We did it, everyone. We collectively made it through the 2017-18 regular season. There were some surprises and some expected outcomes. One theme stayed present this season as the seasons that came before it; the NBA is poetic chaos.
So, that brings us to the playoffs. A new season within the season, as coaches and players around the league like to refer to it.
After the All-Star break, each conference experienced tight playoff races. In the East, most of the teams battled for position, while the field of eight was generally decided for the better part of the last month. Out West, however, the last playoff spot wasn’t able to be decided even in the final regulated minutes of the season. The Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves needed overtime to decide who would face Houston in the first round.
Better luck next year to Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets.
That leaves 16 teams and still a league’s worth of fans. Whether your squad made it to the great tournament or not, there’s still value in the entertainment that’s about to ensue.
Even further, you can spice up your watching experience by tossing some of your hard earned money into the equation and hope you come out with more than you wagered on the other side.
Whether you want to bet on the Timberwolves to upset the Rockets in Game 1, or the chances that Ben Simmons records a triple-double in his first playoff game.
But if you’re not the betting type, and still want to join in on the postseason fun regardless, let’s outline some of the hot topics heading into this weekend and beyond.
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Portland Trail Blazers
The Brow is back in the playoffs.
After the Pels lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles, Anthony Davis played his best rendition of the league’s MVP and carried a team many thought was dead in the water when they lost their second All-Star.
This 3-seed vs. 6-seed matchup has a punch packed to it that we aren’t necessarily used to seeing. In fact, most of the middle standing West matchups do. The difference in games won between 3-seed Portland and 8-seed Minnesota is two.
With Damian Lillard also competing at an MVP-caliber level and the sharpshooting of C.J. McCollum, the Blazers will be a tough team to stop four times in seven games, especially for the defensively challenged Pelicans.
But when you get a series that features two of the league’s top-five MVP candidates, that’s must-see television.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors
Normally, a first round Golden State series would be an easy pick for a clean sweep given their run of dominance over the last four years.
But if we’ve learned anything about this season, it’s that nothing is normal.
Here we get the Spurs as a 7-seed with a win total they haven’t been accustomed to since Independence Day was dominating the box office. For the first time since 1996-97, the Spurs failed to win 50 games.
So, why would they be a threat to the Warriors?
Well, for one, they managed 47 victories with Kawhi Leonard suiting up for just nine games this season. Oh, and they have Gregg Popovich, arguably the best coach in basketball history. They’re not walking into this matchup thinking it’s already over.
Over in the Bay Area, the defending champs are without their unanimous MVP for the entire first round. Steph Curry is still sidelined with a sprained MCL, and while the Warriors still have the likes of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, their offensive efficiency takes a noticeable dip when their chef isn’t in the kitchen.
I’m not predicting that the Spurs are going to pull the upset none of us saw coming at the beginning of the season, but this series is going to be more of a grind than anyone previously anticipated.
Miami HEAT vs. Philadelphia 76ers
The Process is finally looking for results.
A 52-win season sends the Philadelphia 76ers into a first round matchup with the Miami HEAT. On the back of 16 straight wins, the Sixers are must-watch basketball. But, they’re without their All-Star big man Joel Embiid, who is still recovering from a fractured eye socket, for the first game.
That means the battle between Embiid and Miami center Hassan Whiteside both on the court and on Twitter will be on hold until at least Monday.
What the Sixers have in excitement though, they lack in experience. Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric and Embiid are all dipping their toes into the playoff waters for the first time. While the likes of J.J. Redick, Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli are all battle-tested in the postseason, they may not be able to make up for the big stage jitters should the younger players play out of character.
On the flip side, the HEAT have a wealth of experience.
Erik Spoelstra has won multiple NBA titles. Dwyane Wade is back in the fold. The entire HEAT roster is comprised of veterans who know their roles within the team and what it takes to succeed in the postseason. They aren’t as flashy as the Sixers, and they don’t necessarily have the “star” power like Philadelphia, but they’re as cohesive a unit as you will find in this postseason landscape.
The NBA’s new “it” team may come into the postseason on a hot streak, but Miami has the leadership to make this series dogfight as early as Saturday night. Mark this down on your calendar as one of the must-see matchups in the first round.
These are just some of the hot storylines heading into the postseason, and many more will surely pop up as we get deeper into the games. As for now, buckle up and enjoy the ride. Postseason chaos is here.
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