The opening round of the NBA Playoffs are at their midway point. A few teams are already through to the conference semi-finals and a few others still trying to figure themselves out but for the most part, each series has gone according to plan. Some of our past story lines have played out, while some new ones have emerged over the last two weeks and here is where we stand two weeks into the NBA post-season…
Past, Present and Future King
LeBron James chose his own path through the Eastern Conference, one that avoided the gritty Chicago Bulls in the opening round and left the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards in a collision course for the right to play the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. So far, it’s worked. The Cavs got through the Indiana Pacers in four games and LeBron and Co. now get to watch the rest of the East battle, while enjoying a week of post-season rest.
“Greek Freak” Goes Mainstream
Through his first few seasons, Giannis Antetokounmpo was that mythical creature that you saw on Vine and Twitter. Watching him dunk, swat shots and run the floor like Russell Westbrook in ten-second clips is fun but watching him do that and more across 40 minutes is even better. Giannis, pictured below, has developed into one of the best players in the league faster than most predicted when he was drafted in 2013 and if he can lead Milwaukee into the next round, where LeBron James awaits, their one-on-one battles will be must watch television.
Warriors Still Own the West
Despite having being the 2014 NBA Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard has seen similar mainstream growth throughout these playoffs. After his 43/8/3 line against Memphis is Game 4, the whispers about Leonard being the best two-way player in the league weren’t whispers anymore but after dropping two games against the Grizzlies, it’s hard to see Kawhi being able to carry the San Antonio Spurs past the Golden State Warriors. Steph Curry and Co., who weren’t even at full strength for their series against Portland, cruised to a four-game sweep and should have similar success no matter who they play in the next round. The West may be wild but it still belongs to the Warriors.
While some players have returned from injuries for the post-season, Kevin Love and Kevin Durant to name a few, others have been bitten by the injury bug in the opening round. The Chicago Bulls jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the Boston Celtics before former Celtic Rajon Rondo went down with a broken thumb and Blake Griffin’s injury woes have continued, as he’s been ruled out with a toe injury for the Los Angeles Clippers. Both the Bulls and Clippers have faltered since and even though both teams likely weren’t getting out of the first round anyway, I wish every team in the NBA Playoffs was at full strength and that Blake Griffin could still do stuff like this without coming up lame.
What Could Have Been
Since I have been so big on Russell Westbrook, I don’t have the heart to bury him for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s early exit thanks to James Harden and the Houston Rockets. Westbrook is still my MVP but watching him play with a glorified Junior Varsity team was hard to watch, especially since he is the last man standing in OKC. Harden, Westbrook and Durant are now three of the best players in the league and it pains me to think of where the Thunder would be if Harden wasn’t traded and if Durant didn’t leave last summer. Stay strong Russ, the night is darkest just before the dawn and I promise you, the dawn is coming.