The NBA’s second season is about to get under way and provide us with plenty to talk about over the next two months.
From the Golden State Warriors’ quest to repeat and stamp their claim as a dynasty, to James Harden and Chris Paul attempting to change the narrative on their postseason failures and lead the Houston Rockets, to LeBron James’ potential final stand with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the playoffs are chock-full of storylines.
Here are the main talking points from the four series that get started on Saturday.
Can Warriors flip the switch?
It’ll be discussed ad nauseam and for good reason, because whether or not the Warriors can turn it on when it matters could determine the outlook of the entire playoffs.
It seems all but certain that Stephen Curry won’t be around for the first-round match-up with the San Antonio Spurs, which, in a vacuum, shouldn’t be much of an issue for a loaded Warriors squad.
The problem, however, is that Golden State haven’t been nearly the same team without Curry this season, managing just a 17-14 record in his absence, and limped to the finish line by literally looking like a .500 team over the final month-and-a-half.
You would think a side boasting Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green would barely have to lift a finger to remain dangerous, but since the start of March, the Warriors’ offensive rating has been a middling 106.3 points, ranking 17th in the league.
Fortunately for Golden State, their first opponent in the playoffs isn’t at full strength either as the Spurs are still missing Kawhi Leonard.
As plucky as the rest of the roster is and as much as Gregg Popovich is considered a coaching legend, the Warriors should be able to survive before Curry returns in the second round. But if they don’t start playing better before his return, Golden State will be in the difficult position of needing to go zero-to-hundred against better competition.
The Warriors' final 17 games (all but 25 minutes without Steph Curry)— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 11, 2018
-62 point differential
105.7 offensive rating
107.8 defensive rating
Here’s a crazy stat: the Toronto Raptors have somehow lost nine straight Game 1s in the playoffs.
No one is more aware of that pattern than Raptors fans themselves, who are already preparing for the worst because they’ve been conditioned to it.
And their playoff draw certainly hasn’t quelled fears as Toronto have ended up with an unfavourable match-up against a flawed, but talented, Washington Wizards side in the first round, while a potential rematch with LeBron and the Cavaliers looms in the round two.
The fact that they may end up seeing Cleveland earlier than they would have liked certainly changes the equation somewhat, but considering how strong of a season they had and the unlikelihood of their path to the Finals being any easier in the near future means it will be a disaster if they’re eliminated before the conference finals.
A loss in the opener against Washington would really increase the pressure, which is why Game 1 is probably more important for Toronto than for any other team in the playoffs.
Red hot Sixers
Everything is breaking right for the Philadelphia 76ers at the moment and it’s not a stretch to imagine them reaching the Finals – a notion that would have been silly at the start of the season.
Winners of 16 straight, the Sixers are owners of the longest winning streak entering the postseason in NBA history. That run also allowed them to capture the third seed in the Eastern Conference, which could mean a meeting with the injury-ravaged Boston Celtics in round two rather than the East-leading Raptors or LeBron-led Cavaliers.
Even if Joel Embiid – officially ruled out for Game 1 – is unable to play against the Miami Heat, Philadelphia will still hold a talent advantage and likely have the best player on the floor in Ben Simmons.
The stars are aligning for what used to be the laughing stock of the league and it’s happening much sooner than anyone expected.
As far as individual match-ups in the first round, Lillard versus Davis has the potential to feature some epic duels and thrilling entertainment.
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