Sam’s Rams: Way-too-early NBA predictions – Eastern Conference

Sam Lounsberry

Instead of playoff baseball, the NFL or college football, it is time to start talking hoops.

It might seem soon, but writing about the CSU women’s basketball team earlier this week just got me a little excited. With the birth of a new NBA season less than two weeks away, it’s obviously time for a way-too-early NBA Finals prediction.

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I’ll predict which four teams will reach the conference finals, and the two teams I think will advance to the Finals. Let’s start with the East, since it’s way easier. Look for my prediction on the incredibly more complex Western Conference next week.
 
Only one thing will change from last year, and that will simply be who Cleveland plays in the Eastern Conference Finals.
 
Kevin Love will hopefully be healthy past the first round of the playoffs, ensuring that Lebron James has more help than he had last year on his journey to the conference championship.
 
There’s simply no stopping this team led by the greatest player of a generation while he is still in his prime. After three games of the Finals last year, it looked like James was about to add another ring to his collection, and that was after Kyrie Irving had already been ruled out for the series. He was by himself in the Finals, and yet the only thing that stopped him was himself. He just ran out of gas trying to do everything, which is unlikely to happen again this year.
 
Not sure what will happen once the Cavs reach the Finals, but they will definitely be back. They added a veteran who can play tough defense, spot up and finish on the break by signing Richard Jefferson, who can also anchor a second unit. Jefferson is added to a team with everyone back from last year’s squad that steamrolled the second half of the season all the way up until the Finals.
 
The other top team in the East will be the Milwaukee Bucks. While they will have no chance at beating Lebron and the Cavs in a best-of-seven series, the Bucks will be fun to watch all year long, and will emerge as the top contender to the Cavs, ahead of Washington, Miami and Chicago.
 
Milwaukee’s acquisitions of Greg Monroe and Greivis Vasquez this summer add veteran talent onto an already insanely young, long, athletic team – one which Monroe’s low-post versatility fits into perfectly. This team made the playoffs with a less talented team last year, and played close games with the Bulls in the first round.
 
That was without their No. 2 overall draft choice Jabari Parker. Parker will hopefully bounce back and be healthy enough to prove his worth this year. The Chicago kid can flat score. I see his game panning out like a left-handed Carmelo Anthony.
 
But instead of being coached by Derek Fisher on the poorly-run Knicks, Parker has Jason Kidd, whose short coaching career looks to be building toward something impressive. Ever since he turned around the Nets to make the playoffs after an abysmal start in his first season as a head coach in Brooklyn, the former triple-double machine has been one of the better retired All-Stars to try his luck as a head coach. Last year, he made it apparent he knew what he was doing on the sideline as he guided a young team to the playoffs.
 
The Bucks’ first-round draft choice, last year’s Mountain West Freshman of the Year Rashad Vaughn, should be able to contribute scoring from the perimeter, which the Bucks lacked at times last year. The Bucks attempted the fifth-fewest treys on the year, per ESPN.com. Vaughn notched 20 points in a preseason game against the Bulls last week, going 3-for-6 from deep.
 
Oh, and the Bucks have the ever-evolving Giannis Antetokounmpo, better known as the Greek Freak. The third-year rising star is key to the Bucks’ season. Expect the 20-year-old to have a breakout year. Yes, he got the league’s attention last season, but just watch what he does this time.
 
If he ever realizes his full offensive potential, this guy could be just as good as Kevin Durant. His build is the same, and so is his athleticism. But reaching that level requires his jump shot to become respectable at the very least. Antetokounmpo said he’s been working on a heightening his shot’s release this summer in an NBA.com article.
 
The Bucks will be fast, young, rested and hungry by the time the playoffs are here. With tricky guards Michael Carter-Williams and Vasquez running the show and feeding Parker, Antetokounmpo and the crafty Monroe in the post, Milwaukee has a lot of offensive weapons to support its defensive versatility. These pieces can play tenacious enough defense to get out on the break and use their youth as an advantage. The Bucks will be able to stave off the East’s other contenders, namely the Wizards, Bulls and Heat.
 
Check back next week when I break down the West in another way-too-early prediction.
 
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @samlounz.