#4 Toronto Raptors (49-33) vs. #5 Washington Wizards (46-36)
The Raptors swept the series 3-0, but both teams are evenly matched. DeMar DeRozan (20.1) and Kyle Lowry (17.8) team up in the backcourt along with sixth man Lou Williams (15.5) to provide the scoring punch. 22-year-old Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas has continued to show signs of having a breakout season, but Dwane Casey refuses to play the big man 30 minutes a night. He still managed to average a career-high 12 points along with 8.7 rebounds in 26.2 minutes this season. Toronto quietly has averaged 104 points; fourth-best in the NBA.
Washington has some bruisers inside with Marcin Gortat, Nene Hilario and Kris Humphries, but its exciting guards John Wall and Bradley Beal who run the show. Wall averaged 17.6 points and a career-high 10 assists during the regular season while Beal, who was hampered with an injury early on, finished with 15.3 points. Paul Pierce recently called out Beal and Wall on whether they want to be great or not. It might have been a shot at them or a veteran’s tactic of lighting a fire underneath them before the postseason.
#3 Chicago Bulls (50-32) vs. #6 Milwaukee Bucks (41-41)
Injuries have been the prevalent theme this year for the resilient Bulls. New addition and oldest starter Pau Gasol has played the most out of all the starters, appearing in 78 games. The Spaniard has been sensational averaging 18.5 points and 11.8 rebounds. The regular starting lineup has hardly been together. Jimmy Butler (17), Derrick Rose (31), Taj Gibson (20), Mike Dunleavy (19) and Joakim Noah (15) have all suffered lengthy injuries causing them to miss a handful of games. The emergence of Jimmy Butler has paid dividends as he has risen his scoring by nearly seven points from a season ago and now leads the team in scoring with 20 a night.
Jason Kidd needs to get more credit as a coach. After a strenuous relationship with the Nets, Kidd bounced over to Milwaukee and has another team in the playoffs. Top scorer Brandon Knight was having a breakthrough season but was dealt at the deadline in a trade that in return brought back Michael Carter-Williams. MCW still can’t shoot well, but his ability to fill a stat sheet with his length is helpful. Top pick Jabari Parker went down for the season after 25 games but that allowed Khris Middleton and Giannis Antentokounmpo to shine. Middleton has averaged a career-high 13.4 points while the Greek Freak has blossomed into a do-everything type of player. The experience will be invaluable for the 20-year-old as he looks primed for a monster season next year.
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29) vs. #7 Boston Celtics (40-42)
The last vision of LeBron James in Cavaliers jersey in the playoffs was him ripping off his jersey after losing to the Celtics in the second round. King James will try to forget that and lead the Cavs to the city of Cleveland’s first title in decades. The Cavs split the series 2-2 this season. A slow start to the season doomed Cleveland from claiming the top seed, but they have played the part ever since LBJ returned from injury. The additions of J.R. Smith, Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert have been huge boons. Questions still remain on whether they can be an elite defensive team to win a title. Kevin Love has been a liability and has sat out down the stretch in close games.
Isaiah Thomas has made the name proud. The free scoring guard has sparked the Celtics as they enter the playoffs winners of six straight including two wins over the Cavaliers. Thomas has averaged 19 points and 5.4 assists in 21 games with the Celtics; Boston has gone 14-7 with Thomas in the lineup. Brad Stevens warrants votes for Coach of the Year after making the playoffs without Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green. The Celtics are loaded with strong role players who have bought into Stevens’ system and will give them a chance to challenge to superior Cavaliers.