By: Donnie Menke ~Staff Writer~
The NBA Playoff picture is finally set, after a dramatic finish to close the regular season. The Boston Celtics managed to overtake the Cleveland Cavaliers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, despite Cleveland holding the spot for most of the year. The Portland Trail Blazers clinched the final seed in the Western Conference after the Nuggets, the last team that could catch them, lost on a 36 foot Russell Westbrook three-pointer at the buzzer. The Miami Heat, after an 11-30 start to the season, managed to go 30-11 to close the season, missing out only because of a tiebreaker with the Chicago Bulls.
Once the dust settled on the regular season, it did not take long for people to move to the potential playoff matchups.
The first round features eight series, but only a few look like they will actually be competitive. Despite the seeding difference, Boston and Chicago looks to be a tight series, with many analysts picking it to go a full seven games. Boston vs. Chicago split their regular season games, and both can exploit the others weaknesses very well. Boston finished in the bottom of defensive rebounding while Chicago was in the top 10. However, Boston’s perimeter players are a tough matchup for the Bulls defensively.
Another first-round matchup that looks interesting is the Toronto Raptors vs. the Milwaukee Bucks. Although many people are picking the Raptors to win the series, they face a difficult matchup problem with Bucks’ point forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo became the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game in a single season. This could spell trouble for Toronto, as it has no single player who can match up with Antetokounmpo.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets matchup presents an interesting storyline, as Westbrook and Houston point guard James Harden are widely considered to be the top candidates for this season’s MVP award. Although the series should play no part in the outcome, as MVP is a regular season award, it will be an interesting one to watch.
As exciting as the early round games may be, there does not appear to be much question as to who will make the NBA Finals. Both the Golden State Warriors and Cavaliers, who have split the last two Finals, appear to be ready to meet up for a third straight year. Although the Cavs fell to the second seed in the East, the Warriors finished with a six-game lead over the second-place San Antonio Spurs in the West.
Even though Golden State and Cleveland appear to be favorites in their respective conferences, they still have obstacles to face San Antonio should never be counted out with its record of success. Its defense might be the only one in the West able to slow down the Warriors offense enough to win a series.
On the flip side, Houston’s offense might be the only one in the league able to keep pace with the Warriors. While the Warriors should make the Finals, the road will not come without challenges, as should be expec ted in the NBA Playoffs.
After winning the finals in historic fashion last season, the Cavs remain the heavy favorites to come out of the East, as no one has posed a major challenge to them during the past two postseasons. Although the conference final opponent will most likely pose the toughest challenge, no team looks to have the firepower to keep up with the Cavs in the playoffs.
Although the playoffs could be interesting early, they have the potential to get even more exciting in the later rounds, as both Cleveland and Golden State are heavy favorites to meet in the Finals yet again.
Hopefully if they do meet up, it will be as thrilling as last year. Otherwise, it could be a boring postseason.