Wyatt Cushman, Staff Writer |
On April 14, 16 teams continued their journey towards an NBA Championship. After an 82-game season spanning nearly six months, the players geared up, ready to make that final stretch run. The playoffs will last until June 17, if necessary.
The teams left standing are among the best in the league and have proved their worth. Some, like the Minnesota Timberwolves, had to fight until the final game of the regular season to continue playing, and with that, clinched a playoff berth for the first time since the 2003-04 season. While the T-Wolves are new to the playoff scene, others like the Spurs, who have played in 21 consecutive postseasons, are not. The rest of the teams fall somewhere in between; there are plenty of first-round matchups that are sure to be exciting.
In the Eastern Conference, the first-round matchup getting the most hype is the Miami Heat and the Philadelphia 76ers, where inexperience meets experience. The Heat have a two-time champion head coach in Erik Spoelstra leading them from the sidelines. They have players like Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside who both have playoff experience under their belts, and they once again have three-time NBA Champion Dwayne Wade. Experience with the pressures that playoff basketball brings can absolutely help your team, and the Heat hope that holds true for them.
The Philadelphia 76ers are the exact opposite of a playoff experienced, veteran led team. Some of their best players include Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, and Joel Embiid, all of whom are in the early stages of their careers. The last thing on this team’s mind, though, is their lack of experience. They came into the playoffs on a 16 game winning streak, the longest ever for a team before entering the playoffs. They’re a fun group to watch, and Embiid, who is arguably their best player, is set to soon return from an orbital fracture he suffered a few weeks ago. The Sixers are only getting stronger, which is a scary thing for the rest of the Eastern Conference.
In the West, one of the more intriguing matchups is between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz. The Thunder are equipped with two high level All-Stars in Russell Westbrook and Paul George, who are both still searching for their first NBA Championship. The Thunder have underperformed this season, but nothing they’ve done up to this point matters – all they need to do is beat who’s in front of them instead of worrying about the past.
The Jazz are a team that many are counting out, but they don’t see it that way. This is a team that has fought for respect all season long, and players like Rudy Gobert and rookie Donovan Mitchell are ready to show everyone that they can play with even the most elite teams in the NBA. Even if the Jazz fall to the Thunder, they look like a team on the rise that could make serious noise in the future.
Of course, the favorites to win it all this season are still the defending champion Golden State Warriors and the LeBron James led Cavaliers. These teams have met in the NBA finals the last three seasons, and the possibility of that happening again is high. Neither are the one-seed in their conference, however, as those designations belong to the Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets. Hopefully, we will see a new team emerge victorious and be named NBA champions.