Love him, hate him or love to hate him, Lebron James has been a playoff staple since his third year in the league. How long has that been? Look at it this way: a kid born in the year Lebron last missed the playoffs (2004-05) is almost old enough to drive now. If that fact wasn’t enough to make you close out of this blog in disgust, we have a couple bold predictions, some burning questions and a whole lot of great basketball to check out in the 2019 edition of the NBA’s second season.
Play that sweet, sweet music, John Tesh! It’s playoff time!
Here’s what we’ll be watching for:
Biggest Playoff Storyline
What to watch for this postseason might actually be what happens after the playoffs, as a slew of big names on playoff teams could potentially be on the move. Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard might all have new homes next season.
Of course, we’d love it if they all signed with Toronto and teamed with Kyle Lowry to form an all-K starting lineup. It’s about as likely as actually getting a date with Charlize Theron, but hey, stranger things have happened.
We also learned a fancy new buzzword in “load management” this year.
What we originally thought was a derogatory term for “head coach of the Knicks” is actually the legitimate strategy of giving regular rest to high-minutes guys throughout the season. We’ll see if it pays off during the marathon that is a deep playoff run.
Biggest Potential First-Round Upset
Load management strategies aside, the Sixers lost a lot of time to injuries this year, trailing only the Nuggets amongst playoff teams in games lost due to injury.
They also looked out of sync down the stretch, going 5-5 over their last ten regular season games.
Even with all the firepower of guys like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler, the one thing the Sixers have lacked this year is a closer. The Nets, their first-round opponent, have that in point guard D’Angelo Russell.
If Brooklyn can drag this series in to the deep waters of a sixth or seventh game, Philly could be in danger of having to wait another year to see “The Process” come to fruition.
Who will win the East?
Since at least the All-Star break, (and probably earlier) it’s been a foregone conclusion that the Bucks and Raptors were headed for an epic collision course in the Eastern Conference Finals, and we see no reason to think differently.
Milwaukee won the season series 3-1, but if we’ve learned anything from Dan Fouts over the years, it’s that you can’t hold anything back come playoff time.
Both teams face early challenges though: The Raptors square off against a hot Magic squad entering the postseason on an 11-2 tear, and Milwaukee goes up against a Detroit team led by a resurgent Blake Griffin and a head coach (Dwayne Casey) who would love nothing more than to get revenge against a Raptors team that fired him last year.
But if the Raptors and Bucks can avoid getting taken deep in to series through the first two rounds, we should get to see a Conference Finals series that’s more fun and challenging than trying to spell “Antetokounmpo” without using Google.
Prediction: Bucks over Raptors in 7.
Who will win the West?
The Western Conference truly was wild this year, with only six games separating second seed Denver Nuggets from eighth seed Los Angeles Clippers. Only the top-seed Warriors seem to be in a prime position to move on against an overmatched Clippers squad.
The rest of the West field is rife with upset potential though, and if Golden State can survive a possible second-round matchup against “The Beard” James Harden and the Rockets, they should be well on their way to their fifth straight Finals appearance.
In the murky waters on the other half of the West bracket, only the Thunder have the experience of making a deep playoff run in recent years. That was when their roster still sported names like Harden and Durant. The current roster of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and company face an uphill battle against all-world guard Damian Lillard and the Blazers.
Meanwhile, the upstart Nuggets face an early test against the always tough and always-in-the-postseason Spurs.
Whoever survives that fray should just be cannon fodder for another inevitable Warriors march to the Finals.
Prediction: Warriors over Blazers in 5.