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NBA Playoff Update

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Image taken from the nba.com

Image taken from the nba.com

Image taken from the nba.com

Michael Maynard, Staff Writer

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Even as the MLB season opens and the electricity of playoff hockey rolls through the sports world, the NBA Playoffs have a way of dominating the headlines. While the road leads to another Warriors vs. Cavs finals matchup, the early rounds still generate significant hype. How do they do it? Simple: the matchups. Not just between the teams, but the interpersonal matchups that create the drama to draw us fans in. The Celtics-Bucks series went 7 games, which in itself is awesome, but the point guard feud that developed made it must watch action. There is so much more that goes into the games than what we see in the box score. If you want to get in on the NBA excitement, here are the matchups you need to be aware of.

Terry Rozier vs. Eric Bledsoe

The Celtics were vulnerable without their two big name players, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, but that opened the door for players like Rozier to step up, which he did, shooting the lights out behind the arc and playing excellent defense. After Game 1 in a press conference, Rozier unintentionally referred to Bledsoe as “Drew” Bledsoe, pertaining to the former NFL quarterback. When later asked about Rozier, Bledsoe said “I don’t know who the f*** that is.” The feud continued throughout the series, as the two got into a shoving match in Game 5. The Celtics won the series in seven, which technically makes Rozier the winner. Bledsoe paid his respect to Rozier after, acknowledging his counterpart’s breakout series. Bledsoe continued his reputation as one of the league’s most mysterious personalities, while “Scary Terry” emerged to rally the Celtics to a series win.

Russell Westbrook vs. Ricky Rubio

Another one of the NBA’s mysterious personalities, Russell Westbrook had some choice words following the Game 3 loss to the Jazz. Following a breakout game from opposing point guard Ricky Rubio, Westbrook guaranteed that he would “shut that s*** down next game.” Spoiler alert: He didn’t. Rubio got the best of Westbrook once again in Game 4 (sub-matchup: After Westbrook picked up his fourth foul, Mitt Romney flashed four fingers up to remind Westbrook how many fouls he had). In Game 5, the Jazz got up 25 points and looked in position to close out the series, but Westbrook led a historic comeback, extending the series; however, that momentum did not continue as the Jazz took Game 6, sealing a 4-2 series win.

Donovan Mitchell vs. Ben Simmons

Speaking of the Jazz, time for some Rookie of the Year talk. This will be a toss up. Mitchell was the 12th pick of the 2017 Draft of the Jazz. He quickly proved he was picked 12 slots too late, averaging 20.5 points per game. Simmons drew LeBron comparisons as a high schooler and was the first pick of the 76ers in 2016. Yes, those are different years. Simmons missed the entire 2016-17 series with a foot injury/part of The Process. Even though it is his second season in the NBA, eligibility wise, this is his rookie year. He certainly delivered, being the piece the Sixers missed in the miserable years of tanking, leading them to the 3 seed in the East. After Simmons had some comments declaring himself the frontrunner for the ROY, Mitchell responded by wearing a sweatshirt to his next game with the dictionary definition of “rookie,” bringing emphasis to the player in his FIRST year.

Kawhi Leonard vs. Spurs

This time last year Leonard was on the shortlist of MVP candidates. Dealing with a quadriceps injury, Leonard was limited to 9 games. Leonard has been medically cleared to play, but he believes he is not ready. Outside the organization, nobody has any clue what is going on, but Kawhi Leonard has probably played his last game in a Spurs uniform. Neither party will want to deal with each other following these antics. Leonard is also eligible for the supermax contract in the 2019 offseason. This system incentivizes players staying with their original team by paying them around $40 million per year. That’s what it would take to keep Leonard in San Antonio. Otherwise, they have to trade him, because they don’t want to lose him for nothing in the offseason. They may not get much back for him because everybody in the league knows the pressure is on the Spurs to make a move. Their options would be to do a sign-and-trade, where they sign Leonard to the super-max and trade him with guaranteed leverage, or more likely, trade him to someone hoping they can lock him up long-term. It’s a terrible situation too for the Spurs. They were bounced by the Warriors in 5 playing without Leonard. It’s been an improbable fall from paradise for the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard, and it will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Wizards vs. Wizards

The Washington Wizards have put themselves into the worst spot to be as a team: the middle. They will make the playoffs every year they have their current roster, but won’t get anywhere in the playoffs. As a Bulls fan I’ve dealt with this ever since DRose got hurt. The Wizards have one of the best backcourts in all-stars John Wall and Bradley Beal. They should be able to win with two superstars, but they won’t. The Wizards are in the spot the Bulls were in—they have their core of players, but there really isn’t much more they can add without shaking everything up.

