The NBA Playoffs are upon us and there are plenty of storylines to follow entering the opening weekend. The Eastern Conference despite being home to LeBron James is traditionally seen as the inferior half of the Association. However, the Philadelphia 76ers surprised everyone by jumping to the 3rd seed and winning more games than the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Milwaukee Bucks didn’t take the giant leap forward that their fans hoped they would, and people spent a portion of the season actually believing the Washington Wizards were better in John Wall’s absence.
All of that has lead us to this weekend’s postseason where teams will spend the next few weeks battling to punch their ticket to the NBA finals. A few of our writers got together to give their thoughts on the Eastern race to the Finals.
- DJ Allen (@DJAllen23)
- Alfonso De Falco (@FonzyDeFalco)
- Alex Fischbein (@AtlanticFiles)
- Evan Anderson (@Jordainian21)
1. Is this do or die for the Toronto Raptors’ current core of players?
Allen: Absolutely. This is the year that they have to prove everyone wrong. With the number one seed, the ball is in their court. Not too many people have trust in them because they’ve folded numerous of times in the past. I believe they have to make it to the Finals for them to call this season a success. If they don’t make it to the Finals, then it’s time to blow things up. If this isn’t their year then it’s not going to be their year.
De Falco: I think it is. For the past few years, when Toronto acquires a player at the trade deadline, most say it’s the final piece they need to make a series run (i.e. Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker a few years back). Now, with the Number one seed and teams like the Celtics and Cavaliers who have had either injury or struggled at points in the season, this is the year they need make some noise in the playoffs. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan need to play the best basketball of their careers and other players like Ibaka or Jonas Valanciunas need to make an impact. If they don’t, it might be time to change some things in Toronto.
Fischbein: Yes. The Raptors reinvented their offense just to be more of a threat this season. It has been very effective so far, but how will they react when all the memories of blown playoff series come back. If they can’t win now, with the Celtics depleted and LeBron looking more vulnerable than ever, there will be a lot of soul searching to do.
Anderson: Yes. This year they’ve successfully reached the top of the Eastern Conference and this postseason has to be do or die for the core players. If Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan don’t play to their full potential like they have during the regular season, it will look like an early exit for the Raptors and potentially one of the core players last playoff appearances wearing a Raptors uniform. The bench will have to back them up and continue to produce on both sides of the ball with guys like Norman Powell and OG Anunboby.They can’t afford to lose again, especially in the 1 seed, or its over for this current core.
2. Do the 76ers still have something to prove after their fantastic regular season?
Allen: No, I don’t believe so because they’re so young. I think they overachieved because no one saw them as a number 3 seed. All this season did was show their true potential. Imagine Joel Embiid without a minutes restriction and having Markelle Fultz for a full season. With such a young squad, there’s absolutely nothing to prove but to go out and play hard. If they get swept in the first round which I don’t see happening, this season was still a success.
De Falco: Not right now. Not many people thought that the 76ers would be a Top 3 team in the East. Keep in mind that their top pick Markelle Fultz barely played this season and they still were one of the better teams this season. I do believe that they have a chance to make an impact in the playoffs but with such a young squad, making the playoffs at a high seed already proved that they are a legit team. The core of Fultz, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid are 19, 21 and 24 respectively. Will see them back in the playoffs for the next few years.
Fischbein: They still have a TON to prove. We don’t give out awards for good regular seasons. It’s all well and good that some guys might get MVP or ROY, but if there aren’t any championships then what was the process for? Just for fun?
Anderson: Absolutely. They’ve definitely have shown us during the regular season how they’ve developed a great, young group of players that “trust the process” and turned their franchise around. Although, they aren’t done yet. A championship has always been the main goal for any NBA franchise and that’s exactly what they still need to prove. Making it in the playoffs as the 3rd seed in the East, they must close the gap to the NBA championship and solidify their name in the NBA.
3. Is it a big deal if the Cleveland Cavaliers do not make it to the finals?
Allen: No I don’t believe so because I never envisioned them making it to the playoffs early in the season. We watched them hit a real low and I still don’t think they answered their defensive issues. However, with the injuries to the Boston Celtics and not being too sure of the Toronto Raptors, Cleveland has a good chance of making it back to the Finals. I don’t think people are too high on Cleveland this season so I don’t think it would be a big deal if they didn’t happen to make it.
De Falco: It might be depending on the status of LeBron James. Say the team does not make a far run this year, he might want out and start somewhere fresh with a lot of talent. Cleveland really has not met expectations this year and might struggle early in the playoffs. However, the injuries in Boston and the big question mark in Toronto might give Cleveland some hope.
Fischbein: Of course it is. LeBron has been in the last 7 Finals in a row. Everyone expects him to be there every year and he’s probably the only guy right now that can take a team there single-handedly. If they don’t reach the Finals, everyone will look at their season as a failure.
Anderson: Yes, of course. The NBA world would be in shock to hear LeBron James and the Cavs didn’t make it to the NBA Finals. Some fans would love to see LeBron lose and not see him in the Finals for the seventh consecutive year in a row. Other teams like the Boston Celtics or the Philadelphia Sixers will give them a competitive series and make them work to the get to the Finals. Injuries will be a huge factor in their postseason and with a healthy Cavs team, they have a good chance, as usual, to make it far in the postseason. The NBA world would freak!
4.Are the Wizards and the Bucks simply stuck in the mud as “good, not great” teams?
Allen: This phrase coins them perfectly. I’m one of the people who believe that I would rather see the backcourt of the Wizards break up. I’m just tired of seeing the same story over and over with this team. I don’t think they’ve gotten any better and I would like to see some type of change to see if there’s any progression. In regards to the Bucks, a better offense needs to be established. I would love to see an offense that makes things easier for Giannis Antetokounmpo but also some guys around him who are knockdown shooters that can hit shots. I think that would put the Bucks in the best position.
De Falco: It seems like that has been the case for Washington for a few years now. John Wall is one of the best point guards in the league and is stuck in the middle of the conference year and year out. Changes needed to be made big time for the Wizards. Milwaukee is in the same situation also with Giannis Antetokounmpo. This offseason is big for them to find a head coach that works well with Antetokounmpo.
Fischbein: Right now, yes. They haven’t been able to find the right coach and roster makeup to unlock their full potential. I’d say the Bucks are still set up to make some moves and still build around Giannis, but the Wizards might need to blow it all up.
Anderson: Yes because they’ve struggled to really progress in their franchise and haven’t done much about it. Sitting at a “good not great” team cant be the players’ mindset because that won’t get them to an NBA Finals appearance. We always hear about the Wizards and the Bucks making noise in past playoff series, but never seem to win them and advance. The Bucks must add more help for Giannis Antetokounmpo with the scoring on the outside of the arc, while the Wizards have to be able to show what they’ve built in Washington is ready to make to their playoffs result differently this time.
5. What team is the best fit to beat whoever comes out of the West?
Allen: While I think their defense is suspect, I have to say it’s the Cavaliers because they’re the only proven team. They have the best player in the league and we’ve seen them get it done before so I believe it’s the safest choice for this question.
De Falco: I know I said Cleveland struggled a lot this season I still think they would be the best fit for anyone out of the West. LeBron James is completely different when it comes to the playoffs. Like I earlier also, Boston has injuries and we are not sure about Toronto. Philadelphia could be a low-key wildcard for this question.
Fischbein: I’d still say Cleveland. Playoff LeBron is still one of the scariest and most impactful players we’ve ever seen.
Anderson: I would have to say the Cavaliers. Even though there are tough teams this year that want to knock them out before the NBA Finals, LeBron will continue to be dominant and the Cavs will have the best chance.