The NBA postseason is one of the more grueling events in sports, as there are a maximum of four rounds and, for two lucky teams, it can last over two months.
Metro presents a look at key matchups, a budding star waiting to be discovered, and the survivors in the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively.
Team most likely to pull an upset: When it comes to the Western Conference, there are really no upsets to be had, as aside from the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, the teams seeded two through six were separated by just one game – meaning if a fifth or lower seed wins, it shouldn’t be too big of a shock. The Eastern Conference, however, is filled with upstarts who aren’t afraid of the Big Two: the top-seeded Hawks and second-seeded Cavaliers. The Bulls should be weary of a young and talented team like Milwaukee, led by head coach Jason Kidd - who is no stranger to playoff battles.
Player to watch: Magic Johnson used to say that the playoffs is “winning time” and the only time of year when stars are born, so with that being said, look for Giannis Antetokounmpo to show the nation what he can offer. Casual fans are unlikely to know how to pronounce his name or even recall where he plays, but by the time the first round is over, most everyone will remember the time they first saw the versatile Bucks forward shine brightest. Milwaukee may not get out of the first round, but here’s hoping the do-everything 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo continues to build on his impressive regular season. Antetokounmpo averages 12.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game, while shooting an efficient 49-percent from the field.
Western Conference prediction: The Warriors were inarguably the best and most fun team to watch during the 2014-15 regular season, but the playoffs are a different animal altogether. Steph Curry may be the league’s Most Valuable Player, and Steve Kerr may win Coach of the Year after smartly turning down the Knicks’ gig, but that doesn’t mean it’ll translate to postseason success. The NBA is and always will be an “old man’s league," where experience and championship pedigree matter almost as much – if not more – than talent. The reigning, defending champion Spurs have the experience, pedigree, and youth in the right places to hold off the Warriors’ coronation. While Golden State has been almost unbeatable at home this season, losing just two games, one of those defeats came at the hands of the Spurs, meaning should they meet in a Game 7 in Oakland, San Antonio won’t have any qualms about closing down Oracle Arena for the summer.
Eastern Conference prediction: It may be tiresome for most NBA fans to see LeBron James in the Finals, but it’s certainly not for league and television executives. So, even though he changed teams, it doesn’t stop James from reaching the ultimate series for a fifth-straight season. Yes, the Hawks have been in the driver’s seat from start to finish, had four-fifths of their starting lineup make the All-Star team, and they’ve perfectly copied the Spurs’ blueprint, but that won’t guarantee themselves a seat at the big table by season’s end. James and Co. have gelled at the right time. They’ve made the necessary moves to strengthen their starting five and the bench. And they’re just better than anyone in the East, plain and simple.
NBA champion prediction: Tim Duncan is arguably the greatest power forward in NBA history. And for those that argue he’s actually a center, then he’d still be among the top-five pivots ever as well. But the one thing that has eluded the future Hall-of-Famer is back-to-back titles. This is the year he finally achieves that distinction, as the Spurs are too well-coached and battle-tested to let a neophyte Cavs team get in their way. Kawhi Leonard showed last June in winning the Finals MVP that he’s not afraid to defend – and stifle James. Duncan owns a Finals MVP. And so does point guard Tony Parker, who just may be the most underrated all-time great at his position. Add in four-time champ Manu Ginobili, and a supporting cast that knows its role and how to execute to near perfection, and it’s just difficult to imagine a Cavs team that outside of James lacks any real playoff experience to beat the Spurs – especially with the Spurs owning homecourt advantage.