With the 2015 NBA Playoffs underway, the Society decided to gather several members and discuss the postseason landscape in both the Eastern and Western Conference. To discuss the East and what we expect out of the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls, we enlisted the help of five hoops junkies. They are:
Alec Walt (@AlecWalt)
DJ Allen (@DJAllen23)
Alfonzo De Falco (@FonzyDeFalco)
Kyle Allan (@KAllan441)
BJ Boyer (@wcboyer24)
1. Who is your ‘sleeper’ in the Eastern Conference?
Walt: Washington Wizards. The Wizards have a good starting lineup but hasn’t been productive in the playoffs. Now they have Paul Pierce. He is old and way out of his prime, but he has the playoff experience that the rest of the team is lacking. He needs to teach the Wizards how to be productive in the playoffs. If John Wall and Bradley Beal can stay composed in crunch time, the Wizards could be deadly.
Allen: My sleeper of the Eastern Conference is the Boston Celtics. Sliding into the 7th spot, the Celtics have a lot of momentum coming into the playoffs. Isaiah Thomas has given them a spark post All-Star break, playing at a high level and giving life to the rest of the team. They are taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers and I believe they could make things very interesting. The series between the two teams are 2-2 with the Boston Celtics as the winner of the last two, however Cleveland wasn’t at full strength. I think Boston could make things interesting in the playoffs if they could get past Cleveland but they would have to play damn near perfect to beat this Cavalier team.
De Falco: The Boston Celtics. They got hot at the right time and its all thanks to Brad Stevens. They don’t have one specific player they can go to but the they have a deep rotation. No matter what happens, this will be some good playoff experience for the young players and Stevens himself.
Allan: Chicago. They have D-Rose and Butler fully healthy. That is a recipe for success for them. I think they match up well versus a team like Cleveland if they were to face them in a Conference Finals. I think a big contributor to their success will also be how Pau Gasol does down the stretch. He is one of the better big’s in the East, and if he plays like it, than that is their recipe for success.
Boyer: Washington. Although I don’t believe they are destined for a deep postseason run, I think they may be able to pound the Toronto Raptors due to their fragility on the defensive end. Factor in Lowry’s questionable health, and I think this series could easily swing in the Wizards’ favor.
2. Between the Bulls and the Hawks, who do you feel is the bigger ‘pretender?’
Walt: The Atlanta Hawks haven’t been very impressive as of late. Two players just got arrested and Paul Millsap has a nagging shoulder injury. Hawks are a complete different team when a starter is out of the lineup. The Hawks lost the last three games of the regular season. Their focus isn’t there and they have no momentum going into the playoffs. Derrick Rose is back and the Bulls are playing well. The Hawks are destined to get upset as a one seed.
Allen: My pretender is Atlanta when it comes to comparing the two teams. For the past two seasons, I picked the Chicago Bulls to be in the Finals. Regardless of Derrick Rose’s injury, the Bulls have had other players step up to keep them in the playoff picture. Pau Gasol has had one of the best seasons he’s ever had, Jimmy Butler is in discussion for the Most Improved Player award and Nikola Mirotic is the Rookie of Year in my opinion. Chicago has enough weapons to get the job done and make it to the Finals. I believe they will get the job done and prove to everyone that they are the real deal.
De Falco: I’m leaning towards the Chicago Bulls. Most nights they look like a championship caliber team while other nights they look like a mess. Derrick Rose recovering from his recent injury does not help their cause. On paper, they look like a great team but I do not see them going far in the East.
Allan: Hawks. I love this team to death, believe me. I just think that they can fold down the stretch. Most of these guys on the roster have played for more than a 7th or 8th seed, and now with having everything to lose being the #1 seed, I think that may catch up to them.
Boyer: Chicago. In the offseason I predicted that the Bulls would make the NBA Finals, but the fact that their starting lineup lacks continuity the continuity of Cleveland’s and Atlanta leaves me troubled. There is a notable difference in the fluidity of their offense when Derrick Rose is running the show opposed to Aaron Brooks, and I think that stems from the lack of time they’ve spent together on the court. More time to discuss strategy may be able to rectify this, but I think it may be hard to ignore against the better Eastern Conference teams.
3. What’s the one individual matchup you look forward to seeing in the first round?
Walt: The battle of the point guards. John Wall and Kyle Lowry are the heart and soul of their respective teams. The basketball will always be in one of their hands. They are two human highlight reels. Play after play something exciting happens. This is the most even matchup in the first round. The winner of this series will be determined by who plays better in this matchup.
