This weekend will kick off one of the most competitive editions of the NBA playoffs in recent years in the league. With no clear favorite and many teams ready to challenge the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, preventing them from reaching their second consecutive Final Four, the fight in the Eastern Conference is more real than many think. Not a single one of the series will be a walk in the park for any of the participants.
Within this list, we bring the four series that will take place in the Eastern Conference: the Miami Heat (first place) will have to face the last qualifiers from the Play-In, the Atlanta Hawks (eighth place), while the Boston Celtics (second place) have the difficult task of eliminating the Brooklyn Nets (seventh place). The Milwaukee Bucks (third place) go against the Chicago Bulls (sixth place) and the Philadelphia 76ers (fourth place) will go against the Toronto Raptors (fifth place) in what is likely to be one of the closest series of the competition.
We give you both the odds for each team and the series preview in general so that you will be prepared in the best way at the time of the tip-off that starts the saga between the two teams.
#1 Miami Heat (53-29) vs #8 Atlanta Hawks (43-39)
- Where: FTX Arena – Miami, Florida (the Heat will have home-field advantage, playing the first two games, with a possible fifth and seventh also taking place in their home arena).
- When: Sunday, April 17, 3:00 PM ET (this will be the date of the first game, with the series potentially extending through the end of April if all seven games are played).
- Betting Line (Series): Miami Heat (-370) vs Atlanta Hawks (+300)
- Betting Line (Game 1): Heat (-6.5) vs Hawks (+6.5)
- Over/Under (Game 1): Heat (Under 216) vs Hawks (Over 216)
- Moneyline (Game 1): Heat (-275) vs Hawks (+220)
It is an open secret that the team coached by Erik Spoelstra is the clear favorite to win the series, which is further confirmed by the record between the two teams in the regular season (three wins for Miami, one for Atlanta). But that doesn’t imply it’s going to be a cakewalk for the Heats; on the contrary, if they approach it that way, the Hawks will have a good chance of advancing.
Underestimating Atlanta is a masterful mistake: first of all, they come with a great pace getting impressive wins against the Charlotte Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers. Second, Atlanta already knows what it’s like to be the underdog team and more importantly, they already know what it’s like to knock off a top seed, having done it last year against the Philadelphia 76ers in seven games during the conference semifinals.
To say that it would be a huge failure for Miami to be eliminated in the first round is an understatement, since the Heat’s roster and the way they have been playing since the beginning of the season is nothing short of another appearance in the NBA Finals (and as a consolation prize if everything goes wrong, the Conference Finals.) With only P.J. Tucker (calf injury) doubtful to make it to the first game of the series, there are no excuses for Miami not to defend its place as first place in the Eastern Conference.
For the Hawks, anything that comes after qualifying for the playoffs is a win: considering they will be without John Collins (foot injury), Lou Williams (back injury) and Clint Capela (knee injury) at the start of the playoffs, any win they can snatch out of the Heat’s hands will be a huge accomplishment for Trae Young and his teammates. Speaking of the latter, limiting him offensively is the best strategy for Atlanta to run out of options, but so far neither the Hornets nor the Cavaliers could pull it off.
The Heat‘s veterans are their strongest point in this scenario: Kyle Lowry, Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler should all be leaders for this team on the court. If they do things right, at most this series will take five games to define.
#2 Boston Celtics (51-31) vs #7 Brooklyn Nets (44-38)
- Where: TD Garden – Boston, Massachusetts (the Celtics will have home-field advantage, playing the first two games, with a possible fifth and seventh also taking place in their home stadium).
- When: Sunday, April 17, 5:30 PM (this will be the date of the first game, with the series potentially extending to the end of April if all seven games are played).
- Betting Line (Series): Boston Celtics (-130) vs Brooklyn Nets (+110)
- Betting Line (1st Game): Celtics (-4) vs Nets (+4)
- Over/Under (Game 1): Celtics (Under 224) vs Nets (Over 224)
- Moneyline (Game 1): Celtics (-170) vs Nets (+150)
If there’s one thing this series is going to have, it’s spice: the return of Kyrie Irving once again to the TD Garden, where he’s not welcome at all and just a year after knocking the same Boston team out of the playoffs, it’s now the Celtics who are looking down on the Nets, who start as the favorite to be eliminated in the first round.
The two only have one loss per side, but both are significant: Robert Williams III (knee injury) will be sidelined for at least the entire series due to meniscus surgery on his left knee, so Boston will have to forget about having its defensive anchor in the paint. On Brooklyn’s side, Ben Simmons is still not recovered from his back injury, but recent reports indicate that there is a chance he could make his debut in the middle of the series.
