This year’s NBA playoffs has a chance to be something different. For one, it looks like there’s a legitimate chance that Cavaliers vs. Warriors Part IV may not even happen. A weaker Cleveland team and a Warriors squad without Steph Curry for the first round could lead to both teams being bounced before the Finals.
The real reason the playoffs could be different this year, though, is the playoff talent around the league. It seems that this year, more than others, there is a case that can be made for each team in the playoffs to advance past the first round.
For a postseason whose beginning is usually a foregone conclusion with higher seeds obliterating lower ones, this could be an interesting change and maybe even a sign that the league has more parity than we thought. Maybe teams are now playing up to even better competition league-wide and this is causing a rise in talent around the league.
Maybe this is a dumb thought after all, and the Cavs and Warriors will turn on superteam thrusters and blow the rest of the competition out of the water to meet in the Finals again. Who knows. But, I do know this is guaranteed to be a fun first round filled with exciting potential matchups that could change the face of the league. We’ll take a look at the juiciest ones here.
Rockets vs. Spurs
What happens if last year’s conference semifinals matchup repeats this year? On paper it looks like there’s no chance the Spurs could handle this Rockets team, which added Chris Paul and stocked up on switchable, defensive wings in the offseason. But if Kawhi Leonard decides to play, that could all mean nothing. Gregg Popovich has been Mike D’Antoni’s playoff kryptonite (with a 5-0 head-to-head record), and last year the Spurs closed out Houston in game six without Kawhi. If the Spurs could win this series, toppling a Rockets team that set a record for regular season wins, what happens? Does Paul leave? Are James Harden and Paul forever known as regular-season champs that fail in the playoffs? This is a series with room for tons of drama.
Warriors vs. Jazz
Another playoff rematch from last season, this one would be different in quite a few ways. For starters, this is a changed Jazz team. They still play the same “slow it down” style as last year, but they no longer have Gordon Hayward (last year’s leading scorer), Rodney Hood or George Hill. Instead, they have handsome Ricky Rubio and I’ll-dunk-on-anything-with-a-pulse rookie Donovan Mitchell.
Rubio has been unexciting in his first season with the Jazz, but more-or-less the same player as in years past. Mitchell is a game-changer. He’s athletic, confident and the Jazz’s leading scorer in his first NBA season at 20.3 points per game as of Wednesday afternoon. Mitchell’s scoring prowess combined with the lockdown ability of this team with Rudy Gobert anchoring the defense could be enough to upset the Warriors without Curry in the first round. If the Jazz can slow the game down and make the Warriors grind for points in the half-court, they could potentially stop Golden State from another Finals appearance.
Cavaliers vs. Bucks
Does anyone really think LeBron James, who has been to seven straight NBA Finals and in year 15 is averaging 27 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, will lose in the first round of the playoffs? If I had to bet on one person who would firmly believe that, it’d be Giannis Antetokounmpo, if his Bucks play the Cavs in the first round. Giannis is already a superstar at 23 years old, and is the only player in the NBA that can physically match up with LeBron. Giannis is one of only a handful of players in the league that could carry his team through a playoff series through sheer will and skill (and probably more than a few Eurosteps). LeBron can do the same. Seeing the two match up in a first-round bloodbath would be a dream come true to fans everywhere.
Sixers vs. Literally Any Team
This year marks the first time the Sixers have made the playoffs since the 2011-12 season, and they’re going to be too high of a seed for first round matchups with the Cavs, Celtics or Raptors. That’s a bummer, because any of those could end with one of the higher seeds being bounced early.
But, the Sixers are still one of the most exciting first round teams regardless of who they play because of the way the way they match up. Joel Embiid is a world destroyer as a player and is already one of the most dominant big men in the league. Ben Simmons is a 6-foot-10 point guard and a Rookie of the Year favorite, averaging 16, eight and eight on the season. Their No. 1 pick, guard Markelle Fultz, just played his first game in months Tuesday night. J.J. Redick is a veteran that can shoot. TJ McConnell is the most clutch basketball player that looks like an insurance salesman. Let’s see the Sixers attack anyone that plays them in the first round and then move on to the real challenges.
Zac Lane is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.