Yesterday I rolled out my predictions for the 2018 Eastern Conference Playoffs standings, seeds 5-8. Now onto the teams that will boast home-court advantage and try their best to meet Golden State in the Finals.
I mean, come on. Its Lebron. I don’t think it takes much more explanation than that. But if I must, the Cavaliers have added Isaiah Thomas (potentially) and still have Kevin Love. Oh, and Lebron James. Jae Crowder is another 3-and-D threat that the Cavaliers thrive using. Jeff Green will now try his luck off the bench in the Land. And no one can bet against J.R. Smith. The Cleveland roster is full of nice talent off the bench, players that have had success in their careers and just need another contributor to be effective, hint: Lebron James.
It will be a tough race between Cleveland and Boston, but the last time the Cavs play a top tier Western Conference team is SAS on February 25th. That leaves a month and a half of weaker West teams and mostly Eastern Conference teams to push towards the one-seed. Despite Kyrie leaving and rumors of Lebron’s departure next season, Cleveland looks to have enough in the tank for one last Finals run.
The Kyrie trade really don't matter. The Cavs are still going to smash Boston ♂️ pic.twitter.com/6yNTB6gBGd— OnTopAthletics ⚾️ (@OnTopAthletics) August 22, 2017
As I mentioned in the previous article, Boston may not be done with roster changes. But based on the roster right now, Boston will have a hard time reclaiming the number one seed. They won’t need it regardless, they will meet Cleveland in the conference finals, but the prestigious number one spot looks out of reach.
Sure, they have put together a nice “Big 3” in Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving (potentially) and Al Horford, but look at what is around them. Jayson Tatum looks to make a huge splash out of this year’s rookie class, but he is an untested raw talent. Marcus Morris was brought in to add a scoring threat, and Jaylen Brown will be given exponentially more responsibility this season. Compared to other teams, the combination of coaching and talent puts the Celtics above most of the Eastern Conference, but not quite topping CLE.
The season opener for Boston is against that monster named Cleveland. The rest of the schedule has a nice flow of short road trips and home stands. The last eleven games of the season are crucial for the Celtics. Seven of 11 will be played on the road, only one of the 11 is against top-four teams in either conference. This stretch could be the difference in the second or third seed for the playoffs.
Honestly, the top three seeds in the East are up for debate. Ultimately I see Cleveland and Boston settling the dispute in this order because of the final stretch of the season. On top of that, the Wizards have very little fire power after John Wall and Bradley Beal. The starting five for the Wizards is as good as any in the league, but the scoring rate will drop significantly when the reserves take the floor. They have a size advantage (if that’s even an advantage anymore) against most teams, and as long as Wall is on the floor, you can assume Washington is going to play well.
Aside from one match up against GSW the Wizards have a relatively easy first seven games. The middle of the season will trudge along, giving the Wiz a chance to mount wins. Coming down the final stretch of the season will be a time to prove their worth against the NBA’s elite. February through March provides a combined 10 games against BOS, CLE, MIL, GSW, SAS, and HOU. Littered into those closing months are plenty of games against other playoff-bound teams.
In the same way that we all want Philadelphia to make the playoffs, I think we all want Milwaukee to finally make their stand as a top tier NBA team. Giannis Antetokounmpo (that’s the last time I will type his name) is quickly becoming a league fan favorite and making his own small case for MVP. He is only 22 years old and is leading this Bucks team in the right direction. Jabari Parker, barring any injuries, is another significant cog to the rotation.
The pieces that have been put together around the core provide sparks on both ends of the floor. Malcolm Brogdon, the reigning Rookie of the Year, does a little bit of everything, and Khris Middleton is still searching for his groove, but it seems in reach. Life is looking good in Milwaukee.
The Bucks open the season with a trip to Boston and back home to host Cleveland. This will give an early test against the top of the East. The month of November is more away than home, but against the weak parts of the Western Conference and followed by a tough December. Finishing up the season could be a challenge aside from the very last week of the season. Late March has opponents like CLE, LAC, SAS, and GSW scheduled, but they finish the last four games at home versus Brooklyn, then they head to Madison Square Garden to beat the Knicks, back home versus the Magic, and finish in Philly. All winnable to claim home-court advantage.
All rosters and schedules provided by ESPN NBA.