By: Brian Helsel
The best time of the year for basketball fans is here. After a thrilling March Madness tournament, the NBA Playoffs are set to begin on April 16th, after a long 82 game regular season that saw underwhelming teams and the emergence of many young stars.
There will be many teams with a legitimate shot to win it all, one of them being the Phoenix Suns. The Suns are the definition of balanced, as they are led by a great backcourt in Chris Paul and Devin Booker. This duo led the Suns all the way to a finals appearance last season. It is not just the stars for Phoenix though, as they have an elite young center in Deandre Ayton, and a plethora of 3&D wings in Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Jae Crowder. The Suns are a team that will not beat themselves, and it will be difficult to beat them without having a top player on your team.
Speaking of top players, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have their eyes set on going back to back. After winning Finals MVP averaging 35 PPG and closing the series out with a 50 point performance, Giannis is set to have another great playoff run. Khris Middleton will also have to be the clutch perimeter creator he was for them last year as well, and Jrue Holiday will have to keep making the lives of opposing stars as hard as possible. Getting Brook Lopez healthy at the right time will be big for their defense and interior play too.
NBA Fans have not seen much of the dominant trio of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green play together at the same time this year due to injuries. When Klay came back, Draymond went down. When Draymond came back, Steph went down. It appears that Curry will be back in time for the playoffs to start, and the fact of the matter is that the Warriors have been historically dominant with this trio when it matters over the last several years. The play of guys like Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins could potentially swing their chances of winning their 4th title since 2015.
The NBA seems to be slowly shifting towards a new generation of players, and many will have the opportunity to show that on the big stage of the playoffs. 24 year old Jayson Tatum’s Celtics will be a force to be reckoned with, with their elite defense and the play of Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The Grizzlies have been one of the most electrifying teams to watch this year, led by 3rd year player Ja Morant’s freakish athleticism. It is not just the Ja show in Memphis though, as the team has a record of 26-12 without him this season, thanks to their great depth and the much improved Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. 23 year old Luka Doncic might finally have the help he needs to get the Mavericks out of the first round for the first in his career, as the Mavericks have figured things out defensively, and have secondary creators in Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie to ease the load off Luka.
There are also lots of other teams with a fighter’s chance this year. Despite their ugly exit last year being swept in the first round and their questions about their half court offense, the Miami Heat are still the first seed and possess one of the best coaches in Erik Spolestra and are still awesome defensively. The 76ers lack strong depth and coaching, and James Harden has struggled being consistent all year long, but with Joel Embiid having the season he is, you can never count Philadelphia out. The Raptors are a team nobody will want to face, as Nick Nurse is arguably the best coach in the league in scheming against stars, and Pascal Siakam and ROTY candidate Scottie Barnes have really found their stride down the stretch of the season. The Brooklyn Nets can most definitely go on a run if they survive the play in the tournament, as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are still some of the best big game performers the league has to offer.
There are certainly teams with a higher chance of winning it all than others, but many NBA fans are excited for the uncertainty and parity there seems to be in the league. There really is no overwhelming favorite like the KD-Warriors or the Lebron James-Heat in years past. Anything can happen this year, and there can be some very surprising results this year, leading fans excited for the best time of the year.