Last weekend commenced what should be a very exciting two months of NBA playoffs. From sunup to sundown on Saturday and Sunday, the league’s 16 best teams all started a grueling seven-game series against each other, with hopes of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from week one of the NBA playoffs:
Kings vs. Warriors is setting up to be an all-timer
The league’s best offense in the Sacramento Kings currently has a 2–0 series lead on the transcendent movement offense in the Golden State Warriors. Scoring has been at a premium so far in this series. After Sacramento pulled off a thrilling 126–123 victory in game one, they followed it up with a thrilling 114–106 win. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk have been absolutely stellar thus far, igniting the league’s best offense. So far the Warriors have struggled to keep the Kings off the glass, giving up 29 offensive rebounds through the first two games of the series.
The Warriors have struggled mightily on the road this season. At home this season they are 33–8; however, on the road, they are an abysmal 11–30. They will have to win on the road at some point if they want to win this series, especially since Sacramento has the home court advantage. The biggest questions for the Warriors will be whether they can get out of their awful third-quarter slumps that have plagued them so far in this series and whether Draymond Green will be suspended for stepping on the chest of Domantas Sabonis late in game two. Both of these questions will determine the outlook of this series and whether the Warriors can still win it.
May the healthiest team win
Injuries have plagued many of the league’s stars this entire season and it’s looking like more of the same so far in the playoffs. Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo missed the majority of game one against the Miami Heat with a tailbone injury. The Bucks, despite being heavy favorites, lost game one. The story is the same for the Memphis Grizzlies, who lost game one of their opening-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Grizzlies were already playing without Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke but now will likely be without star point guard Ja Morant, who reinjured his hand in a dangerous collision in game one. Teams with high expectations for these playoffs may be setting themselves up for disappointment with all the injuries that have been happening.
Depth vs. star power
The Los Angeles Clippers versus the Phoenix Suns best epitomizes this theme of the playoffs. It’s a very common term every year: A team with great superstar talent but little else faces a team with significantly less star power but a noticeably stronger bench unit. The Suns are the former; the Clippers are the latter. The Clippers shocked the league with a game-one victory against the Suns on the road despite point guard Russell Westbrook shooting a deplorable 3–19 from the field. The reason the Clippers were able to win despite his poor shooting is because of their depth and the Suns’ inability to punish the Clippers’ lineups due to their own lack of depth. Kevin Durant and Devin Booker are certainly good enough to get it done for the Suns, but it’s not a foregone conclusion. They will have to win on the road, which for now puts them behind the 8-ball.
The MVP candidates are showing out
The Philadelphia 76ers currently lead their opening-round series against the Brooklyn Nets 2–0, and Embiid has been playing well. The box score won’t reflect his dominant regular season numbers, but the Nets have made a conscious effort to take the ball out of his hands so far this series, and he has punished them for doing so. Playmaking has been my biggest question with Embiid’s offensive repertoire, and he has done a great job making plays out of double teams so far. The Sixers have a whopping 121.4 offensive rating through the first two games of the series, and with Embiid’s stellar defense, he’s showing why his MVP case is the strongest this season.
As for the Denver Nuggets, they looked amazing in the first game of their opening series against the Minnesota Timberwolves, winning game one 109–80. The biggest questions I had with Jokić were how he would ramp up his scoring aggression in the playoffs and would his defensive holes hurt the Nuggets as a whole. Granted it’s only one game, but he has certainly silenced my critiques so far. Holding an NBA team to 80 points in a playoff game in 2023 is absurd and Jokić’s defense was very impressive. His offense was impressive too. Despite only having 13 points, he dished out six assists and was the reason why six Nuggets players including himself scored in double figures in Sunday’s win.
The MVP has already been voted on by the media; however, whether Jokić or Embiid wins MVP will depend on how far these two teams go.