After an incredible Play-In Tournament, the first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs is officially underway. This year, there are more intriguing storylines than ever, especially in the Eastern Conference: Will James Harden and the new-look Sixers choke under the bright lights? Can Trae Young’s Hawks go on a magical run for a second straight year? Can KD & Kyrie’s Nets overcome a much better overall team in the Boston Celtics? Find out below as I pick every Eastern Conference first round series.
#1 Miami Heat vs #8 Atlanta Hawks
Although this is a 1 vs 8 matchup, many fans and analysts feel that the Hawks have a great chance of upsetting the East’s top dog, the Miami Heat. Not only are the Hawks led by bonafide superstar Trae Young, but they’re also bolstered by an impressive core and are coming off a season in which they made an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. But, while the Hawks seem to have all the components of an 8-seed who could knock off a top seed, they’re not going to. Miami is going to dominate this series due to 3 reasons: Depth, Experience, and Defense. Miami’s bench, led by runaway 6th Man of the Year Tyler Herro, is filled with talented, hungry, and unselfish players that have balled out together all season. Aside from Herro, look for Gabe Vincent and Duncan Robinson to make huge shots off the bench for Miami in this series. Experience-wise, Miami’s core features veterans with championship pedigree, such as Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, and PJ Tucker. All players who have been on deep playoff runs and know how to win when the time arises. At the end of the day, though, what will make this series lopsided is Miami’s proficiency on the defensive side of the basketball. Ranking 1st in the Eastern Conference in total defense, the Heat suffocate their opponents with ease, forcing tough shots nearly every possession. With Hawks center Clint Capela banged up, Atlanta will struggle in the pain as Bam Adebayo locks it down with ease.
Prediction: Miami Heat in 5 Games
#2 Boston Celtics vs #7 Brooklyn Nets
In arguably the most intriguing matchup of the First Round, the up-and-down Nets, led by superstar tandem Kevin Durant & Kyrie Irving face off against the red-hot Boston Celtics. After an abysmal 16-19 start, Boston went on an absolute tear, winning 24 of their last 30 games this season. With former Duke star Jayson Tatum at the helm, Boston has looked borderline unstoppable after the All-Star break, playing efficient basketball on the offensive and defensive sides of the court. Meanwhile, after a drama and injury-filled season for the Nets in which they traded newly-acquired megastar James Harden for controversial point forward Ben Simmons, Brooklyn finds themselves as the 7-seed facing one of the best teams in the NBA. Despite Kyrie & KD’s abilities, Boston is the pick in this series. They’ve been the better team all season long, and I trust Jaylen Brown to rise to the occasion as the Robin to Tatum’s Batman. The Celtics team is far too complete to lose to a team as incomplete as Brooklyn.
Prediction: Boston Celtics in 6 Games
#3 Milwaukee Bucks vs #6 Chicago Bulls
Not gonna lie: this matchup won’t even be close. The floundering Bulls, who were ranked #1 in the East early in the season, absolutely collapsed down the stretch. Meanwhile, the defending champion Bucks are clicking on all cylinders powered by the (current) best player in the world, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks have proven time and time again that their depth and experience are enough to advance deep into the playoffs, and not enough has changed from a year ago for them to even be tested against a team as inconsistent as Chicago. I expect Khris Middleton to have a phenomenal series for Milwaukee.
Prediction: Milwaukee Bucks in 5 Games
#4 Philadelphia 76ers vs #5 Toronto Raptors
Last, but certainly not least, we have Nick Nurse’s well-rounded Raptors up against the new-look 76ers led by Scoring Title champ Joel Embiid & 2018 NBA MVP James Harden. The Sixers have been up and down since acquiring Harden, but his overall talent gives them a chance to win a championship if the team clicks on all cylinders. Unfortunately, Philadelphia hasn’t found their groove yet, while the Raptors have been a more consistent team this year. Likely Rookie of the Year winner Scottie Barnes, along with Pascal Siakam form one of the East’s best frontcourts. All-Star PG Fred VanVleet provides enough of a scoring punch to counter Harden, and their depth will be too much for Philly. I firmly believe Doc Rivers to be the NBA’s most overrated coach, and that was the deciding factor in picking Toronto to win this series. Nick Nurse is going to coach circles around the ’08 Championship winner.
Prediction: Toronto Raptors in 6 Games
Photo Credit: Sporting News