The East is no longer to be underestimated. Long thought of as the weaker conference, the top two teams in the Eastern Conference finished with a better regular season than the Golden State Warriors who topped the West.
Led by the Greek Freak, the Milwaukee Bucks have established themselves as the #1 regular season team in the NBA. The Toronto Raptors finished second but they still had a better record than the Dubs. But while we clap to these successful teams, everything is worthless unless one of them goes all the way to dethrone the Warriors. That’s easier said than done really. But hey, given how this season unfolded, who knows? Check out my 2019 NBA Eastern Conference Winner Prediction post.
(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs (8) Detroit Pistons
The Milwaukee Bucks are the new toast of the NBA. After hiring Mike Budenholzer as head coach, the Bucks have transformed into a genuine title contender. Giannis Antetokounmpo had another spectacular MVP-type season. Khris Middleton was named to the All-star team while Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon have thrived in Coach Bud’s offense. Don’t forget Brook Lopez who’s also having a great season. The Bucks are the sum of those players and their efforts. Milwaukee was the top offensive team during the regular season and they also have elite defense. It all starts with Giannis but the team is more than just the Greek Freak.
The road isn't finished.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) March 12, 2019
The Pistons have risen from the ashes behind a resurgent Blake Griffin. Many of us thought that he would be done after his removal from the Clippers. But Griffin has reinvented himself in Detroit and became an All-Star player again. The Pistons have one of the league’s best big men in Andre Drummond who led the NBA in rebounding. With a dominant frontline in Griffin and Drummond, the Pistons role players thrived in their respective roles. Former Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey has made an immediate impact in Detroit but this fairy tale ride ends in Milwaukee.
Prediction: Milwaukee Bucks in five games
(2) Toronto Raptors vs (7) Orlando Magic
These teams split their four regular season meetings. In their first meeting of the season last November 20, 2018 ,the Raptors blew an 18-point lead before escaping on Danny Green’s heroics. In their second meeting on December 28, the Magic blew out the Raptors by 29 points, which stands as Toronto’s worst loss of the season. Terrence Ross exploded in his return to Toronto with 28 points as Orlando won by 15 points. The Raptors evened the series with a 12 point win last April 1st behind Danny Green’s 7 three point baskets.
All eyes will be on Kawhi Leonard as he leads his Raptors to the postseason. Toronto was the #1 team in the East last season but their lack of experience and a true leader ultimately failed them against LeBron’s Cavs. This time around, the Raptors have Leonard as leader and closer. This is why he was brought here and we expect him to be the difference in the series. Orlando is a fun team to watch with good young players led by an All-Star in Vucevic. But they don’t have a star like Kawhi who can take over not just a game but even an entire series.
Prediction: Toronto Raptors in five games.
(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs (6) Brooklyn Nets
Sam Hinkie told us to trust the process so we’re now seeing the Sixers reap the rewards of Hinkie’s sacrifices which cost him his job. The Joel Embiid gamble has paid off. Ben Simmons is having a fantastic all-around season. The Sixers traded for Jimmy Butler early in the season and then added Tobias Harris at the trade deadline. With J.J. Redick shooting bombs as well, Philly has one of the most high-powered offensive teams in the league. The Sixers lost to the Celtics in the second round last year but after earning valuable experience, this team is ready to go to the next level. Or at least in paper they are. Coach Brett Brown has one of the most talented teams in the league. All he has to do is put it all together for one heck of a playoff run.
The Nets are one of the pleasant surprises of the season. When you take a look at their roster, they don’t have a star in the mold of Embiid, Butler or Simmons. But this team is solid from top to bottom and play like a bunch of guys who have nothing to lose and everything to gain. D’Angelo Russell has proven his critics wrong.D-Lo is one of the best stories of the season. Honestly, I’m still surprised how the Nets made it here. I’m even shocked really. Given their lineup, they were supposed to be lottery bound. But don’t tell this team they can’t do it. The Sixers have a tendency to be lazy. That could be disastrous.
Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers in five games
(4) Boston Celtics vs (5) Indiana Pacers
Like the Warriors out west, the Celtics disappointed in the East. After taking Cleveland to Game 7 in the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, they were supposed to be the heirs to the throne. But having Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward 100% healthy this season has proved to be challenging, even for a genius like Brad Stevens. The Celtics struggled all-season long and never found the form that put them within one win from an NBA Finals appearance last year. However, given their lineup: Kyrie, Hayward, Horford, Tatum, Morris, Rozier, Baynes, Brown and Smart, Boston is a tough matchup for any team. Marcus Smart will miss the first two rounds of the playoffs but that won’t matter much.
The Pacers are without their best player in Victor Oladipo and you have applaud them for continuing to fight. Indiana was the #3 team in the East before ‘Dipo got hurt, they lost that position and also gave away home court advantage in Round 1 of the playoffs. Bogdanovic took over as the top scorer and Domantas Sabonis is having a superb season. Indiana also has contributions from Darren Collison and big men Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young. But remember that these teams met just recently and Boston blew the Pacers out. I like the fighting spirit but I think the Celtics are going to wake up and put on a beating.
Prediction: Celtics via sweep