Opening weekend for NBA Playoffs 2019 was explosive. Now we’re down to 8 teams, 2 weeks in, and well into the swing of things as the NBA season is swiftly coming to an end.
In the West it’s looking good for Golden State and even better for Denver, both teams standing at 1-0. I do believe Houston is going to eventually gain some momentum and come out on top, at least that’s what I’m hoping for to save me the agony of seeing the Warriors in the finals again. Meanwhile, Denver has a really good chance of staying on top against Portland, especially with Nikola Jokic on the floor. On top of that, Denver’s defense - at this point - is going to be what saves them facing Portland moving forward. As long as he keeps the same energy he had last night, it’s absolutely possible for the Nuggets to make it to the conference finals and for Jokic to be the one to lead them there.
In the east, we have Boston leading the series at 1-0 and Philadelphia and Toronto tied at 1-1. It seems to be more competitive on this side. Although the Trailblazers were able to walk away with a 13 point win and Kawhi with a career high of 45 points, the 76ers came back with a vengeance in game 2, which leads me to guess that this will definitely be a tit for tat series. Philly remains consistent, which can be a good or bad thing, but I do think it will be more beneficial to step up the pace a little bit more if they truly want to make it to the conference finals next month. Tonight, we’ll see if the Celtics have what it takes to completely dominate the Bucks the same way they did in game 1.
Key players in the West:
Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets) is an obvious factor if we’re discussing key players. His ability to… is going to be exactly what Denver needs to make it past Portland’s offense.
Well-rounded, calculated, and precise, Damian Lillard (Portland Trailblazers) has been showing out this playoff season! He’s the fuel for his team and that has barely gone unnoticed by a long shot. Despite who is or isn’t on the floor with him, Portland is still 117 points per 100 possessions…and that speaks volumes for what kind of player he’s been this series.
James Harden (Houston Rockets) is an asset as long he’s not being selfish. His game has top 2 finish potential when he is giving it all he has and -give or take minor pace differences - no one in league history is scoring more than Harden right now. The downside of him being as good as he is, is carrying his team so much, that he runs the risk of burn out when it matters the most. Like B. Braxton said on his last TEAM FOCUS piece, “a tired James Harden is good, but not nearly as good as an energized one.”
One thing I’ve been able to gauge about Kevin Durant (GS Warriors), is -although he’s a force during regular season- he truly shines in post-season. Not far from any top 5 debate, K.D. has made his mark in Golden State with his tough-to-stop style and ability to follow just as well as he leads. For the past five years, he’s put at least 25 points per game on the scoreboard with a shooting percentage over 60% and has scored over 200 points in his last 4 games.
Key players in the East:
Arguably deemed to be the “Giannis stopper”, Al Horford (Celtics) has the patience and skill set to be able to stand against the leagues most elite players. His defense is precise and timely, whether he’s on the run or not in motion at all.
Khris Middleton (Bucks), though he is an understated choice, he is a viable alternative to the Bucks’ MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who hasn’t exactly played his best in this series. Averaging 17 points per 36 minutes, with other high ranking stats to back such an impressive shooting percentage for the fourth consecutive year, he’s easily a candidate for top players.
Although Kawhi Leonard (Raptors) is a rather awkward pick, he’s still my go-to option for Toronto. Aside from being out most of the season, a well-rested Kawhi makes more than 50% of his 2 point shots and he’s proficient on the defensive end. I foresee the coaches making better use of his overall availability moving into game 2.
From day 1, Ben Simmons (76’ers) has been an incredible player to watch. He’s a star in every sense of the word, there’s no doubt about it, and has what it takes to be one of the best in the league. In playoff mode, Simmons has a 70 percent success rate at the rim and has to be one of the most versatile players on the squad.