'Greatest champion in all team sports': RIP, Bill Russell, an NBA star who stood for more than just basketball
Bill Russell, one of the greatest players in basketball history, has died, aged 88.
There are some exciting match-ups in the east. Here are my predictions for the first round of the NBA play-offs.
The revitalised Eastern Conference has produced some impressive squads that are set to go at each other this postseason. The outcomes of the first round are somewhat more obvious than those of its western counterpart.
The play-offs begin this Sunday, 14 April, and continue until the champion is crowned in June.
The top eight teams in the east will battle it out for the conference championship title.
All rounds are best-of-seven. Series are played in a 2–2–1–1–1 format, meaning the team with home-court advantage hosts games 1, 2, 5 and 7, while their opponent hosts games 3, 4 and 6, with games 5 to 7 played only if needed.
Now for the match-ups.
Milwaukee Bucks (60-22) vs Detroit (41-41)
As a fan of the motor city, I would personally love to have some sort of reason for why the Pistons will rise above and pull off the upset. Unfortunately it’s just not sensible.
Saying Giannis Antetokounmpo has had a breakout year is an understatement. He is now commonly referred to as the best big man in the NBA. The 23-year-old gained about 18 kilograms of muscle since his introduction into the league and has picked up significant technique.
His versatility has carried this Bucks team to the post-season, leading the team in points, rebounds and assists.
Andre Drummond will be attempting to slow down the so-called Greek Freak. Drummond is a solid player with good defensive form, but that can only take you so far against a player as powerful as Giannis.
Blake Griffin’s recent injury is a major setback to the Pistons’ play-offs potential. Griffin leads the team in points and assists and is a heavy defensive presence as well.
He has been benched due to a knee injury and is not expected to return by the start of the series.
It breaks my heart to say it, but I predict the Bucks to win in four. But I would love to be proven wrong.
Toronto Raptors (58-24) vs Orlando Magic (42-40)
This one is a no-brainer. Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors are in outstanding form and will beat Orlando with little effort. There is no-one on the Magic roster that can do anything to stop Leonard.
One point of exposure will be the five spot. Serge Ibaka is an outstanding player but won’t be able to compete with the size of Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic averages 12 rebounds per game compared to Ibaka’s eight. Orlando will definitely out-rebound Toronto.
It is also worth mentioning how successful Orlando has been on the road this year. Unfortunately for the Magic, this won’t be enough to take on the Raptors.
Kyle Lowry will match-up with Darryl Gerard Augustin. This will be a brutal one. Lowry is a much better all-round basketball player than Augustin and will put this on display during the series.
I’m calling boldly: Raptors will take this one in four.
Philadelphia 76ers (51-31) vs Brooklyn Nets (42-40)
This is another series that will be highly affected by player health. Joel Embiid is questionable for Game 1 with a sore left knee. Embiid’s contribution to the 76ers cannot be overstated, so his absence would play a part in the approach the team takes in the series.
The Nets have two fierce guards, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who have carried the team into the play-off position.
All of this taken into account, Philadelphia has enough talent in Aussie Ben Simmonds, Jimmy Butler and Jonathan Reddick to defeat the Nets.
It would be a smart move to rest Embiid the first game or two in order to ensure he returns at full form, ready to go into play-off mode.
Assuming that Embiid sits the first game, this series will go to the 76ers in five.
Boston Celtics (49-33) vs Indiana Pacers (48-34)
This is an intriguing series considering the contrast between the two teams. On one side you have the Pacers, who are yet another team to have been bitten by the injury beast. They have had to play without star guard Victor Oladipo after he suffered a brutal knee injury.
Despite this setback, Indiana have demonstrated great chemistry since the incident, with key players stepping up in a big way to fill the void.
Myles Turner has led the terrific defensive show by the Pacers. On the offensive side Bojan Bogdavovic has supplemented Oladipo’s role by averaging 20 points per game in his absence.
The Celtics have a line-up overflowing with talent, but they haven’t been able to click thus far, leading to a somewhat disappointing regular season that didn’t reach expectations for the franchise.
Boston needs to learn to spread the ball and play unselfishly. Kyrie Irving, Jason Taytom and Gordan Hayword are all excellent isolation players but their independent raw talent will not be enough to compete with Indiana’s elite defence.
All things taken into account, the Pacers don’t have any offensive superstar to carry them through the series.
It is my prediction that it will be a relatively low-scoring series, with Irving and Taytom coming up clutch in crunch time, and the Celtics will taking the series in six games.