Mar 21, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (24) is stripped of the ball by Chicago Bulls forward Joakim Noah (13) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Chicago 91-79. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Playoff Bracket Predictions: Eastern Conference

It is a long ways off but already predictions for the NBA playoffs are becoming clearer.  How could the Eastern Conference play out?

STANDINGS:

#1 – Chicago Bulls

#2 – Cleveland Cavaliers

#3 – Washington Wizards

#4 – Miami Heat

#5 – Charlotte Hornets

#6 – Toronto Raptors

#7 – Atlanta Hawks

#8 – Indiana Pacers

QUARTERFINALS:

#1 Chicago vs. #8 Indiana

An old interdivisional rivalry that stretches back decades.  It is always a war when the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers meet but in this case the Bulls’ improved offense led by Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol will tell the tale of two of the best defensive teams in the NBA.  The Pacers’ loss of Lance Stephenson becomes very pronounced here.

Result:  Bulls in 6

#2 Cleveland vs. #7 Atlanta

LeBron James begins his quest to finish what he couldn’t four years ago by getting the Cleveland Cavaliers over the hump to a title.  Getting past Al Horford, Paul Millsap and the scrappy Atlanta Hawks will be a tough opening step.  The Cavs will triumph, but not nearly in so neat a fashion as expected.

Result:  Cavs in 6

#3 Washington vs. #6 Toronto

One of the bigger revelations of the NBA playoffs last season was the Washington Wizards, led by star duo John Wall and Bradley Beal.  They, along with the returning Marcin Gortat will have to navigate a deceptively decent Toronto Raptors squad featuring scorer DeMar DeRozan and resurgent point guard Kyle Lowry.  In the end the more talented Wizards should have their way.

Result:  Wizards in 5

#4 Miami vs. #5 Charlotte

How does one defend a Conference crown when you lose your best player?  That is the task ahead for the Miami Heat this NBA season.  Still, thanks to some heady free agency moves by team president Pat Riley that include additions of Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts make the Heat a solid team.  However, the Charlotte Hornets are a rising team as well with young Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, big man Al Jefferson and now the addition of Lance Stephenson.  This could become the series of the first round

Result:  Heat in 7

SEMIFINALS:

#1 Chicago vs. #4 Miami

Joakim Noah said he believes LeBron James is still the primary obstacle to the Bulls winning a championship.  That belief will be tested when they meet Miami in the second round, a team that has ousted Chicago twice the past four seasons.  Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will put up a fight, with help from Deng but the Bulls will prove too much with their younger, deeper roster.

Result:  Bulls in 5

#2 Cleveland vs. #3 Washington

The basis of this NBA tilt will depend heavily on how the Cavaliers look roster-wise.  If they do as many expect and trade for Kevin Love, ironically the Wizards could pose a greater challenge.  That is because for all the great things he does, Love may leave Cleveland vulnerable on defense, which is not a good things against Wall and Beal who averaged 36 points per game together last season.  Without Love?  Rookie Andrew Wiggins will help the defense but leave more on the plate offensively for James and Kyrie Irving.

Result:  Cavs in 7

CONFERENCE FINALS:

#1 Chicago vs. #2 Cleveland

The matchup everybody expects and wants to see.  LeBron James and his hometown Cavaliers facing a Bulls team that has given him fits for years and finally seeming to have the offensive firepower to match him.  As always the health of Derrick Rose will prove paramount here but if he is, then no matter how good James plays it may end up being the playoff seasoning and years of disappointment that puts Chicago on top in this series.

Result:  Bulls in 6

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Tags: Cleveland Cavaliers Derrick Rose Joakim Noah John Wall LeBron James Luol Deng Nba

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