago at Milwaukee, 5:30pm (TNT)
Golden State at New Orleans, 8pm (ESPN)
Memphis at Portland, 10:30pm (ESPN)