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2022 NBA playoffs: Best bets for Eastern Conference first round

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Welcome to my preview of the first round of the postseason in the Eastern Conference. Below are full previews of each series and picks for how I believe those will play out. Throughout the postseason you can find all the NBA coverage you need here and on The Edge (1 p.m. PT / 4 p.m. ET) daily.

#1 Miami Heat (-370) vs #8 Atlanta Hawks (+ 300)

Miami might be one of the most disrespected No. 1 seeds in NBA history to some, but they do have a legitimately challenging opponent to open the postseason in Atlanta. A year after making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals the Hawks had to fight their way into the playoffs with impressive victories over the Hornets and Cavaliers in the play-in tournament. The team is here now though and this sets up this series to be one of the best matchups between a No. 1 and No. 8 seed in recent memory.

The most intriguing aspect of this series is going to be Miami’s defense against Atlanta’s offense. The Hawks ended the regular season second in overall offensive efficiency in non-garbage time minutes (116.3) and much of that is due to Trae Young. With Young on the floor the Hawks averaged 119.3 points per 100 possessions this season, and his brilliance was on display in the two play-in games as he dropped a combined 62 points to lead Atlanta to South Beach. Young is a mismatch hunter and that will not change in this series against Miami which means Max Strus will be the target for Atlanta’s offense. Strus has done a great job in taking the starting shooting guard spot down the stretch, and he is by no means a poor defender, but in a lineup with Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo he is easily the link in the chain to go after. With Strus on the floor the Heat allowed 2.4 points more per 100 possessions and 2.2 more points per 100 plays in halfcourt settings in the regular season. That matchup is going to be key in Miami potentially containing the league’s best halfcourt offense. The Hawks are dangerous in transition as well which is something the Heat learned the hard way when it allowed 1.875 points per play in the break on April 8 when they beat this team 113-109 at home.

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