I have to admit that it’s been a few years since I paid this much attention to an NBA regular season. Over the last few seasons, I’d make sure I knew enough about the best teams (predominantly Cleveland and Golden State) to understand what’s going on, and then by the time the playoffs rolled around, I’d start watching more games, more closely. However, this season has captured me in a way that no season has over the past decade, probably. I don’t know if it’s because the Cavs are a mess and LeBron’s streak of Finals appearances is very much in jeopardy; or maybe it’s that the Rockets have put together such a strong year that we can actually envision an NBA Finals without the Warriors; or maybe it’s the unbelievably tight playoff races in both conferences, where a team could fall from the 4-seed to the 8th in a matter of a couple of nights.
Whatever it is, it’s fun and it’s made the NBA very compelling to me in 2018. Here’s five items that particularly jump out at me:
1. Do the West playoff contenders lose ever?
Houston’s won 23 of 24 and just had a 17-game win streak snapped by Toronto. The Warriors had a 7-game win streak earlier this month before being bit by the injury bug. The Blazers just had their 13-game winning streak end Tuesday night. Oklahoma City has won 6 of 7. The Pelicans had a 10-game winning streak earlier this month. The Jazz have won 21 of their last 24. Even the Spurs have reeled off 4 straight wins after falling out of the top 8 a week ago.
So the short answer is no, these teams out West do not lose. Ok, they do, but not very often. So when they do, it can vastly change the playoff picture.
2. What’s going to happen with the Cavs?
Oh boy. Here we go. LeBron will leave, Ty Lue is gone due to sickness so it’s likely a new coach is in, the other players — oh wait, you mean what’s going to happen with the Cavs as far as the playoffs go this season. Oops. Got a little ahead of myself.
Ok. So let’s just start with this: it’s in no way, shape, or form a given that the Cavaliers are back in the NBA Finals. It’s not even a slam dunk that they’re in the conference finals. They’re likely going to be in some sort of 3-6 or 4-5 matchup against a team like Philadelphia or Indiana or Washington. And that will be an exciting series, I think. But not one that the Cavs should worry toooooo much about. It’s that second round series that could be problematic for LeBron & Co., where they’d meet Toronto or Boston most likely.
No matter how far their run takes them in the playoffs, Cleveland will need to play a better brand of defense than they’ve played all season and LeBron will need his complimentary pieces to answer the bell when called upon.
3. Is the East Toronto’s to lose?
It’s hard to argue a way the Raptors don’t come out of the East. Conversely, it’s hard to envision the Raptors in the NBA Finals. But, hey, they’ve been the East’s most consistent team, the East’s deepest team, and the East’s best team. Head Coach Dwane Casey will be one of the 2 or 3 finalists for Coach of the Year, and DeMar DeRozan has thrown his name into MVP consideration with his team-leading 24 points per game. What I’m trying to get at is – as hard as it may be to get behind them – the Raptors are not the Raptors of years past. This version has a bonafide star and a deep bench and a coach that seems to have gotten over the questions about his ability to adapt.
4. Did the Celtics miss out on a chance to steal the conference this season?
This is an argument I’ve had over and over with myself in my head for a few weeks now. At the start of the season before Gordon Hayward goes down, the Celts were the outsider to get through the East, if the Cavs stumbled. But then Hayward broke his ankle and expectations came back down to earth – except that Kyrie Irving carried Boston through the majority of the season’s first half and they looked less like an outsider and more like the favorite. But they really were overachieving.
And now the Celtics have run into hard times and really have not played consistently good basketball for a couple months – which is pretty understandable considering the injuries they’ve been dealt recently, on top of missing Hayward all year. But still with the Cavs in a bit of disarray, it sure seems like the Celtics could have had this conference this year. In fairness, it’s a combination of Boston not playing great and the Raptors playing out of this world. Hard to fault the Celtics, but it feels like they could have stolen the East this year.
5. Are we destined for Rockets – Warriors in the WCF?
For nearly the entire season, we’ve spent little time wondering who’d be in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets have been outstanding and the Warriors and still the Warriors. But now we’ve been introduced to the newest belle of the ball: the Portland Trail Blazers. Damian Lilliard has catapulted into the MVP conversation and the discussion of 1st team All-NBA. I’m not totally ready to abandon Rockets-Warriors yet, but I’m ready to entertain the notion that the Warriors might be vulnerable (gasp!). Four straight Finals is no joke. It’s got a way of wearing you down and the Warriors don’t seem to be above being able to get worn down. If you’re not ready for the Blazers yet, I guess now would be a bad time to bring up Utah.
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Check Episode 21 — March Madness and NBA Storylines