After a long 82 game season the NBA playoffs have finally arrived. Whether it has been the incredible performances by LeBron James basically willing his team to countless victories, “the Brow” Anthony Davis dominating without having his co-superstar Demarcus Cousins, Boston making the second seed despite losing both of their stars, or simply James Harden and the Rockets who have been playing on a completely different stratosphere. Simply put, it has been a great regular season with many unforgettable moments and this momentum will only continue into the playoffs. Before immersing yourself with all of the action, here’s the top storylines heading into this years playoffs.
If you have been paying any attention this year to the league then you know that this Rookie class is special. From the sensational playmaking by Ben Simmons, to the prolific scoring of Donavan Mitchell, this draft class has created stars that will dominate this league for years to come. The issue is that this talent has only been shown in the regular season. The fact is that Playoff Basketball is very different from Regular-Season Basketball. The game slows down, teams have ample opportunity to prepare for the matchup, and most importantly opposing teams will be game planning against these rookie phenoms. History tells us to go with the Veteran experience, but this year I think that the rookie talents of Ben Simmons, Donavan Mitchell and, and Jason Tatum may change the way we talk about rookies.
Due to the playoff series lasting for 7 games it is very rare for lower seeds to have a chance at making it past the first round. Yet this year has been very different with many lower seeds having the talent and the matchups that could push them past the first round. I truly believe that Indiana, New Orleans, and Milwaukee have great opportunities to beat their first round matchup to make it past the second round. Indiana under the leadership of Victor Oladipo has been able to climb to the 5th spot in the eastern conference. Their core of Oladipo, Turner, Sabonis, and Stephenson may not be the flashiest group, but they play very good defense, and can score effectively as well. Against a very limited Cavs team it is fair to say they have a chance. Now I know what you’re already saying about Antony Davis and his lackluster playoff performances. I understand this, but it is undeniable how great Antony Davis has been in the second half of the season. Leading the league in both points and blocks since the All-star break. A legitimate match-up nightmare that is sure to give Portland issues on the inside. Pair that with a veteran leader of Rondo, and few other role players you’re looking at tough playoff matchup for any team. Yet while both of these teams may have a chance I actually believe that the Bucks will beat the Celtics. Simply put, as great of a coach Brad Steven is, he is going to have a tough time beating a hungry Milwaukee team. With the help of players like Eric Bledsoe and Jabari Parker, I believe that the Greek freak can ultimately will his team to the second round. Don’t count these teams out, they just might surprise you.
Big 3’s or Big flops?
This past off-season we have seen multiple teams make strategic moves to hopefully contest for a championship. Two of the most notable moves were the trade of Jimmy Butler to the T-wolves, and the trades that brought Carmelo Anthony and Paul George to OKC. This was an experiment through and through to see if these acquisitions could help the respective franchises attain a tittle. Yet, things have not gone as according to plan for both teams. For OKC despite gaining two great offensive weapons, they have only improved 1 game from the previous season. For the T-wolves, they almost missed the Playoff and had to win they 82nd game against Denver to clinch the final spot. Despite this there is still a chance that both of these teams can make deep runs in the playoffs. While they have been inconsistent OKC has proven they can beat anybody in the league. When the offense is clicking there are few teams that can stop Russell and Company. Furthermore, the thunder have been playing solid team defense throughout the season, which is sure to disrupt many of the offensively focused teams in the west. Also, Minnesota while having issues defensively can create a lot of match-up problems with their -2 punch of Towns and Butler. Furthermore Butler is back and still has the ability to defend the best player on the other team. These playoffs will be the ultimate test of whether these teams have made the right moves or whether they need to start from scratch.
Number 1 seeds with a chip.
In most sports being the no1 seed would generally mean that you would be considered having the best chance at winning the championship trophy. Yet, in the NBA the no1 seeds of both conferences are not even expected to not make the finals. The majority of fans and experts still expect the Warriors and the Cavs to represent their respective conference in the finals. For the rockets its due to the fact that James Harden, and Head coach Mike D’hantoni have both had major breakdown in the post season within their career. Evan Chris Paul has yet to even makes a conference finals. For Toronto, their seems to be a stigma that LeBron is going to find a way to beat this team like he has done for the last two years. These stigma persist despite the fact that both teams have had phenomenal seasons. Both teams play great offensive and defensive basketball, both teams are well coached, and both teams have a lot of depth on their roster. All I’m saying is that it will be interesting to see if Houston and Toronto are finally able to prove everyone wrong, or if they will fit the narrative that has already been made for them.
Business as usual?
The last storyline is more of a question on the legitimacy of the two “favorites” reaching the finals (Cavs and Warriors respectively). These two Juggernauts have played in the finals for the last three years and for many Basketball fans it doe not look like many things will change. On the surface it appears like it will be “Business as usual with LeBron James posting MVP like numbers at Year 15 and with Golden State maintaining the second seed despite having injuries problems throughout the regular season. Yet, not everything is right with this picture. For the Warriors, they have to start the Playoffs without Steph Curry and depending how bad the injury is, it could affect many aspects of his game. Furthermore, the Warriors defense has been abysmal this season recording only the 18th best defense in the league and the 25th best transition defense in the league. Issues like this cannot be ignored and will plague them against offensively gifted teams like Portland, Houston, or OKC For the Cavs the trades made to create this new team has been dismal to say the least. Despite his heroic effort, LeBron was only able to will his team to the 4th best record in the east. It can even be argued that this is the worst team that he has had since his first departure from Cleveland in 2010. There is only so much LeBron can do and it is going to be up to the role players to step up if they want a chance at making the finals. While there is still a great chance that we will see both of these teams in the finals I can guarantee you that it will be not as easy as it has been the last 3 years and it will not simply be “Business as usual.”