As the second round of the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs unfold, a number of contenders have emerged as teams clash to see who will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy come June.
All year, analysts from across the league manufactured cases for a variety of teams like Toronto and Philadelphia, while simultaneously downplaying Cleveland. Now that the playoffs are here, LeBron James has shown exactly why he still reigns supreme as King James.
Koby Altman’s decision to swap Kyrie Irving for a package valued at 50 cents on the dollar spawned an uphill battle for James and company even before the season tipped-off. Legitimate consequences arise when substituting Irving’s impact on offense with a rotating cast of characters among the likes of Jose Calderon and Jeff Green, and The Cavaliers are learning that lesson the hard way.
After escaping a near first-round exit in a rocky series against the Pacers, the Cavaliers made quick work of the Raptors, fueled by the heroics of none other than King James. As time expired during game three, James calmly dribbled down the floor to drain one of the most impressive shots of his career: an effortless running mid-range floater that plainly banked off as the buzzer sounded to extinguish the hopes of Toronto. With Monday’s 128-93 victory, The Cavaliers finished the Raptors off with a 4-0 sweep. Cleveland’s primed for another finals run as James looks to make his eighth straight.
In the opposing conference, some contenders may not be what they seem. After Houston submitted a dominant regular season campaign, they’ve ran over some potholes early in the playoffs. Although they hold a 7-2 playoff record, something seems missing.
They’ve leaned heavily on their MVP-favorite James Harden, and while the shooting guard has answered the call, he’s carried a heavy burden. “Dirty work” defenders like Clint Capela and Trevor Ariza have had to step into premier roles as playoff competition has intensified. If we’re talking about the likes of Capela and Ariza as pivotal players, it’s not likely the Rockets can hang with the firepower of the Warriors.
The reigning champions persisted through their own struggles over the last few weeks. While sustaining injuries to each of their four all stars, their team was nearly unrecognizable as Quinn Cook and company took on the late regular season toils.
Now that the playoffs are in full swing, Golden State has returned their stars and once again resemble a basketball juggernaut. In a game two 121-116 win over the Pelicans, two-time MVP Steph Curry returned after missing over a month of action. Curry came off the bench to drop 28 points on 15 shots, with a game high +26 plus/minus.
On Sunday, the Warriors cruised to a 118-92 victory. They took a demanding 3-1 lead over the Pelicans as their two former MVPs, Kevin Durant and Curry, combined for 61 points.
NBA junkies everywhere have rejoiced in the refreshing parity of the this year’s postseason, as a variety of storylines have emerged throughout the league. Sensational rookies like Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum have treated their fans to epic performances and led their teams deep within the playoffs. Synchronously, usual suspects like Harden, James and Curry have likewise provided for their own theatrics in a truly entertaining playoffs.