Both Wall and Beal are locked up long-term. Wall is signed under the supermax deal I mentioned earlier with Leonard, and both Beal and Otto Porter Jr. are locked in through 2021. Beal had his best season last year and has shown steady improvement, so they could sell high on him like the Bulls did last year with Jimmy Butler. Porter has shown flashes of brilliance, but not to the extent the Wizards have hoped for. He is a harder sell. Wall is probably most likely to remain on the roster. This is a big offseason in Washington, as changes may be coming.

Kevin Durant vs. Social Media Kevin Durant

KD allegedly liked an Instagram post saying Westbrook was the problem when the two were teammates in Oklahoma City. However he later un-liked it and said it was an accident. Nothing new here.

Drake vs. Kendrick Perkins

I’ve covered the main player v player beefs, so now let’s get to what really matters: Washed-up-NBA-locker-room-presence-guys-who-were-probably-signed-to-fight-other-teams-superfan-rappers versus superfan rappers. Drake is a well-known Toronto Raptors fan, as he stands on the sideline during the game doing what teams’ superfans are supposed to do: Cheer on your guys and get in the other guys’ heads. Kendrick Perkins is a veteran center with plenty of playoff experience, but that was years ago. He signed on with the Cavs essentially as a coach, as he doesn’t even dress for games. After the Raptors’ Game 1 collapse, the two exchanged words, and had to be seperated. It really never escalated to a point of an actual brawl, but it definitely was an attention-getter.

Charles Barkley vs. Draymond Green

TNT analyst and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley recently voiced his disgust for Draymond Green of the Warriors, saying on air “I just want somebody to punch him in the face,” and later in the conversation, “I want to punch him in the face so bad, I’m just telling you. I want to punch his ass in the face. I do.” He later apologized for the extremity of his statements. Physical threats aside, a common hypothetical is who would win a game of one-on-one between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. I want to see Barkley and Green in that scenario. Two very similar styles of players: Gritty on the glass with unstoppable defensive motors, and guys you hate to play against but love to have on your team. THAT is quite the matchup.

 

Other playoff stories

Meek Mill is Free

I still don’t know what Meek Mill did, why he was in prison, and why he is now free. It has little importance to me. There’s a million other controversies more worthy of my time forming an opinion on. The big takeaway however, is that he is free. And that he was rushed to Wells Fargo Arena to make it in time for Sixers vs. Heat Game 5.  

Playoff P

Paul George of the Thunder gave himself the nickname “Playoff P” prior to Game 1 versus the Jazz. Nothing against PG13-the nickname he should stick to-but “Playoff P” is probably the last thing he should be calling himself. He suffered that gruesome injury in the USA scrimmage game, so his career has been split into two parts. My personal theory is that during that injury, George saw Nick Young start calling himself “Swaggy P,” and because giving oneself a nickname is the ultimate move, he thought of “Playoff P”. Problem was, he had to show it. Last year he got swept by the Cavs with the Pacers, and that was his opportunity to bring out “Playoff P,” and it failed. So he’s been sitting on this for a while, and this time he felt confident he could beat the Jazz, which backfired. All in all, “Playoff P” has a lot more to prove if he actually wants the reputation to stuck.

