Courtesy of Joseph Glorioso
After an incredible regular season in the NBA highlighted by the villainous, star-studded Warriors team and Russell Westbrook and James Harden going superhuman every night, the playoffs are in full swing.
The 2017 NBA playoffs should be one for the ages as everyone anticipates the third Finals match up in a row between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, the road to get there for both these teams still contain several road blocks that will need to be navigated carefully in order to make it to the Finals.
The playoff landscape in the West has changed a lot since last year. The Oklahoma City Thunder, the team that was most capable of stopping the 73-win Warriors juggernaut, saw their best player leave and join that very same Warriors team. Right behind the Warriors rests the consistently excellent San Antonio Spurs, led by likely the best two-way player in the NBA, Kawhi Leonard. Even without the retired Tim Duncan for this postseason run, the Spurs are still one of the best teams in all of basketball and look to continue their quest for absolute dominance of the league.
Another Texas team sits behind the Spurs in the third seed, the three-point shooting juggernaut Houston Rockets. Combining the offensive prowess of coach Mike D’Antoni with lethal creator and destroyer Harden last offseason has turned out to be an absolutely brilliant move by general manager Daryl Morey. The Rockets’ offense has reached heights that the Nash and D’Antoni led Suns teams could only dream of.
Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers retain the fourth seed and once again look to try and make a push for the ever so elusive Western Conference Finals. The fifth seed however welcomes a team we haven’t seen in the playoffs since 2011, the Utah Jazz. Led by brilliant head coach Quin Snyder, the Jazz have a deep roster with talent at every position and look to make a deep playoff run despite their six-year drought from the postseason.
The #6 seed and once-dominant Thunder are down a superstar in Kevin Durant, but still poise a threat because of future Marvel superhero Westbrook. The rest of the West is rounded out by the familiar Memphis Grizzlies in the seventh-seed and the explosive Portland Trail Blazers in the eighth seed.
In the East, the Cleveland Cavaliers do not have the one-seed this time around as that was snatched up by the Boston Celtics, led by the tiny but magnificent point-guard Isaiah Thomas. The Celtics’ deep roster and Thomas’ heroics got them homecourt, but they still have lots to prove in the post season.
Despite the Cleveland Cavaliers not having the one seed this postseason, they do have LeBron James, and he will look to reach the NBA Finals for an unprecedented seventh year in a row. The Cavs defense has been atrocious since the All-Star break, but until a team steps up and beats Lebron James, the Cavaliers will always be the favorite.
The Toronto Raptors sit in the third seed but their team is different this postseason. After acquiring P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka at the trade deadline, this Raptors team looks better than ever and if Kyle Lowry is able to shake off the rust from being injured for the last part of the season, the Raptors should poise the biggest threat to James and the Cavaliers.
The Washington Wizards have the fourth seed and with new coach Scott Brooks, they have found the right balance between star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. With the rise of young small forward Otto Porter, the Wizards have an outstanding starting line-up but lack consistent bench play. Behind the Wizards in fifth are the Atlanta Hawks, who have a group of solid players including Dwight Howard, Paul Millsap and Dennis Schröder, but lack a second gear to keep up with the top teams.
In the sixth slot are the Milwaukee Bucks, led by the “Inspector Gadget”-like Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” has come alive this season, averaging career highs in almost every statistical category, and if the Bucks are to advance in this postseason, he is going to have to be dominant and hit some outside shots. Despite their lack of consistent outside shooting, the Bucks are extremely athletic and long on the perimeter and that could cause huge problems for several teams in the East.
The rest of the Eastern Conference is rounded out by the Indiana Pacers in the seventh seed and the Chicago Bulls in eighth.