While the Nets are a very difficult offensive power to stop, Boston has a defense that has been able to stop them during the regular season, taking the series between the two teams with a 3-1 record. Coach Ime Udoka’s defense has been revolutionary for the Celtics, placing them among the strongest teams in the entire league, and had they not lost their starting center, we would be talking about one of the top contenders to reach the championship finals.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the offensive leaders of this squad, along with Marcus Smart in ball handling and perimeter defense. Al Horford, Grant Williams and Daniel Theis have a huge responsibility to protect the paint without their main pivot, something they showed they were capable of doing in the season finale. The Celtics are a complete team in every aspect, and if the shots are falling, they are extremely tough to beat.
As regarads the Brooklyn side, we know that both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving become a different type of player when the playoffs come. So the big question is: Will they be able to stop Boston’s offense as effectively as they can score? Everyone knows that the main strategy of the Steve Nash-led team is to win the points battle against their opponent, but without defense, in the playoffs that is a very complicated task to accomplish. Andre Drummond, Bruce Brown and Seth Curry must excel if the Nets are to advance.
#3 Milwaukee Bucks (51-31) vs #6 Chicago Bulls (46-36)
- Where: Fiserv Forum – Milwaukee, Wisconsin (the Bucks will have home-field advantage, playing the first two games, with a possible fifth and seventh also taking place in their home stadium).
- When: Sunday, April 17, 8:30 PM ET (this will be the date of the first game, with the series potentially extending through the end of April if all seven games are played).
- Betting Line (Series): Milwaukee Bucks (-1000) vs Chicago Bulls (+650)
- Betting Line (1st Game): Bucks (-10) vs Bulls (+10)
- Over/Under (Game 1): Bucks (Under 229) vs Bulls (Over 229)
- Moneyline (Game 1): Bucks (-525) vs. Bulls (+385)
In addition to being the current champions, the Bucks also got lucky when it came to playoffs seeding. Not only have the Bulls lost every game to Milwaukee this season (four losses), but they were also one of the worst teams during the regular season lockout in the entire NBA.
With the total absence of Lonzo Ball, the injuries of Alex Caruso and Coby White, in addition to the constant knee problems that Zach LaVine has had, physically the team led by Billy Donovan arrives at its worst moment before the most critical situation. Nikola Vucevic’s performance slump has also largely affected the Bulls’ season, who were contenders for the top spot in the conference before the All-Star Break.
On the opposite side of the tournament, the Bucks with Giannis on the court have looked like probably the strongest contender in the entire conference next to the Miami Heat. This team is even stronger and more complete than the one that won the championship last year. And they are up against a Bulls team that has had one of the worst records against teams in the top-5 and up in each conference. While they are a team that deserves respect, they do not pose much of a threat to Milwaukee.
This series could even end in a sweep, but it will probably be extended to five or six games. We see very little chance for Chicago to pull off an upset. DeMar DeRozan would have to have the series of his life, and with how good his season has been, the hope is that he can replicate that in the playoffs.
#4 Philadelphia 76ers (51-31) vs #5 Toronto Raptors (48-34)
- Where: Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (the Sixers will have home-field advantage, playing the first two games, with a possible fifth and seventh also taking place in their home stadium).
- When: Saturday, April 16, 6:00 PM ET (this will be the date of the first game, with the series potentially extending through the end of April if all seven games are played).
- Betting Line (Series): Philadelphia 76ers (-180) vs Toronto Raptors (+150).
- Betting Line (1st Game): Sixers (-4.5) vs Raptors (-4.5)
- Over/Under (Game 1):Sixers (Under 216) vs Raptors (Over 216).
- Moneyline (Game 1):Sixers (-190) vs Raptors (+160).
There is no more evenly matched game in the conference than this one: Toronto has been on a roll for a while and not only concluded the NBA season as one of the best performing teams, but they also won the overall series against the Sixers, losing only one game out of four.
For Philadelphia there is already a clear disadvantage on paper: Matisse Thybulle is not eligible to participate in the matches played in Canada (third and fourth game of the series) because he is not properly immunized against COVID-19, which restricts his trip to the neighboring country. The Australian is the best perimeter defender Doc Rivers has on his roster, and his absence will be felt in Toronto.
James Harden is the key man here. If Harden plays up to his potential, the 76ers have nothing to worry about and the series should end comfortably in their favor in six games. But should the 32-year-old shooting guard’s past ghosts be revived in the playoffs, it could be Toronto that ends up advancing in six games without question.
Joel Embiid is coming off being crowned as the best scorer in the entire NBA, and will get the job done with a Raptors roster that has no direct answer against him. But will Philly have an answer for a set of players as complete as Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr, O.G. Anunoby and rookie sensation Scottie Barnes? Nick Nurse has one of the deepest and most talented squads in the league. Toronto was the worst possible matchup for Philadelphia and will be the true test of whether or not they are real contenders.