Raptors keep choking

I can’t even use the Heimlich maneuver jokes anymore because this has become so normal. The Raptors are not a playoffs team; last year they got swept by the Cavs. This year they improved their depth and got the 1 seed in the East. I never bought in, as nobody really did, and I said they would lose in the first round. I was wrong there, but for the first 3 ½ quarters of Game 1 against the Cavs, they looked like a different team. They looked like they FINALLY might get over the playoff hump. It was at the point where I was about to text everyone whom I had called the Raptors a fraud to, and admit I was wrong. They just could not finish the game. They had shots to win it; there was even a tip-in opportunity that missed. And then LeBron took over, the Raptors missed a golden opportunity to get take a series lead. LeBron and crew then took care of the Raptors fairly easily, although they needed another crazy LeBron buzzer beater to survive. This is going to be a long offseason in Toronto.

LeBron….I don’t need to say anything else

Oh yeah, Lebron James is still the best player on the planet. Because they ended up beating the Pacers, all be it in seven games down to the wire, I have no need to discuss how bad the Cavs looked because now they’re winning. He probably let the series go to seven on purpose so he could pad his playoff stats. The Cavs really are an average team that happens to have the best player on their team. When LeBron leaves next year for the Spurs (my official prediction), the rest of the Cavs current roster is maybe a 30-52 team. Which in all fairness might be enough to make the playoffs because of how bad the East is.

Mixed results for the Bulls

This was a tough year to be a Bulls fan, but we did what was necessary to develop our players or get a better pick. If we lock up Zach LaVine to a moderately team-friendly deal, draft Michael Porter Jr., and sign a couple glue guys (personal pick: Jabari Parker) in free agency (I also would not be mad if they traded for Leonard), an 8-seed is reasonable next year. Yes tanking is a ridiculous phenomenon in the NBA, but there’s no way to legislate against it. That said, the Bulls played the system well enough for a chance at a decent player, and there’s enough talent where if they actually try to win next year, there’s going to be significant progress.

Elsewhere, it has been interesting to follow the fragments of the old Bulls teams that had so much potential play in the playoffs. Tom Thibodeau essentially tried to recreate the Timberwolves with his old Bulls players Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, and whatever is left of Derrick Rose. It really is a shame Thibs can’t adapt to playing guys less regular season minutes and NOT wearing down their bodies in the regular season, just like he did in Chicago. The Timberbulls lost in 5 to the Rockets, which is a shame because they are incredibly talented. For his own good I hope Thibodeau alters his rotation philosophy next year.

The other big former Bulls news is the Pelicans. After they traded for Nikola Mirotic (still getting used to him without the beard) midseason, he was reunited with E’Twaun Moore and Rajon Rondo (for the record last year the Bulls would have at least beaten the Celtics if Rondo didn’t get hurt). They swept the Trail Blazers, and looked pretty darn good in doing so. Games 1 and 2 were mixed against the Warriors, but Game 3 was impressive. Since I’ve mentioned very little of the Pelicans, the least I can do is say that Anthony Davis is a really good basketball player.

 

Jersey watch

10/10 on the Jazz fire jerseys. I love how unnatural it feels with their traditional blue and green feel, and the all red and orange crowd is one of the best environments in sports (although the Rockets really took it to them). 76ers get an A for their white jerseys with the cursive “Phila” and the court with the Liberty Bell logo. Timberwolves get an A as well. Golden State’s “The Town” jerseys are nice, but are very similar to their short-sleevers before the adidas to nike switch, and the luster has worn off a bit. The Rockets should never wear their white jerseys, the Heat should have brought out their  jerseys with the “Miami” in the cursive, pink text, and the Thunder should go back to the Orange alternates from last year. My only F goes to the Raptors for their black jerseys with the gold streak across that apparently were designed by Drake. They were swept by the Cavs faster than they could reuse them, which is probably better for human eyes.

Prediction

I’m going to guarantee the Warriors win it all. Steph Curry came back Game 2 against the Pelicans, and I remembered that Curry is a really good shooter and nobody is going to beat them. So there’s that. I probably could have just made this paragraph my entire playoff analysis, but that’s not fun. The NBA is sports, but it is also entertainment. It’s fun to overreact to professional athletes using curse words on camera and criticize every team for not being as good as the Warriors.

 

I’m officially making this my last sports article for Voyager. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak my mind freely, as it has given me a way to communicate I’ve never had before.

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NBA Playoff Update