The NBA Playoffs are set to begin this week, and although most matchups can be pretty predictable - especially in the first round - there's never a year where everything goes exactly according to plan. Will this year be any different?
There are a couple factors in play when looking at what teams should be most on alert heading into the NBA's first round. For starters, the obvious, there's little parity between the top seeds and the teams that snuck into the playoffs. (Not that that's anything new from year's past.) The No. 1 seed Boston Celtics won 12 more games than No. 8 Chicago, and the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors won 26 more games than No. 8 Portland.
When you get to the lower-seeded matchups, however, it's much easier to fathom that a few No. 3 or No. 4 seeds may not see the light of day past the first round. But who should be most on high alert?
Let's look through the four opening round playoff matchups in the Eastern Conference and rank the higher-seeded teams' upset alert factor out of 10.
No. 1 Boston Celtics v. No. 8 Chicago Bulls
It's not just that the Celtics have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA over the last two months, it's the fact that the Bulls just aren't built like a well-rounded playoff team able to take down an evenly-matched opponent, let alone Goliath.
While the Bulls did manage to split their season series with the C's, a series that included a 104-103 thriller Chicago pulled out behind 29 from Jimmy Butler on Feb. 16, it's hard to believe Isaiah Thomas and Co. will allow this to go past five games. Upset Alert: 2/10
No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers v. No. 7 Indiana Pacers
There's a lot going on with the Cavs that might make them an easy pick for a team to be on upset watch. After finishing the 2016-17 season on one of the worst stretches of LeBron James' career, it's tough to look at Cleveland and see them as the same formidable group that took down Golden State in last year's Finals.
But for all of Cleveland's struggles, the Pacers' options pretty much end after Paul George and a still surprisingly strong Myles Turner. Even if Lance Stephenson can manage to be a pest in LeBron's ear once again, this could be a very short series if Cleveland starts looking like a complete team again. Upset Alert: 3/10
No. 3 Toronto Raptors v. No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks
This could wind up being the most interesting first round matchup in the entire playoffs. On the one hand you have a Toronto club still hoping they have enough firepower to make the next step past the conference's elite. And, even with Kyle Lowry still finding his groove after injury, the Raptors have one of the deepest lineups in the league and have been red hot since the All-Star Break.
On the other hand you have a Milwaukee team that's capable of putting a real scare into any team thanks alone to the pure talent and athleticism from Giannis Antetokounmpo. On that note, there is a strong chance the Bucks get exposed as an over-performing team relying too heavily on its young stars. But don't be surprised if this series gets scary quick for the Raptors if the Bucks snatch an early win on the road. Upset Alert: 6/10
No. 4 Washington Wizards v. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks
There is a big part of me that feels like the Wizards, matched up against the 43-win Hawks, will have an easier time against Atlanta than Toronto will against the Bucks. The Hawks are a solid, fairly deep team with weapons like Dwight Howard and Al Horford backing up their younger playmakers. They also underperformed and bricked their way though a 2016-17 season that gave them ample opportunity to make a run for the conference's elite.
The upside for Atlanta is that Washington isn't looking quite as strong as they have been throughout the season heading into the playoffs, going 8-9 since an 125-124 OT win over Portland on March 12. Still, the Hawks dropped their season series against Washington 3-1, only winning the first matchup back on Oct. 27. They'll have to figure out a lot to turn their upset bid into reality. Upset Alert: 6/10