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Friday, April 19, 2024

2019 NBA Playoff Preview

Recapping the 2018-19 NBA regular season, looking to the postseason

When two-time all pro DeMarcus Cousins joined the Golden State Warriors in free agency this past summer, many NBA fans wrote off the season entirely, claiming that this year’s title was already won. Having a starting lineup consisting of five all stars has only been done five other times in league history and hasn’t been done since the 1975-76 Boston Celtics, who went on to win the title.

As the regular season is now in the books and playoffs are just getting started, the Warrior’s competition looks to be drastically more difficult than thought to start the season. Surprising to most, the Milwaukee Bucks earned the best record in the NBA this season, leading the Eastern Conference with a record of 60-22. Team leader and MVP front-runner Giannis Antetokounmpo anchored the Bucks this season, averaging 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game.

One of the other captivating storylines this season was superstar Lebron James moving to the west coast to play for the Los Angeles Lakers and whether or not he could instantly turn them into a playoff team. Having been pegged as one of the most dangerous teams to start the season with an over/under win total of 48 games, the Lakers and LeBron fell flat and missed the playoffs with a record of 37-45.

On the other hand, the Warriors met expectations and finished as the top seed in the West, continuing their surge toward the franchise’s first ever three-peat, which would be the sixth in league history. For the third straight year, Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook averaged a triple double, a feat which, three years ago, was absolutely unheard of. In Houston, MVP-candidate James Harden became the first player in NBA history to average 35 points and seven rebounds. Unsurprisingly, these juggernauts all made the playoffs, making for an unusually competitive first round and playoff bracket overall. The Aggie takes a look at this year’s playoff matchups.

Eastern Conference:

No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 8 Detroit Pistons

The Detroit Pistons will have their work cut out for them, given the Bucks boasted the league’s fourth ranked offense along with the top ranked defense. The Pistons were able to snag the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a 41-41 record, beating the New York Knicks in the season finale. In the regular season, the Bucks beat the Pistons in all four of their meetings, a fate that is not unlikely to reoccur. Unless Detroit’s Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond have the series of their lives and are able to somehow shut down Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks should sail right over them pretty swiftly.

No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Orlando Magic

Although the Raptors parted ways with superstar DeMar DeRozan and Coach Dwane Casey, the Raptors did not lose a step this year and could have possibly even gained one. New Head Coach Nick Nurse led the Raptors and all pro Kawhi Leonard to a league second-best record of 59-24. The Raptors will face a red-hot Magic team who earned its playoff spot by winning 11 of the last 13 games behind all-star center Nikola Vucevic. The Raptors and the Magic’s season series was split 2-2, but that was with Leonard and other key players from the Raptors out with ailments. Although the Magic are hot, their play has been nowhere near the caliber of the Raptors.

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 6 Brooklyn Nets

The intriguing storyline of this matchup is whether Sixers center Joel Embiid will play. Embiid has struggled heavily with injuries throughout his career, and it appears they have returned. After missing five of the last seven games, it seems more likely Embiid will not be starting the series, which would make that the second year in a row he misses the opening round. The Sixers still have three all stars in Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, who will square off against one of this year’s top breakout players: D’Angelo Russell. The Nets certainly have the role players to pull off the upset, featured by sharp shooter Joe Harris, who shot an astounding 47.4 percent from behind the arc this year.

No. 4 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers

Both of these teams had rather unfortunate ends to the year, especially compared to that of last season. After leading the East last year, the Celtics slid all the way down to the four spot, while the Pacers lost team leader Victor Oladipo. The Celtics haven’t suffered any tumultuous injuries but have played abysmal defense. Even without Oladipo, the Pacers own the number three defense in the league, giving them a chance to overpower any team in a seven games series, especially one as inconsistent as this year’s Celtics.

Western Conference:

No. 1 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers were the surprise of the season, finishing as a playoff team without an all star, or previous all star, on their roster. This feat has only been done four other times in NBA history, which is why the Clippers should give themselves a big pat on the back. However, it would take more than a miracle for veteran Head Coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers to take down the defending champs. Having a starting five consisting of five all pro players is normally the roster for an all star game, not the playoffs. Any team having to face this year’s Warriors, with likely the most impressive roster they’ve had yet, will likely need a herculean performance to prevail.

No. 2 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 7 San Antonio Spurs

While the Spurs are back in the playoffs for the 22nd straight year, the Nuggets are in for the first time in six years. Despite the Spurs having a lot of experience with all star DeMar DeRozan and Head Coach Gregg Popovich, the Nuggets are a force to be reckoned within all aspects of the game. Denver’s Nikola Jokic has commandeered the Nuggets into the two seed, proving big name players aren’t necessarily needed to dominate a conference.

No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder

When Jusuf Nurkic went down with a season-ending injury, it was obvious the Trail Blazers wouldn’t be quite the same team. This might not necessarily be a bad sentiment however, as the Blazers went 0-4 against the Thunder in regular season play. Having been dominated that badly, but having done well in the regular season, it is evident the Blazers might benefit from taking a different approach this time around. This series is shrouded in mystery and uncertainty, almost guaranteeing an exciting matchup.

No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz

Both teams have won their last eight out of 10 games, while also going splitting the regular season series against each other. The first two games went in the Jazz’s favor, while the latter two fell to the Rockets. The Rockets surged defensively at the end of the season, while the Jazz flourished offensively, both having been weak spots for each team throughout the season. This matchup is as even as even gets and has the perfect making for a seven-game series.

Written by AJ Seymour — sports@theaggie.org


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