The NBA Playoffs are around the corner and its must see TV! 2019 Playoff preview
The National Basketball Association playoffs is a knockout style tournament featuring the top 8 teams from each of the 2 conferences. Each round is decided by a thorough best-of-seven series culminating in a scintillating clash between the top team from each conference in the NBA FINALS.
Despite being the most complete, action-packed, fan responsive league in the world the NBA is still criminally underwatched in India. Part of this can be attributed to the national obsession with cricket and football but more so to the fact that most matches happen in the wee hours of the morning.
With LeBron James choosing to sign with the Lakers we will finally see a new matchup for the finals after 4 years of Warriors vs Cavs. Though still the favorites, last years playoffs erased the veneer of invincibility the Warriors had. With the Cavaliers relegated to irrelevancy, there is now an arms race in the East to take their spot atop the conference.
The NBA playoffs start this April 13th and its shaping up to be the most exciting one in years. Here's why.
For many years now the eastern conference has been significantly less interesting than the west, with LeBron James dominating it for what seems like a decade now. Now that King James has moved to the west after a historic 8 straight conference championships, the east is wide open. What makes it even more interesting this season is the fact there are 4 teams with a very real chance of making it through. (Apologies to any Pacers fans)
Led by the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo who is having an MVP caliber season, the Bucks will end this season with the best record in the NBA. They are also the best defensive team in the league which always bodes well for a playoff run. They have a solid supporting cast courtesy Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez and an injured Malcolm Brogdon who should be back by the second round.
The doubts about the Bucks lie in their poor playoff record, not having made it past the first round since 2001. But, they have a vastly superior team this year with Giannis showing real signs of soon taking the mantle of “best player in the NBA” and it would be a mistake to overlook them.
*A possible second-round matchup with the Celtics who eliminated them last year is one fixture to watch out for.
Brad Stevens’s Celtics shocked the world last year when they made it to the conference finals and pushed LeBron to a game 7 sans their two best players. With Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving added to their young core from last year they were expected to be red hot favorites in the east and the biggest threat to the Warriors.
Things haven’t worked out quite so well. Hayward just hasn’t been the same in his comeback from injury. Kyries, on the other hand, is still playing at an elite level but he is believed to be a big part of friction that existed in the team. That friction has been clearly visible on the court many times this season. They have had a rocky season but have resurgent towards the end of the season. Make no mistake about it, if the Celtics can put the drama of the regular season behind them and play up to their potential they will be serious contenders to win the East.
As a result of two midseason trades, the 76ers now have the second best starting lineup in the league. Led by fringe MVP candidate Joel "The Process" Embid their squad has three other All-Star level players in Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris with 3 Point sniper JJ Reddick rounding it up.
However, trading for two star players does come with its costs. Their bench strength leaves a lot to be desired, with 7 foot 3 fan favorite Boban Marjanovic being the most notable among them. Having only played half a season together, whether their star-studded cast has fully adjusted to their roles remains to be seen. Their biggest threat could come from the Celtics who eliminated them last year and beat them 3 out of 4 times this season.
*Midway through the season the 76ers effectively gave up on Markelle Fultz the number one pick in the 2017 draft and traded him to the Orlando Magic.
The Raptors had their best regular season in franchise history last year and had the number one seed in the east, yet in familiar fashion, they were bounced out by the LeBron led Cavaliers. This led to them firing their head coach and trading away franchise player DeMar DeRozan.
The solid under the radar season they’ve had this year, locking up the second seed despite star players Leonard and Lowry missing significant time is a testament to the loaded bench they have. Pascal Siakam has taken a significant step forward in their absence and is a front runner for “Most Improved Player”.
With a bonafide superstar and former finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard now on their squad, the Raptors seem primed to take that next step however Kyle Lowry who is known to underperform in the postseason will have to be at his best for them to be legit contenders.
*How well the Raptors do will influence Kawhi’s decision on where to sign when he’s a free agent this summer and that will have an impact on the league for years to come.
Historically the west has always been the stronger conference, so much so that over the last 20 years 14 times its been a team from the west that has taken home the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy. Ever since the Warriors added Kevin Durant to their 73 win team there has been a sense of inevitability about who would win the Championship. However, their lackluster bench has many pundits saying that they’re more vulnerable now than they have been for years. Realistically there is only one team that can stop them, the Houston Rockets.
How LeBron James and his young Lakers would fare was also an interesting storyline going into the season. James suffered the longest injury in his career, 5 weeks with a groin injury. Injuries continued to haunt them with Rajon Rondo, Lonzo Ball, and Brandon Ingram all going down with injuries. The Lakers are now well out of the playoff contention and they have shut down James for the rest of the season. With just 3 years remaining in LeBron's contract the Lakers will be desperate to sign a top-tier free agent this summer.
Golden State Warriors
After acquiring DeMarcus Cousins, the defending champs now have a squad with an unprecedented 5 All-Stars. They are the overwhelming favorites to win it again this year which would give them a staggering 4 championships in 5 years. Yet they are not invincible. Draymond Green appears to be a step slower, and Cousins has proven to be a liability on the defensive end. To add to that there has been visible tension surrounding the team this year over Durant’s pending free agency and the grind of making it to 4 straight finals must be taking a toll, even on these elite athletes. Also, their deep bench once perfectly encapsulated by their "Strength in Numbers" motto is a thing of the past.
The warriors completing their 3-peat would further solidify their status as one of the greatest teams ever assembled. With the likes of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson suiting up for them it would take a brave man to bet against them.
Last year the Rockets won 65 games and were a Chris Paul injury away from upsetting the Warriors. The loss of some key defensive pieces in the offseason, and injuries to CP3 and Clint Capela gave them a terrible start to the season. What reigning MVP James Harden has done since then can only be described as Jordanesque.
He’s had 9 games with 50+ points and is averaging 36 ppg over the season breaking multiple records along the way. With the team now at full strength, they seem to have regained their swagger and are ready to give the Warriors a run for their money. If Harden can sustain this form into the playoffs anything is possible.
The Dark Horses- Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder
Led by one of the best passing big men in history and a fringe MVP candidate in Nikola Jokic the Nuggets have been jostling with Golden State for the top spot in the west all season long. They can also boast of one of the deepest benches in the league. Yet, it's hard seeing this group who have almost zero playoff experience upsetting perennial contenders like the Rockets or the Warriors.
Unlike the other teams here OKC will only sneak into the playoffs as one of the lower seeds. There are two reasons they’ve made it to this list Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Former MVP Westbrook is on the verge of completing a third successive season averaging a triple-double, and PG is having the best season of his career. Both of them will have to be near perfect and they will need significant contributions from the supporting cast for them to stand any chance of making it deep into the playoffs.
Finals Prediction- Golden State Warriors Vs Philadelphia 76ers with GSW winning it in 6 games.