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Who’s playing the best basketball in the East heading into the second round?
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Tas Melas: Pretty tough to give this title to either the Bucks or Celtics because of their first round opponent. Actually, kinda hard to give it to the Raptors or 76ers either. I'm waving the white flag on this one.
Shaun Powell: It's hard to tell because of the lack of competition; the 5-through-8 seeds were all flawed and none won a home game. That said, let's give this to the Celtics, who needed a friction-free first round and they got it. With Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward -- both missing last spring -- delivering solid performances, this was finally the Celtics team we originally expected to see. But Boston's problem all year is consistency and wild mood swings. Let's see what this round brings.
John Schuhmann: The Bucks remain the best team in the East, but it's difficult to take much out of a series against an 8 seed that was missing its best players for two of the four games. Toronto's dispatching of the Orlando Magic was more noteworthy in that the Raptors looked like the defensive force that we thought they could be when they added Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and, eventually, Marc Gasol to a team that ranked fifth defensively last year. In winning four straight playoff games for the first time in franchise history, the Raps allowed Orlando to score just 93 points per 100 possessions. If they have all these great defenders on the same page, the Raptors are really freaking good.
Sekou Smith: I know this could come back to bite me in the coming days, but the Celtics suddenly resemble the team we thought they'd be in the preseason, when we were all picking them as the crew most likely to upset the Golden State Warriors in their bid for a third straight title run. They played the most difficult (on paper, at least) opponent in the first round and handled the Pacers. Their quality of depth, the superpower that was supposed to propel them to the top of the standings this season) has finally come into focus now. The reason so many of us refused to jump off the Celtics' bandwagon during the regular season was because we knew they were capable of playing the way they did in the first round. Now all they have to do is do it again while facing the best team in the league all season. We've all been pointing to the Eastern Conference semifinals for months. We knew what the possibilities were, if everyone stayed true to the game, to their specific missions. And now it's here, staring us all in the face.
Steve Aschburner: Milwaukee. I can’t make a case against the Bucks’ level of play, anyway, even though they had the least formidable of the first-round foes. They still miss Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic hasn’t found his rhythm yet after his thumb injury, and a series could quickly turn on Giannis Antetokounmpo getting into (offensive) foul trouble for a game or two. Toronto seems pretty well-oiled these days in depth and performance, Philadelphia might have the highest capacity to blow out opponents and Boston is finding itself at the right time. But yes, in the moment, as a snapshot, the answer here is Bucks.
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