After a dramatic and hard-fought regular season that has consisted of new acquisitions, emotion and injury, the 2018 NBA playoffs are finally among us.
Unlike the last three years where the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors were expected to matchup in the finals, this year’s playoffs have a great deal of uncertainty to them.
Facing off in the first round against the number five seeded Indiana Pacers, the Cavs got off to a rough start as the Pacers took game one marking the first time in James’ career that he lost in the first game of playoffs. According to NBA.com, in a postgame interview with James following the loss he said, “We just need to get our minds refocused on what we need to do to win a ball game and stay cool. I’m down 0-1 in the first round, I was down 3-1 in the finals so I’m the last guy you wanna ask about how your gonna feel the next couple of games.”
That seemed to spark a fire inside of James as he proceeded to score 46 in game two where the Cavs won 100-97. Going to Indiana for games three and four, the Pacers outbattled the Cavs in game three to get the win but were no match for the King in game four as the Cavs got the win to tie the series at two apiece.
The other big headline in the East is the up and coming Philadelphia 76ers, who came into the playoffs with a 16-game winning streak. As the third seed in the East, the 76ers take on Dwayne Wade and the number six Miami Heat. In game one, even without their star player, Joel Embiid, the 76ers blew out the Heat in a 130-103 win thanks to the 28-point scoring outbreak from J.J. Reddick. The Heat proceeded to win game two but with the return of Embiid, the 76ers took games three and four leading the series at 3-1.
As the number one seed in the East, the Toronto Raptors are the statistical favorite to be in the finals thanks to key returning players such as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Facing off against the eighth seeded Washington Wizards, the Raptors took the first two games at home but proceeded to lose the next two games to the Wizards on the road. For the Wizards, guards Bradley Beal and John Wall will be the key to their success as shown in game three where the pair both scored 28 points helping their team tie the series at 2-2.
The number two seeded Boston Celtics were the preseason favorite to win the championship, but were plagued by injury as a gruesome, early season injury took out new acquisitions Gordon Hayward and star Kyrie Irving, who suffered late season knee problems. Facing off against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Celtics took game one in a dramatic, overtime finish thanks to the late game heroics of Al Horford. After winning game two, the Celtics lost games three and four on the road to the Bucks after another close game in game four where Giannis Antetokounmpo tipped in the game winning shot to tie the series at 2-2.
After years of taking a backseat as Golden State dominated the pre-playoff predictions, the Houston Rockets are now the front-runners to win the Western Conference. Facing off against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Rockets led by James Harden and Chris Paul took games one and two at home but were overthrown by Jimmy Butler and the Timberwolves in game three on the road. For the Rockets, with their experienced and MVP caliber lineup, as long as they continue to make shots, they will continue to be the favorites going onward.
Even without Steph Curry in the first round, Golden State continues to show why they are the defending champions as Klay Thompson and 2017 Finals MVP Kevin Durant continue to dominate. Facing off against LaMarcus Aldridge and the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State won the first three games but lost to the Spurs in game four to set the series at 3-1. As to the return of Steph Curry, according to Bleacher Report, Golden State Head Coach Steve Kerr said, “Curry’s recovery from a sprained MCL is going according to plan but he is still not going to play anytime soon.”
As the number four team in the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder led by 2017 regular season MVP Russell Westbrook and newly acquired Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, are taking on the number five, Utah Jazz. In game one, the Thunder defeated the Jazz at home 116-108. The Jazz bounced back to win game two led by Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio, who combined for 50 points. This series has many experts uncertain, as the experienced Thunder lineup could prove too much for the talented but inexperienced Jazz, or could hinder themselves through a lack of team chemistry.
The New Orleans Pelicans will be advancing to the next round as they defeated the Portland Trail Blazers in a four-game sweep. Forward Nikola Mirotić and center Anthony Davis will look to lead the Pelicans as their presence in the paint could be a threat to their next opponents.
Emotions are racing, tensions between teams are at an all-time high and there is still a lot more to come before the best team is crowned the 2018 NBA champions.