In the NBA’s Eastern Conference, the first round of the 2020 postseason has already come and gone. The matchups looked extremely lopsided in Round 1 and the games weren’t particularly close. Outside of the Orlando Magic stealing one game from the Milwaukee Bucks, no other lower-seeded team even won a game.
This just means that the East was top-heavy, which isn’t surprising based on how the regular season shook out. This also means that both of the second-round matchups should be extremely competitive and fun to watch.
Let’s dive into both of these pairings. Our preview of the Western Conference’s second round will be published when those games are set.
1 Milwaukee Bucks (56-17)
5 Miami Heat (44-29)
The Milwaukee Bucks came out of the gate slow, losing game one of their first-round series against the Orlando Magic. From there, they would go on to win four straight by a combined 58 points. This series wasn’t expected to be particularly close but the Bucks for the most part looked like the team we all expected them to be.
They will now matchup with the Miami Heat, who swept the Indiana Pacers in their own first-round matchup. The Heat won each of their first round games by at least nine points and looked unstoppable in the fourth quarters. In the regular season, these teams played three times, Miami taking two of them to win the regular season series.
When it comes to teams best equipped to take on the Bucks, who had the best record in the NBA this season, there is none better than the Heat. Behind their defensive anchor in Bam Adebayo, who will be expected to slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo, Miami has a real shot at making this series interesting.
Jimmy Butler will also be a player to watch for the Heat, especially considering he only suited up in one of the three regular season matchups against the Bucks. Goran Dragic led Miami in scoring in the first round of the playoffs, averaging 22.8 points, 5.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game while shooting .414 from deep.
NBA All-Star Khris Middleton will be key for the Bucks to continue their playoff run as one of the favorites to win a title this season. In their first-round series, Middleton struggled tremendously, averaging just 15.0 points per game and shooting .361 from the floor. Antetokounmpo, who averaged 30.6 points and 16.0 rebounds per game, will need guys like Middleton to step up and help out in this upcoming series if they want to have success. Additionally, a league-worst 16.6 turnovers per game in the playoffs thus far for the Bucks is something else they will need to clean up.
Both teams heavily rely on three-point shooting. In the playoffs thus far, these teams combine for 74.5 attempts per game and both have shot over .380 from beyond the arc. Overall, Milwaukee should be a relatively heavy favorite in this series but don’t be surprised if Miami gives them a run for their money with how well they have played recently.
2 Toronto Raptors (53-19)
3. Boston Celtics (48-24)
Both the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics swept their first-round opponents, making their second-round matchup extremely interesting. The Raptors showed no mercy against the Brooklyn Nets, winning the series by a combined 82 points. The Celtics series wasn’t as much of a blowout but that was largely due to them matching up against a more solid Philadelphia 76ers team. Regardless, these teams finished the regular season just five games apart in the standings and will be very evenly matched.
When it came to the regular season, Boston took care of business against Toronto, winning the season series 3-1. With that in mind, the playoffs are a completely different stage and the Raptors will look to make adjustments and ensure the Celtics don’t have similar success in the playoffs.
A few matchups stick out initially when it comes to these two teams, one of which is Jayson Tatum and Pascal Siakam. Both are young, long wings that led their teams in scoring during the regular season. Point guard play will also be something to watch, as Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry are both veteran floor generals who will look to keep their respective offenses running smoothly. Although Lowry struggled a bit in the first round, producing just 12.5 points on .368 shooting from the floor, he could be a key piece and bounce back in this series.
Highly productive bench play will also be crucial in this matchup. Through the first round, the Toronto bench has been the best of anyone in the playoffs, averaging 56.5 points per game. A good chunk of this production comes from Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell, who together produced 36.8 points per game in the first round. On the flip side, Boston’s bench through their four playoff games has only averaged 20.0 points per contest, which is the worst of any team still remaining in the playoffs. With the absence of Gordon Hayward, someone on the Celtics’ bench will need to step up and score the ball.
In what could easily be a seven-game series, the Boston Celtics came out hot in the first game of this series, winning 112-94 and taking a quick 1-0 lead. It was a poor shooting night from Fred VanVleet, who will look to turn things around in Game 2 as one of Toronto’s most important offensive pieces.
Nick Crain is a contributor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter.