Now, to properly break down the playoffs, we first have to set the stage at this point in the year. For the East, the top 10 teams fall like this:
- Atlanta Hawks (44-12)
- Toronto Raptors (37-20)
- Chicago Bulls (36-21)
- Cleveland Cavaliers (36-22)
- Washington Wizards (33-24)
- Milwaukee Bucks (31-25)
- Miami Heat (24-31)
- Brooklyn Nets (23-31)
- Charlotte Hornets (22-32)
- Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers (23-34)
Jeez. The East gets quite ugly after the Bucks (which is terrifying to write). Even scarier is the fact that, other than the 76ers and Knicks, pretty much every team in the East still has a shot at the playoffs. The 13th team in the East is only 6 games back of the 8th seed. The good news is that the Cavs could essentially lose out and still get in the playoffs at this rate.
The Bulls and the Heat were both handed terrible news with the respective losses of Derrick Rose and Chris Bosh, both of which will likely miss the remainder of the season. For the Heat, had they not just traded for Goran Dragic, this would have likely meant dropping out of the playoff picture even with the meteoric rise of Hassan Whiteside. For the Bulls, they have enough significant pieces to keep them afloat, and they will likely remain a threat throughout the playoffs. Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, and Doug McD should be able to at least get the Bulls through the first round of the playoffs (especially in the East).
(Editor's note: The Moondog landing staff have discussed the viability of Chicago as serious title contenders throughout the year. It's worth noting that our discussions have always included the caveat "If Rose is healthy....he must prove he can stay healthy.")
As for the rest of the East, the Wizards and Raptors are struggling as of late, but a healthy Beal should keep the Wizards near the top of the conference and the Raptors will be able to ride Lowry to at least a Top-5 spot. So, given all of this, Here's how I see the final, year-end slots filling out:
- Atlanta Hawks
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Toronto Raptors
- Washington Wizards
- Chicago Bulls
- Miami Heat
- Detroit Pistons
- Milwaukee Bucks
I'll place the most likely number of games each series goes, along with the overall win odds associated with each series.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Milwaukee Bucks - Hawks in 5 (82.8%)
Washington Wizards vs. Chicago Bulls - Bulls in 5 (78.0%)*
Toronto Raptors vs. Miami Heat - Raptors in 5 (85.0%)*
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Detroit Pistons - Cavs in 5 (92.1%)
(* - Note: Neither of these is factoring in the injuries yet)
None of the predictions here are shocking. The only change I could see materializing in this set of match-ups would be the Wizards beating the Bulls, given that Rose will be out for the rest of the year. Even without Rose though, the Bulls have a decent shot of beating the Wizards, and they certainly have more playoff experience across the board. I do expect that the Wizards-Bulls and Raptors-Heat matchups will go past 5 games though.
Round 2 - Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
Atlanta Hawks vs. Chicago Bulls - Bulls in 6 (54.3%)
Toronto Raptors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers - Cavs in 6 (66.7%)
Here's where the real match-ups begin. As I said above, I do think the Wizards could sneak by the Bulls to face the Hawks, though this is where the Rose injury really starts to factor in. I do think that the Bulls would put up a better fight against the Hawks than the Wizards would, but neither should be able to beat the Hawks.
The Raptors overall shouldn't give the Cavs a difficult time, so I think the prediction here should be fairly accurate.
Just for fun, below is how I think the actual match-up will break for the Hawks, regardless of what the prediction machine says:
Atlanta Hawks vs. Washington Wizards - Hawks in 5 (73.0%)
Round 3 - The Grand Finale
Based on the current predictions:
Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers - Cavs in 6 (60.6%)
Based on my prediction:
Atlanta Hawks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers - Cavs in 6 (64.1%)
The Cavs are going to the finals! Hypothetically!
Basically, it's as simple as this: If the Cavs continue to play as well as they are right now, they should get to the Finals without too much difficulty (gulp). As for what happens in the West though...
You'll have to check back tomorrow to see who the Cavs will face in the Finals!