Oh my, what a hectic NBA season it has been. There’s still regular season ball left to be played, leaving the door open for the possibility of an even wilder finish that may shatter our expectations.
Once the dust finally settles, the NBA Playoffs will finally commence, as 16 teams will duke it out for the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy. In today’s NBA, parity seems to be at an all-time high, with a bunch of teams having a chance at a title.
For each team, there are certain opponents they would rather see/avoid, but for us, it’s NBA gold no matter what. Check out these dream matchups for playoff play in the Eastern Conference and make sure to keep an eye out for the dream matchups in the Western Conference as well.
1 Atlanta Hawks vs. 8 Charlotte Hornets
The Atlanta Hawks have been the most dominant team in the East this season. Highlighted by an undefeated January and a 19-game winning streak, no other team is even close to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. We can finally see what they’re made of in the postseason.
An interesting roadblock would be the Charlotte Hornets.
With five teams in the hunt for the eighth and final seed, Charlotte could provide Atlanta some trouble. The return of Kemba Walker certainly helps Charlotte’s chances, and its roster should be intact for the playoffs barring anything catastrophic, although Cody Zeller’s shoulder injury is somewhat troublesome.
Having gone 7-6 since the acquisition of Mo Williams (7-5 with Williams playing), the Hornets have quality wins against Toronto and Chicago (twice) in that span. Williams has been averaging 21 points since his arrival in Charlotte, providing the fourth-worst scoring team a major boost.
Charlotte has the tools to steal a game or two, but certainly little chance to take the series. If Lance Stephenson can ever get it going, it could make things a bit more interesting, though. Having regressed from last season, his passing skills haven’t diminished, averaging a near career-high 4.5 assists in seven fewer minutes per game than last season.
Oh, and there’s also this gem:
His 15 percent shooting from three is glaring, but Stephenson has cut down on his three-point attempts, taking zero threes four times in his last 11 games. (averaging 1.9 3PA)
And who knows? Maybe Lance makes his long awaited return to form in the playoffs. You can bet he’ll make at least one Shaqtin’ appearance as well.
A division battle. Lance Stephenson. The best team in the East. That’s as good as we can do when it comes to a 1-8 matchup, but it would be an interesting one nonetheless.
2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 7 Indiana Pacers
At one point in the season, the LeBron James-led Cavaliers were under .500 with a 19-20 record, thanks in large part to LeBron being hurt. Some people were panicking, but the Cavaliers kept their cool (and made some savvy trades) and have gone 23-4 since to hold the No. 2 seed in the East. With its comeback win against the San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland looks like its confidence is at an all-time high.
It also helps when you have Kyrie Irving, who led the Cavaliers with a franchise-record 57-points, going 7-of-7 from three.
While Cleveland has had its spurt, a team that has been flying under the radar is a team that just can’t seem to leave James alone.
The Indiana Pacers have stormed back into the playoff hunt, having gone 13-3 since Feb. 1, catapulting themselves into the seventh seed. Rodney Stuckey has been the biggest reason why, averaging 17.3 points since the All-Star break. With veteran presence David West, Indiana is a team that no team wants to play in the first round.
With talks of Paul George’s possible return from injury, he would be pitted against James, whose Miami Heat eliminated George’s Pacers last year in the playoffs. It would certainly be an interesting highlight to see George make it back this season, but there’s some hesitation on his part to come back.
This battle would be exciting regardless of George’s presence. It would be Cleveland’s high-octane offense (2nd in PPG in East) vs. Indiana’s stout defense. (3rd in OPP PPG in NBA) Both teams have been hot, but which one will fizzle first?
3 Chicago Bulls vs. 6 Milwaukee Bucks
With both teams limping to the finish line, this matchup would pit a team that was supposed to contend for the title this year against a team that wasn’t expected to be in this position.
With the possibility that Derrick Rose misses the playoffs due to his knee injury, some of the shine that could surround playoff basketball in Chicago if he were healthy could be worn off. Instead, all we’re all saying is “there’s a chance he returns.”
Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol have been the driving forces on this team both nearly averaging 20.0 points each, although Butler is dealing with an injury of his own.
Jason Kidd is prepping himself in his return to the playoffs after being traded from the Brooklyn Nets. Kidd has exceeded expectations, staying in the hunt for the playoffs with a team that finished dead-last in the NBA last season. Also, arguments can be made that this team would be significantly better if not for the injury to Jabari Parker.
Unfortunately, the Michael Carter-Williams experiment hasn’t gotten off to the best start. Without a quality win, Milwaukee has gone 4-9 since the acquisition of Carter-Williams. (3-7 with him in the lineup)
Being the centerpiece of the trade, Carter-Williams needs to step up significantly if Milwaukee wants to have a chance to steal a series.
Another division battle, but if we were to base the winner of the series based on the regular season, it would easily be in Chicago’s favor having won three out of three games so far, with one more left to play. Could Milwaukee reverse its fortunes in the postseason, or would Chicago be too much for these Bucks?
4 Washington Wizards vs. 5 Toronto Raptors
Two teams that were expected to make a leap and two teams that looked the part early in the season, but have both faltered since the All Star break. Having gone a combined 7-17, both teams have fallen from the upper-echelon of the Eastern Conference to a middle-of-the-pack team.
These two teams haven’t been playing great basketball and if the trend continues, it could prove to be an ugly playoff series. Of course, we can always see what role Drake plays into all of this. These two teams pitted against each other might set up a friendly wager between Drake and D.C. based rapper, Wale.
Both teams have shown glimpses of excellent basketball throughout this season, but which team will be the first one to revert back to form? Toronto has plenty of tune-up games left with 13 out of its next 17 opponents under the .500 mark. The Wizards aren’t as lucky, with only nine of their next 16 opponents under the .500 mark.
These next couple of weeks will reveal a lot about these two teams. Which one will step up?