After 82 games that featured electrifying dunks, clutch threes and dominant performances, it’s time to see who the real stars are in the playoffs. Starting Saturday, the road for the Larry O’Brien Trophy begins with plenty to be excited about.
The Rise of the Process
Going into this season, there was a lot of optimism surrounding the process with No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and the return of a healthy Ben Simmons. Simmons has played outstanding this season, running away with the two-horse race for NBA Rookie of The Year. Joel Embiid stayed healthy for a majority of the season, leading the Sixers to their first 50-win season since 2000.
Right now the Sixers are the third seed in the Eastern Conference, only behind the Raptors and extremely banged up Celtics. If the current seedings were to hold, the Sixers would face the Heat and have a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup against the Cavs. This would set up a matchup between The Process and The King, which could have significant ramifications for the future.
There has been a lot of speculation as to where LeBron James will end up next season. If the Sixers are able to beat the Cavs, this benefits them in two ways. They will advance to the next NBA Finals and LeBron could pull a KD if you can’t beat them, join them. There have been plenty of posters trying to draw LeBron to the city of Brotherly Love, and an Eastern Conference Finals playoff exit could do just that.
Look out! With a healthy Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and an added motivation to bring LeBron to Philly, the Sixers will be extremely exciting to watch in the playoffs.
The Warriors are not the first seed
For the first time since the 2013-2014 season, the Warriors will not be the first seed in the Western Conference. The injury bug has plagued the Warriors all season, with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, KD and Draymond Green all going down with injuries at different points. Because the Warriors have not been at full strength for much of the season, the Rockets overtook them as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
In addition to all their injuries, Durant can’t seem to stay on the court when healthy, racking up 14 technicals and five ejections on the season. Any more ejections for Durant and he’ll infringe on Rasheed Wallace territory. Also, Steph Curry has already been ruled out of the first round of the playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs, which will be a tough test for the defending champions.
Kevin Durant has been ejected after receiving 2 technical fouls. 😳 pic.twitter.com/cP4sBMV1t8
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) March 30, 2018
The Western Conference is more talented than ever and for the first time in three years, there is a legitimate possibility the Warriors do not make the NBA Finals.
Rise of Young Stars
One of the biggest themes of this NBA season has been the emergence of young stars leading their teams into playoff contention including: Donovan Mitchell, Nikola Jokic and Karl Anthony Towns. Mitchell has already clinched a playoff spot, and Towns did the same grabbing a clutch rebound late to help beat the Nuggets.
After losing Gordon Hayward last offseason, not too many expected the Jazz to make the playoffs. Yet, Donovan Mitchell had other ideas, showing off his insane athleticism every night. The Jazz are the fifth seed in the Western Conference, and Mitchell will need to overcome Oklahoma City Thunder’s “big three” in the first round to advance.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have made the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-2004 season when Kevin Garnett was on the team. The T-Wolves ended the league’s longest active playoff drought with a clutch win against Denver on Wednesday night.
Karl Anthony Towns has been outstanding for some periods without Jimmy Butler, but now with a healthy Butler, Minnesota is an upset-minded team and could do some damage.