The Atlanta Hawks–this season’s grand surprise in the NBA’s Eastern Conference–no longer surprise except perhaps in the way they’ve faltered just a bit down the stretch run. (6-4 in their last 10.) A little letdown was to be expected, probably: last year the Hawks won 38 games; this year they could win 60. The Cavaliers–heard of them?–didn’t surprise anybody either, except maybe by the way LeBron James and company faltered just a bit at the start of the season–before turning into a winning machine. The two East favorites enter the playoffs at #1 and #2.
But it won’t be a glide after the first round for anybody. The East may not have the West’s parity or talent, but the Raptors and Wizards are strong competitors and the Chicago Bulls have a legit chance to emerge as the Eastern Conference champs. The Thibodeau-coached Bulls are going to play defense and if chemistry can be manufactured on what finally seems like an injury-free roster, Chicago could give anybody trouble. Chicago ripped Cleveland by 15 in February and lost a close one (99-94) on April 5. Hawks at Chicago is also a game to watch–Atlanta won both head-to-heads so far.