Allen: My favorite matchup in the first round is Kyle Lowry vs. John Wall. I’m sorry but there’s no other personal matchups that seem more interesting to me. John Wall is playing on a team that’s trying to bounce back from some horrible play recently while Kyle Lowry is looking to come back from injury. Even though I believe John Wall is the better player, I believe Lowry will come out on top because he has the better team and they will win this series. Lowry may be the most underrated point guard in this league; he can score with the best of them but at the same time he’s the leader of his team. Lowry vs. Wall will be a great matchup to watch and at the end of the day I believe whichever guard comes out on top, their team will win.
De Falco: I’m going to go with John Wall vs. Kyle Lowry. They are arguably the two best point guards in the league and their team’s success depends on how well each player does in the postseason.
Allan: Lowry/Wall. They will be going at it every game. Its gonna be like two assist machines. They both have a particular skill set that is crucial to their team’s success and that is distributing the basketball. It’s crazy how only 2-3 years ago where we would laugh at the fact that Kyle Lowry was gonna be in one of the best guard match-ups in the playoffs.
Boyer: I’ll make this unanimous and say John Wall vs. Kyle Lowry. This series is definitely the most intriguing out of all the first round matchups in the East, and I think whoever wins this series is going to be based on who dominates the point guard matchup.
4. Who’s the one Eastern Conference player we should keep our eyes on this postseason?
Walt: Derrick Rose is back and the Bulls have been playing much better. The Bulls have no more excuses and it all lies on the shoulders of Derrick Rose. When he is healthy the Bulls are always a threat. He isn’t as explosive as he used to be but he’s a work horse. While watching Rose, watch his fragile knees. A Bulls team with Derrick Rose is the only team that has a chance to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Allen: My player to keep our eye on in the Eastern Conference is Nikola Mirotic. He means so much to the Chicago Bulls with his scoring ability off the bench. For a player that started off the season as just a another bench player, it shows how much he proved his importance to Coach Thibodeau and other staff members. If the Bulls want to be successful it’s important that Mirotic is successful and capitalizes on any opportunity he receives on the offensive end.
De Falco: Al Horford on the Hawks. After a couple of injury riddled seasons he finally was healthy and it obviously led to the team success. I think he is one of the most underrated players in the league.
Allan: Bojan Bagnodovic on Brooklyn. I think if he is shooting well, he is one tough guy to stop because he always seems to find a way to get open.
Boyer: Giannis Antetokounmpo. I have Milwaukee losing this series in five games, but it wouldn’t shock me if this series went six. Jason Kidd is going to pull out all of the tricks to flummox the Bulls, and that could include seeing the Greek Freak at anywhere from point guard to center. The Bucks are pitted against a pretty good Chicago team with a ton of depth, so they’ll need their young studs to mature quickly. This will prove to be a great experience for Giannis and the Bucks, and could help accelerate his maturation process as a player.
5. The Eastern Conference champion will be…?
Walt: The Cavaliers have someone named LeBron James who is the best player in the world. Whatever team LeBron’s on is going to contend. Their first round matchup is against the Celtics which won’t go past five games. The Cavaliers are currently better than the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, and Washington Wizards who are the other possible contenders in the Eastern Conference. I see the Cavaliers steamrolling the East.
Allen: The Eastern Conference winner will be the Chicago Bulls. I did not expect the season that we’ve seen from Pau Gasol; and to add that to the player that Mirotic and Butler have turned into, its hard to say they won’t win the Eastern Conference. Also, Derrick Rose is on comeback trail so I feel as if the Bulls could definitely win the East as longs as Coach Thibs. can control attitudes and get them playing at a high intensity.
De Falco: People are saying that the Hawks are a fluke but I’m going to have to disagree. I believe that Atlanta will be the Eastern Conference champions. They currently have the most active consecutive playoff appearances (2008-2015 eight seasons) so most of the players have the experience. Budenholzer also has learned from one of the best coaches in Gregg Popovich. Overall I think this team has what it take to win the East if they can stay healthy.
Allan: The Cleveland Cavaliers. They have LeBron James, remember? I think the X-Factor for them is Mozgov. The reason Cleveland struggled so much early this year was because of no inside defense without Varajeo. Mozgov has really made a name for himself in Cleveland.
Boyer: In the summer, I believed that the Chicago Bulls were the superior team over the likes of the Cavaliers and Hawks due to their depth and the prospect of Derrick Rose being healthy. I was a tad bit cautious because I knew the Bulls have had a tendency to get banged up, and unfortunately for them my hunch was correct. While injuries have prevented them from developing that on-court cohesion that is imperative for any championship team to have, the Cavaliers have developed it and have resembled a powerhouse since late January-early February. I think LeBron James is on a mission, and he will not be denied. Time for the King to make his 5th straight NBA Finals.