Hello Fangirls, it’s Tracy Sandler and welcome to “The Score.” The NBA playoffs are finally here! It has been quite the season, packed with intrigue, injury, trades and playoff races that went down to the wire, especially in the wild, wild Western Conference. So, let’s look at the favorites in the East and West as we gear up for this the long battle for NBA glory.
1. The Raptors: Toronto has been the most consistent team in the East this year and goes into the playoffs with the number as the number one seed. In other years, their lack of star power and history of underperforming in the playoffs would discount their odds of making it through to the finals. This year the basketball world seems to be warming to the idea of the Raptors coming out of the East and they will have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. If they stay healthy and Demar DeRozen and Kyle Lowry and their bench play the way they have all season, we could see some Canadian flavor in the NBA Finals this year.
2. The Celtics: Injuries have killed Boston this year and the news that Kyrie Irving will miss the rest of the season has put a real damper on their playoff hopes and has their fans sharing a lot of “what ifs.” Their season started out with the loss of their prize free agent Gordon Hayward and looks like it will most likely end with the loss of Kyrie. And who knows when or if Marcus Smart will return. The Celtics still have good players in rookie Jason Tatum, Al Horoford, Jaylen Brown, Greg Monroe and a great coach in Brad Stevens. That said, they lack the star power and depth to make a real run.
3. The Cavs: Cleveland has had an up and down season and their roster is totally different from what it was at the start of the season. That being said, as any NBA expert will tell you, a team with LeBron James on it has a good shot of making the Finals. He has been in the NBA finals for seven straight years so the odds are pretty good for a return. LeBron turns it on in the playoffs with increased minutes and incredible defense, so if the rest of the team can hold up, there is a decent chance The King will hold court again in the Finals.
4. The Sixers: The Process has finally paid off. This team is for real and I don’t think any team in the Eastern Conference is looking forward to playing them. Nobody, including the Sixers, the front office, the fans, or the players thought that the team would be where it is now — fourth in the Eastern Conference, with a home-court advantage in a playoff series, and growing expectations. Their roster has star power in Joel Embid, incredible potential in Ben Simmons, veteran leadership in JJ Redick and depth throughout. It’s been a great year for Philadelphia sports and the Sixers could shock the world and take the Eastern Conference crown.
1. The Rockets: The Houston Rockets are heading into the playoffs in a great spot. First in the West and home-court advantage throughout, this could be a chance for the Rockets to accomplish something great. As always, lineups shrink and minutes increase for the best players so we should see a lot more of James Harden and Chris Paul and that spells trouble for everyone else in the west. Defense wins championships and the Warriors have been a top-five defense both times they’ve won the championships. The Rockets finally have a credible defense with willing defenders. They will need to show up on the defensive side of the ball in order to have a chance of dethroning the defending champs.
2. The Warriors: It’s been a tough season for Golden State. Health has been a big issue, with each of their four all-star players missing time giving the rest of the NBA a glimpse into their vulnerability. They will be without Steph Curry for the first round, but they should get through that series and get their star back for the rest of the playoffs. The team is still stacked with superstars, dynamic role players and a great coach. They also have the experience factor on their side and will be an incredibly tough out. NBA fans are looking forward to a Warriors/Rockets Western Conference finals, which could be a better matchup than what we might see in the NBA Finals.
3. The Blazers: Portland knows what they are up against in the Western Conference. Despite the injuries for Golden State, they are still favorites to repeat. The Rockets have been dominant with the NBA’s best record and the presumptive MVP James Harden on the roster. That said, the Blazers are for real and with Damian Lillard leading the way, and with C.J. McCollum as his sidekick, they can make some noise in the west. They are well-rounded, tough defensively and have strong leadership, but the road to the Finals presents significant challenges. The Blazers are close but not quite ready to make it out of the west.
Keep an eye on OKC. OKC has their big three who have underperformed this season, but you never know what can happen when star power hits the floor in the NBA Playoffs.
Ok Fangirls and NBA fans everywhere. Enjoy the playoffs and see you next time on The Score!
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