Hurrah! The 2017 NBA Playoffs are here

It’s where boys become men and fans get their heart’s fill of the spectacular...

All season long, Harden and Westbrook have broken records through their stellar, individual performances, but now comes the time for them to come face-to- face.   -  NBA India

Finally, the 2017 Playoffs are upon us! After a gruelling five-and-a-half months of intense NBA action, the business end of the 2016-17 calendar is here. Russell Westbrook’s triple-doubles, James Harden’s MVP campaign and Golden State Warriors’ scintillating form right through the season, notwithstanding, the next two months of playoff activity are what separate the great from the good.

It’s where boys become men and fans get their heart’s fill of the spectacular. The winner takes it all may be an old cliché, but it is what defines the NBA’s postseason. This is exactly the stretch where history is made and legends are born.

There are a number of interesting match-ups ahead of us, but it is equally interesting to consider the fortunes of individual teams. Take the Boston Celtics for instance. It is among the elite in the Eastern Conference, but it may, possibly, be weighed down by the expectations of the postseason. Remember, Boston is yet to win a playoff game on the road in its last two postseason appearances (2015 and 2016). If Boston is to carry its regular season form into the 2017 Playoffs, it would have to start winning on the road, something that is never an easy ask in the pressure cooker postseason environment.

 

Or take the Portland Trail Blazers. The Trail Blazers corrected an underwhelming 18-27 start to the season, to finish as the eighth seed in the Western Confernce. Its reward for such a strong finish? Another matchup with the league-best Golden State Warriors, a team which blitzed past them 4-1 in the Western Conference semi-finals last year. And now the Warriors have Kevin Durant. Who said anything about basketball being a fair game!

On the other hand, there is the Milwaukee Bucks in the East. It would make for a dangerous, first-round opponent for any team not named the Cleveland Cavaliers. One would have thought that following the season-ending injury to Jabari Parker, the Bucks’ season was over. But the return of Khris Middleton, and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s strong showing all through, coupled with the talent available in the Bucks’ squad (Greg Monroe, John Henson, Malcolm Brogdon), makes the side a threatening adversary.

But it is the matchups that have us most excited. And what can be better than the first round clash between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. All season long, Harden and Westbrook have broken records through their stellar, individual performances, but now comes the time for them to come face-to- face. The Thunder, even with Westbrook, is definitely the underdog going into this series, but with the Rockets relying so overwhelmingly on its 3-point shooting, a patchy run of form from the 3-point arc would bring the curtains down early on Houston’s playoff hopes.

Then there is San Antonio versus Memphis. Both teams have met each other thrice in the last six playoffs, with the Spurs winning the last two series 4-0. Yet, the Grizzlies make for a bruising opponent as San Antonio would have experienced in its two losses to Memphis this regular season. With its frontcourt of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and the defensive prowess of Tony Allen, Memphis is a menacing opponent. The Spurs, with Kawhi Leonard’s play helming its fortunes, should be able take care of the Grizzlies, but the series won’t be without bite and some intense physical play.

Ultimately, though, the 2017 postseason is about last year’s (and the year before that) finalists, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. The Cavaliers, with LeBron James steering its fortunes, will look to prove its critics wrong after enduring a torrid month of March, and have a long, winning playoff run. It tinkered with its squad, adding a couple of veterans such as Deron Williams, Derrick Williams and Kyle Korver, specifically with an eye on the 2017 postseason. This is the team’s time of reckoning.

And standing in the Cavs’ path to a second successive NBA title will be the Warriors. The Warriors, who added Durant in the offseason, went 50-9 with Durant in its ranks, then lost the forward to injury, and yet finished the regular season with close to 70 wins. A combination of Stephen Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green should be a handful for any team across NBAhistory. For now, though, the Warriors will be looking to just correct its losing effort from last year and win it all this time around!