The sun is out. The flowers are in bloom. Exams are upon us. It’s playoff time. For months we have been forced to sit quietly, overflowing with anticipation, as we await the part of the season that really matters, the part where the sports stars pull away from the pack and show what it really takes to be one of the greats and truly excel at the game of basketball. Basketball season is long, eighty-two games. Storylines emerge — Lebron’s dominance, the race for ROTY, the Celtics second-team strength — but at the end of the day only one thing matters: who, come June, hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Of the thirty teams in the N.B.A., sixteen make the playoffs. While the N.B.A. playoffs do allow for teams that fall in the bottom half of the league to kick it into gear and shock the basketball world in the playoffs, as often happens in the N.C.A.A. basketball tournament, this is not typical of the N.B.A. playoffs, especially not when it comes to the champion. Since the first N.B.A. Finals in 1947, 52 of the 75 winners have been a one-seed, 17 winning teams have been a two or three seed, and only two have fallen outside of this, a four and a six seed. The fact that an overwhelming majority of the champions are a team that it is often expected to win, however, should not detract from the excitement of the N.B.A. playoffs as a whole.
This year in particular is shaping up to be a particularly thrilling bracket of games. Every team in the playoffs is .500 or above, a testament to the overall quality of basketball to be played.
The Eastern Conference is jammed up at the top with four of the most exciting teams to watch right now. The Toronto Raptors are ready to prove they can put it together in the playoffs and go all the way.
The Boston Celtics, battered by injury both small and large, prepare to show just how deep is their players’ ability to step up when it is needed most.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, wildly different than the team that took them to the Finals last year, are ready to show that Lebron can be even better this season and take his team all the way, adding to his case for greatest of all time.
The Philadelphia 76ers, led by The Process and Ben Simmons, who is making a great case for why he deserves Rookie of the Year, are ready to finally show the world what Sam Hinkie dreamed up and put in place many years ago.
At the bottom, we have the exciting Victor Oladipo and his Pacers, the Wizards with a recently healthy John Wall who is eager to prove he does positively contribute to his team and how they are, in fact, not better in his absence. Additionally, as of early April, a three-way battle emerges between the Bucks, Pistons, and Heat for the seven and eight seeds.
Over in the Western Conference, the top is seated perhaps a little higher above the rest than it is in the East. The Rockets with potential MVP James Harden, flanked by Chris Paul and Clint Capela, have secured the one-seed with relative ease. However, not far behind them are the battered Golden State Warriors. Even with a string of late season injuries to their star players, they have still managed to hang on, despite sliding a bit. They hope to assemble their full team and go for their third trophy and fourth Finals in four years.
Behind the Warriors sit the Portland Trail Blazers, led by one of the hottest backcourts in the league, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Behind them sits a seven-team battle for the final five spots, with the Clippers, the ten-seed, only four games behind the Spurs, the four seed. This race will surely play out nicely, hopefully allowing the Spurs to maintain their playoff streak.
While the early rounds of the playoffs are often a bit slower, I would still encourage you to keep an eye out this year as it has potential to be one of the most wholly exciting playoffs in a while.