“Strap in, the playoffs are here”

Devon Greene

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We have reached the end of a season that can only be described as dramatic. We have seen a number of issues and stories arise this season. Players resting, a wildly entertaining MVP race, and the drop of NBA ratings have left fans waiting for the playoffs.

The seedings are just about set, and we can almost taste the first round of playoff basketball. The most exciting first-round playoff series will most certainly be the battle between the two MVP frontrunners and former teammates, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The number three seed Houston Rockets will take on the number six seed Oklahoma City Thunder in what will be must see TV for NBA fans for the first time since last year’s Game 7 of the NBA finals.

The Western Conference is all but won for the Warriors with teams like Houston and San Antonio nipping at their heels. San Antonio was battling for the one seed in the West with a month left in the regular season but couldn’t quite get past Golden State, who began a ridiculous 13-game win streak without arguably the second greatest player in the NBA, Kevin Durant.

Golden State is closing the regular season on a roll. Kevin Durant made his triumphant return on Saturday in the Warriors matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Warriors just lost their first game in almost a month on Monday to the Utah Jazz. Their first round matchup will be the Portland Trailblazers, who are not a concern for anyone in Golden State except for Steph Curry. It’s no secret that Steph struggles on the defensive end at times. Every time the Warriors played an elite point guard last year in the playoffs, Steph would be switched off for the more defensively stout player in Klay Thompson. Damian Lillard owns Steph Curry’s number in their individual matchup. Golden State obviously has a winning record against the Blazers, but Lillard’s star has shined bright when facing Curry.

The Warriors are also facing a crucial point in the season when it comes to team chemistry. Before Kevin Durant’s injury, the Warriors were undoubtedly worse than the team they were last year. They had already lost more games than they did the entirety of last season. Following the announcement that Durant would be out indefinitely with his injury, the Warriors looked shaky at best. In their first six games since the announcement they posted one of the worst records over a six-game stretch they’ve recorded in years of 2-4. Then something nobody saw coming happened. The Warriors of last year returned. Steph Curry began to look like the magician he was on the court again. Confidence returned to the team and chemistry began to improve. They popped off a 13-game win streak that surprised even the highest profile sports media personnel. It makes some questions pop into our minds. Are the Warriors better without Kevin Durant? It almost seems crazy to ask. How can a team be better without the second-best player in the world? Team chemistry is huge in any sport. When the Warriors captured the magic in a bottle that was their 73-9 season, they were as close and as confident as we’d ever see a team be in NBA history. When they added Kevin Durant, pressure came. Pressure to win the championship, and a pressure that they haven’t faced before: Hatred. Last season, we couldn’t get enough of Golden State. We loved the threes and Curry’s insane dribble moves and jumpers from 35-feet like it was a layup. Yet, when they formed the super team, the NBA fans turned against them. Most NBA fans are against superteams. We saw it with the Miami Heat in 2010 and now with the Warriors. Can the Warriors handle the pressure of the world on their shoulders? We will certainly see. Yet, there is a serious question to ask. Who’s going to stop them? San Antonio and Houston are the best bets. San Antonio is a factory of winning that seems to never have a down year. Kawhi Leonard is the superstar we all knew he could be after the departure of Tim Duncan. Houston set the NBA record for most threes scored in an NBA season this year. This is crucial for an opponent of Golden State. They are the only team that rivals them in three point shooting ability in the Western Conference and an MVP candidate on your team never hurts your chances. Yet, the biggest obstacle for the Warriors lies in wait in the Eastern Conference. The Cleveland Cavaliers.

The big story in the East is the troubling record for the Cavaliers.

The Celtics have a legitimate chance to clinch the number one seed on Wednesday in their game against Milwaukee. Are the Cavs in jeopardy of not getting to the NBA finals?

No. How many years do we have to go through this? Every year we go through the tedious task of wondering if a LeBron-led team is about to crumble into oblivion and every year everyone is dead wrong. The Cavaliers are bored. They have the two best players in the Eastern Conference and one man who can single-handedly take over any game that he wants to. It was already written in stone the second after the final buzzer of last year’s finals who we’re going to see once again in the NBA finals, the Cavs and the Warriors. When a team knows that their entire season rests on their performance in June, the regular season loses some of its gravitas. Cleveland played Boston last Wednesday and absolutely blew them out of the water. It shows that there is no real competition left for the Cavaliers in the East when they decide to flip the switch.

Who can stop the Cavaliers? No team in the East. LeBron and the Cavs own the Eastern Conference. It’s not about to change this season. The only teams that have a shot at dethroning the Cavs as NBA champions are Golden State and the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have been a thorn in LeBron’s side his entire career. He has a 1-2 record against Coach Pop and the Spurs in the finals over his career. This Spurs team may not be at the level it has been in the past, but you cannot count out Kawhi Leonard and Greg Popovich. Golden State is Golden State; arguably the most talented team of all time. It will clearly be a tall mountain to climb for the Cavs.

We’ve been waiting all year for some urgency and games that matter in the NBA. We’re about to get some. Strap in, the playoffs are here. Twitter: @LewAicindor

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