The NBA playoffs are in full swing, with every one of the sixteen teams who pushed into the postseason putting at least one game under their belts.
There are plenty of great matchups this season, but who should you watch (in case your priorities are screwy, keeping you from watching all of them)? Do not have a team in the playoffs? Do not follow the sport closely through the regular season? Think your team will get worked and do not want to watch, but failed to prepare a fall back team?
Have no fear, here is a guide to the first round and why to watch each playoff team.
Watch the lock for regular season MVP, as James Harden, continue his burn through the 82 games by smoking the Timberwolves with a 44-point outing. The Beard averaged 30.4 points per night during the season while shooting 58 percent from three. And where Harden really gets cooking is isolation, leading the NBA with 12.2 isolation points per game and shooting 44 percent.
Golden State Warriors
The perennial champions are trying to make a push once again, this time with star point guard Stephen Curry on the pine with an ankle injury. Now Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green need to pick up his slack and guide the team onward. A team with three All-Stars on the roster, what’s not to love?
Portland Trail Blazers
The Damian Lillard show has been maligned, rudely bounced from the playoffs early and often forgotten. This season watched Lillard and company surge to the third spot in the West, which gives Dame Dolla$ plenty of spotlights to shine in. The All-Star point guard is half of a duo (his two-guard: C.J. McCollum) that combined for 48.3 points per game. This is the show that does not stop shooting.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have been a continual saga of drama all season long. With the additions of Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, the season has been filled with growing pains. However, OKC looks to be brimming with confidence following George’s 36-point outing in the series opener, to which Westbrook did not wear a shirt (not wearing a shirt = sure victory). Win or lose, the team never stops providing a story.
Utah closed the season on a 32-14 run in 2018, jumping from 9th to fifth in the playoffs. The engine that kept the Jazz chugging: Donovan Mitchell. He has been one of the spotlight rookies this season, averaging 20.5 points while shooting 43 percent. He is a highlight reel onto himself (attempted 49 dunks this season) and proved he can not only score but also hit big-time shots in the clutch (a playoff essential), boasting a 38 percent shooting efficiency in the final minute of games.
New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis is insane.
San Antonio Spurs
There is really not much of a reason. They are without their best player and a +45 win season is more than anyone should have anticipated anyway.
This is the first playoff action since 2004. If you cannot get jazzed about that, you may not have a pulse. Add in that they have a young Andrew Wiggins/Karl-Anthony Towns duo teamed up with the best two-way guard in basketball (Jimmy Butler) and there are plenty of reasons to watch.
To see if this team is different from the ones in the past. They are the same stars in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. The same +50 win season. The same head coach in Dwane Casey that knows how to build roster depth. Now time to see if they can actually do it after 82 games. They won a game one, a spot they previously had gone 0-9. It was a good start, time for more.
Despite the loss of two All-Stars (Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward) and Marcus Smart, the Celtics keep trucking. Coach Brad Stevens system and a slew of players doing their job not only got them the two seed in the East, but an overtime playoff win. If they keep performing to their strengths, what is the ceiling?
Rookie Ben Simmons has been fantastic all season, averaging a double-double without attempting a single three. He leads a well-constructed assembly of shooters and bench players who play fast (102.20 possessions per 48 minutes) and gun from deep (32 3-point attempts per game). They are a young team in the mold that the Warriors made.
LeBron James transforming from the consistent motor of his regular season team into the postseason grim reaper that kicks ass and takes names is chilling enough to make the Hulk shiver.
Victor Oladipo has been released from Westbrook’s shadow, blossoming into the most improved player in basketball. Now he has his sights set on the postseason’s best, the aforementioned James, to prove the regular season was not for nothing.
The Heat have always been exceptionally coached, with plenty of long, young talent. It is full of guys you would not expect to necessarily dismantle an opponent, but collectively make sense as a dangerous unit. A stretchy, pass clogging defense that bogs down opposing offenses is just the type of team to create trouble in the playoffs.
Unlike Miami, this is not a well-coached team and reek of errors. However, they are a compilation of tantalizing talents that can make a mess of a basketball game when in just the right spots. Giannis Antetokounmpo is unstoppable going to the rim, Eric Bledsoe is a physical guard, Jabari Parker a sniper, Khris Middleton in the midst of a career season (first time averaging over 20 points per game) and Malcolm Brogdon is the returning Rookie of the Year.
Anytime that Bradley Beal and John Wall take the court, there is potential for something special. Granted, they have no bench and the locker room beef of Wall vs. Wizards is the best (or worst) ever, but the flash of basketball greatness is still right there, waiting to be unlocked.
Photo: Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green reacts during the second half in Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the against the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, April 16, 2018, in Oakland, Calif. Golden State won 116-101. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)