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Biggest storylines to watch this NBA playoffs

By MATTHEW RITCHIE | April 19, 2018

KEITH ALLISON/CC BY-SA 2.0 Giannis Antetokounmpo looks to lead his Bucks team to playoff upsets.

The greatest time in the sports universe has finally returned: the NBA playoffs. No longer do we have to suffer through the awful NFL offseason fodder about the broken NFL draft and its skewed morals that permeate the sports world. No more do we have to pretend that we care about the NHL playoffs. The pinnacle of the sports world is back. 

The NBA regular season provided us with memorable moments all year long that broke the internet and captured our attention, such as Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James continuing to be unequivocally the best player in the game, even in his 15th season; Houston Rockets guard James Harden sending a Los Angeles Clippers player to his metaphorical basketball grave with a lethal step-back jumper; and top overall pick guard Markelle Fultz injuring his shoulder, forgetting how to shoot the ball and missing nearly the entire season.

But like I said, the most exciting couple of months have returned, with the NBA postseason taking the best talent in the League and putting it right in the middle of the media spotlight. This postseason is shaping up to be the most exciting in recent years, as the distribution of talent throughout the League creates a level of parity that produces intriguing matchups.  

In the Eastern Conference, every storyline is based around the entire Conference’s chances to dethrone the King, LeBron James. As previously mentioned, LeBron is in his 15th season and is performing at a level previously unseen from a player at his age or tenure in the League. He logged the highest number of minutes of any player in the NBA and ranked within the top three in both scoring per game and assists per game. He has had an MVP-caliber season, surpassing anyone’s expectations for how anyone should perform at his age.

However, his team may be one of the weakest that he has been on since the 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers team that was made up of LeBron and a bunch of mailmen and air conditioning repairmen. The team experienced an upheaval in the middle of the season and is still trying to figure out its identity amid its youth. 

It is apparent that James will once again have to carry his team through the playoffs and shoulder the load if they have any chance of making it to the Finals once again. 

This weak Cavs squad, which finished fourth in their Conference, the lowest LeBron has finished since his first stint with the Cavaliers, has opened the door for other top teams to attempt to dethrone LeBron and make it to the Finals. 

The Toronto Raptors, the number one seed in the Conference, will be looking to establish themselves as a legitimate power. Their high-powered backcourt of guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan has displayed brilliance in the regular season but has been prone to going ghost in the playoffs. They should be able to dismantle the Washington Wizards, who limped into the playoffs losing 14 of their last 21 regular season games. 

The Boston Celtics have survived much of the season without their two biggest stars, forward Gordon Hayward and guard Kyrie Irving. They leaned on the talented youth presence of forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, as well as guard Terry Rozier. They created an offense built on three-point shooting that has been able to flourish without having big name stars. 

It will be interesting to see how they will combat the Milwaukee Bucks with forward Giannis Antetokounmpo once again improving the best season of his young career. The supporting cast behind him was led by forward Khris Middleton, who averaged a career best in points per game. He was crucial to the Bucks’ strong finish in the regular season. In the last month, they had the third best offensive rating in the League. 

Possibly the most exciting team in the Eastern Conference is the Philadelphia 76ers. After years of “Trusting the Process,” the 76ers now have an electric team that stormed into the postseason winning 16 games in a row. While star center Joel Embiid is out with an orbital fracture, potential Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons, who has nearly averaged a triple-double during the win streak, and the rest of the young core should be an exciting team to watch in this first round.

It will be interesting to see how the youth-filled roster takes on the veteran leadership and coaching of the Miami Heat, who led the NBA with nine double-digit scorers.

The Western Conference is spearheaded by the Houston Rockets, who have taken the League by storm with the most efficient offense, a top-10 defense and the presumptive MVP James Harden. In combination with All-NBA point guard Chris Paul, Harden and the Rockets have established themselves as the premier team in the West.

“This postseason serves as the proving grounds for the Oklahoma City Thunder.”

The Minnesota Timberwolves will look to contest the best team in the League. This will be hard to do without guard Jimmy Butler at full strength, as they almost missed the playoffs with him. 

The Golden State Warriors enter the playoffs without their most important player, guard Steph Curry, available for at least the first round of the postseason. 

They will have to lean on the strength of their three other All-Stars, but they shouldn’t have much of a problem against the underperforming San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have been without former Finals MVP forward Kawhi Leonard for all but nine games this season and barely made the playoffs because of it. 

For the Portland Trailblazers, they are no longer only carried by the superstar guard combo of Damian Lillard and C. J. McCollum. They have been provided with consistent depth in the form of center Jusuf Nurkić and forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who have led the Blazers to the eighth most efficient defense. 

They’ll have their hands full trying to stop Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who has played out of his mind since center DeMarcus Cousins went down with a torn Achilles tendon. New Orleans will look to Davis to carry them past the Blazers. 

This postseason serves as the proving grounds for the Oklahoma City Thunder, as their new acquisitions of forwards Carmelo Anthony and Paul George haven’t gelled as well as they would have wanted to during the regular season, leading to rampant inconsistency. If the Thunder falters, it could spell disaster for the trio that includes triple-double machine Russell Westbrook.

The Utah Jazz will serve as a worthy opponent to the Thunder, as rookie guard Donovan Mitchell represents the new form of the Jazz: younger, quicker and offensively dangerous. Mitchell has been able to score at will, working in concerto with pass-first mastermind point guard Ricky Rubio. They have the potential to go deep into the playoffs, as much as any other top team in the West.

With all the exciting storylines heading into these NBA Playoffs, this year’s postseason is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory. NBA fans are sure to be captivated every single night during the best time of the year.

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