The grueling, taxing, utterly bizarre NBA regular season finally comes to an end. Despite an intensely demanding schedule, the exact same eight Eastern Conference teams that made the playoffs last season did so again with only the slightest rearrangements this season.
The Western Conference enjoyed a bit of change, with the Blake Griffin-led Clippers finally maturing into the playoff-caliber team we all knew they’d eventually become, and the Jazz making the playoffs as well. The Trail Blazers and Hornets missed the playoffs, having long since faded into mediocrity.
So who wins it all? Here’s my first-round preview.
Celtics vs. Hawks
What’s the purpose of a seeding system that doesn’t award home-court to the higher seed? Celtics fans will ask that throughout the series, as the fourth-seed Celtics will start their playoffs on the road against the fifth-seed Hawks. Shouldn’t matter, however, as the Celtics’ league-leading defense should carry them past a depleted Hawks team.
Atlanta will likely be without both Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia, their top two centers. That should take some pressure of Kevin Garnett and Boston’s anemic rebounding game. The Celtics may not get Ray Allen back from injury, but that should just pave the way for Avery Bradley to do what he does on defense, as the offense attacks the Hawks inside. Pick: Celtics in 6.