#1 Atlanta Hawks vs.#5 Washington Wizards
Season Series: 3-1 Atlanta
Who saw a first round sweep coming from the Wizards? I certainly did not but luckily the Wizards are full of surprises. They face the Atlanta Hawks, who needed 6 games to eliminate the Brooklyn Nets from the playoffs.
The Wizards lost three times to the Atlanta Hawks but if there’s anything we’re used to hearing its: “The regular season games don’t mean much.” After all, the Wizards won four games in a row and haven’t played since April 26. The Hawks, on the other hand, played Friday and they may come out a bit sluggish Game 1 to open the series.
If the Wizards win, credit the brilliance of John Wall, who is averaging 17.3 ppg, 12.5 apg, and 4 rpg. Behind Wall, the Wizards have been quite the surprise playoff team. The Wizards won 125-94 to close out their first round series and have already won two games on the road to open the First Round. Then there’s also Bradley Beal, who is leading the team in scoring with 20.8 ppg. If they can win Sunday, look out, rest is also on their side!
If the Hawks win, credit their Game 6 victory over the Brooklyn Nets as a stepping stone. Atlanta won two games to go up 2-0 but let the Nets tie the series at 2-2 before they won at home and on the road to beat the 8 seeded Nets. The key is how well the Hawks utilize Paul Millsap and Al Hordford. Millsap can stretch the floor for the Hawks and Horford has been a double double machine, averaging 14.3 ppg and 10 rpg on the inside. If they can get established inside-outside presence and get the Wizards in foul trouble, they should see the same success they saw during the regular season.
Prediction: Wizards in 6
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #3 Chicago Bulls
Season Series: 3-1 Cavaliers
This series will be a grind. Kevin Love is presumably out for the rest of the playoffs and J.R. Smith is suspended for the first 2 games so the odds are already stacked against the Cavaliers. The Bulls are going in with the early momentum after a 120-66 drubbing of the Bucks in a closeout Game 6. It was the 2nd highest margin of victory by a playoff team (Minnesota beat St. Louis 133-75 on March 19, 1956).
If the Cavaliers win, thank their role players whom fans haven’t expected much from at the moment. Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, and Timofey Mozgov are key for the Cavaliers now with Love and Smith out. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving will certainly show up, but it’s the supporting cast who they’re going to have to rely heavily on against a very good defensive Bulls squad.
If the Bulls win, Jimmy Butler has finally become the breakout star the Bulls have expected. Much similar to what Paul George and the Pacers did a few years ago, the pressure is on Butler to not only guard LeBron but also score on him as well and come into his own. A lot of the fans think he’s here to stay, if the Bulls win, this series certainly will go down in history for Butler as his coming out party.
Prediction: Cavaliers in 7