After a season filled with highs and lows across the league, the lack of a dominant team heading into the postseason leaves a wide-open race in both conferences. This situation has created a lot of excitement in the NBA and has led to a lot of talk about the importance of teamwork versus a team being carried by an extremely talented player. Teams that weren’t even being discussed as playoff contenders at the beginning of the season, such as the Denver Nuggets, are making themselves known for strong defensive efforts and team chemistry.
There may not be one team that has significantly stood out as better than the rest, however, the Golden State Warriors are heavily favored to win. They have a strong lineup, deep bench, and are looking for their third championship in a row. Despite these factors, they have a much stronger group of teams that they have to play against in the Western Conference in order to get to the Finals. Not only are there teams that have given them trouble in the past, such as the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets, which put them to a tough game seven last season. With the Thunder being led by a revitalized Russell Westbrook and a career year coming out of Paul George, Oklahoma likely won’t bend to the Warriors will as they have in years past.
The San Antonio Spurs are another interesting team that has done extremely well. Unlike the Warriors, they aren’t a superteam packed with big names outside of forward Demar DeRozan, but their cohesiveness as a unit has led to their success under head coach Greg Popovich. Popovich added another accolade to an impressive coaching career, becoming the winningest coach in NBA history after his Spurs defeated the Nuggets in game one of their playoff series 101-95
This wasn’t the only upset to occur in the first set of playoff games though. The Philadelphia 76ers fell to a DeAngelo Russell led Brooklyn Nets squad 111-102. Additionally, the second seed Toronto Raptors lost to the seventh seed Orlando Magic at home as well 104-101, making the Golden State Warriors the only team that has played so far to not get upset, defeating the Los Angeles Clippers 121-104.
The Raptors performance will be interesting after all that has happened with their team since last season. After falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round after just four games, the team fell to pieces; after easily being the first seed in the East, along with then–head coach Dwane Casey being voted as the best coach in the league; after the devastating defeat, Casey was fired, and the Raptors front office proceeded to trade one of their best players in small forward Demar DeRozan to the Spurs for small forward Kawhi Leonard. The team also has key pieces in guard Kyle Lowry and power forward Marc Gasol, making them a team to be reckoned with despite their loss to Orlando to begin their 2019 playoff push.
The last team that has shown to be a powerhouse in the East are the Milwaukee Bucks. The team has six players that average over 10 points per game, with the “Greek Freak” in point guard Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the charge. Antetokounmpo was the Eastern Conference’s team captain for the All-Star game and is viewed as being one of the best players in the league. This is a team that certainly has the firepower to make a championship run and beat the Golden State Warriors, Nuggets, or any other team in the West if they can make it through to the Finals. If no upsets occur in the first round, they will be forced to play the star-studded Boston Celtics. The Celtics beat the Bucks last year, so if it comes to it this may be one of the better series of the tournament.
As seen by the many first game upsets, anything can happen this year. The teams are all very close and hungry for a title. Expect some surprises this postseason.