NBA playoffs: Eastern Conference sleepers, stars and predictions

Ah, the NBA playoffs. The beer over a fire pit on a Friday in June.

“What did you do on Friday night? We went out to the strip.”

“Grabbed a six pack and sat by the fire ’til I fell asleep under the stars.”

“That sounds horrible.”

“Well, you don’t get it, then.”

There’s nothing more underrated in sports than the NBA playoffs. The highest level of basketball that can be played, actually being played at its peak sense of urgency, is without question must-see television. When it comes to the Eastern Conference, the expectation is that the Cleveland Cavaliers will roll through a slate of “TBD but doesn’t matter.” Is it the truth?

The Favorite

Cleveland Cavaliers

They enter as defending conference champs who found ways to siphon salt water into something drinkable last season, en route to a Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors. There has been drama this season, because there always has to be drama, akin to a freshman locker hall. Whether it was the LeBron James-Kevin Love relationship, or how much Kyrie Irving wanted to be in Cleveland, or what Kyrie Irving’s love life looked like, coupled with a coach firing when the team was 30-11, this has basically been a cold weather version of Melrose Place. Still, the Cavs enter as any rational person’s East favorite, on talent alone.

The Best Challenger

Miami Heat

Crow about the teams with better records all you want, but if there’s a club out there with the DNA and the motivation to end the Cavs in terminal fashion, it’s the Heat. Dwyane Wade is a killer, and while the Heat have been a mixed bag of late, this is an organization that expects winning and has that culture ingrained into it. Don’t believe me if you don’t want to, but there’s no team the Cavs want to see less… even without Chris Bosh.

The Sleeper

Indiana Pacers

Lost in the perpetual 2016 mediocrity of the Pacers is that they’re in, and this is a team with a core full of guys used to winning in the playoffs.

Paul George is an odd player to watch. You expect him to be the top-10 player he was before he was hurt. Accordingly, you get all hot and bothered when he’s not. However, you forget to understand the dude is still recovering from a garish leg injury that’d make Dana Scully cringe. The Raptors aren’t a good matchup for the Pacers in round one, but if they get a little wind behind their sails with an early road win in Canada (the Raptors have to show they’re different this time), this turns into a dangerous group.


Round 1

Cleveland over Detroit

Boston over Atlanta

Miami over Charlotte

Indiana over Toronto

Round 2

Cleveland over Boston

Miami over Indiana


Eastern Conference Finals

Cleveland over Miami