This year’s NBA Playoffs feature a number of fresh figures. The Philadelphia 76ers have sort of completed The Process just by making it to the postseason. The goal is always to win an NBA title, but a playoffs appearance must feel like bathing in liquid velvet for Philly.
Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons are all new faces in this annual portion of the NBA season. Anthony Davis finally winning a playoffs series is also something we have all witnessed just now.
Having said all of that, there are some playoffs narratives that just refuse to change – at least as of this writing. Let’s begin with the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors are still the Raptors
100 million BC called. It wants their extinct Raptors back. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers are doing all they can to send the Raps back to that epoch as fast as possible.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers just straight up Thanos-ed the Raptors again in Game 2. James, with ample help this time around from his teammates, grabbed the Raptors by their collars and hurled them out of the window Thursday night to send yet again the same message he has been sending Toronto in each of the past few playoffs: “You come at The King, you best not miss.”
And in the first two games of the series, the Raptors did nothing but miss on their chances to get over the mental hump that only resurfaces whenever they cross paths with LeBron in the playoffs. Toronto had built good leads early in both Games 1 and 2, but much like the Atlanta Braves’ The Freeze, the Cavs closed the gap before eventually taking over and snatching two come-from-behind victories.
Dwane Casey’s team has changed a lot since the Cavs planted a nuclear bomb in Toronto in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals matchup that rid the city of any living Raptor. Supported by a deeper, stronger bench and armed with a better defense, the Raptors looked poised to take down what many regarded as the weakest LeBron James-led Cavs team since returning to Cleveland in 2014 entering the second round.
Through two games of the series, another Cavs sweep of Toronto is starting to become a reality, as it remains clear that LeBron owns the Raps.
Speaking of which…
LeBron James: A playoffs monster
It is what it is. LeBron James, when he decides to be unstoppable, is unstoppable. The Cavs needed every ounce of LeBron to get away from the Indiana Pacers in the first round. No non-LeBron Cavs player scored 20 points in that series, while James averaged a close triple-double of 34.4 points on 55.3 percent shooting from the field, to go with 10.0 rebounds, and 7.7 assists.
In the second round, he resumed his yearly mission to vaporize Toronto. In Game 1, James put up a trip-dub of 26 points, 13 assists, and 11 rebounds. He did shoot only 12-for-30 from the field, but he easily made up for it in Game 2. On Thursday, James exploded for 43 points (19/28 FG) with 14 assists, eight rebounds, and a series of mind-bending fadeaway jumpers. James put up a shooting clinic when what the Raptors needed was a hospital to suture their wounded egos.
Unlike in most other Cavs game in this postseason, LeBron got help in Game 2 with Kevin Love finally playing like a real NBA player, as the power forward scored 31 points.
Still, a Cavs team minus LeBron is not much better than, say, the Sacramento Kings or Phoenix Suns. Without LeBron, Cleveland is nothing more than a lottery team. Necessity drives LeBron to be a monster, and with a subpar supporting cast, expect more of the same from the four-time MVP.
The Warriors are cakewalking through the playoffs
The Warriors were the preseason, midseason, and current favorites to win the 2017-18 NBA Finals. From both the fans and experts’ perspectives, the Warriors’ status as the top contender to win it all has not changed. After walloping the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, the Warriors continued their undefeated streak in the playoffs against Anthony Davis when Golden State won the first two games of their second-round matchup.
The Pelicans catapulted themselves into the Western Conference semifinals after mopping the floor using the Portland Trail Blazers in a first-round sweep. Their annihilation of the Blazers convinced some that New Orleans was going to be a legitimate threat to the Warriors even without DeMarcus Cousins. That has not been the case so far in their matchup. Golden State is using its experience, offensive firepower, and more versatile defense to ensure that New Orleans’ dreams of bringing down the defending champs will remain a fantasy.
That the Warriors are dominating the playoffs even with Stephen Curry appearing in only a game through the first two rounds is solid evidence that reinforces the notion that the Warriors are on their way to a back-to-back title run. When it comes to the Warriors, there are no surprises.
The Los Angeles Lakers are once again left to enjoy the playoffs from the comfort of their sofas at home. For the fifth-straight year, the NBA Playoffs are bereft of the second-winningest NBA franchise, as the Lakers finished with only a 35-47 record. That’s 12 games behind of No. 8 seed Minnesota in the West and good for only 11th in the conference.
The Lakers were not expected to be good right away after drafting Lonzo Ball and even after realizing how big of a draft steal Kyle Kuzma is, but missing the playoffs while seeing the Philadelphia 76ers finally catch the boat to the postseason must be pretty infuriating for the Lakers.
That frustration is compounded more by the fact that the Lakers have had a top-10 pick in each of the last four years and yet averaged only 24.7 wins during that span. The Lakers have a lot of money to spend in this coming summer’s free agency plus they have a pair of first-round picks this year, so maybe they can turn it around and snap their streak of postseason absences next season? Or will they have to concoct another genius late-season PR move like promoting a G League veteran to the big league to mask the team’s struggles?
Chris Paul: The Conference Finals Virgin (until further notice)
Ben Simmons scored just one point in a 108-103 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of their second-round playoffs series, but at least that’s more than the number of conference finals games Chris Paul has appeared in.
The Houston Rockets are the chalks in their own conference semifinals series with the Utah Jazz, but after Donovan Mitchell and company beat the Rockets in Game 2, we’re starting to worry again about CP3’s chances of finally graduating from the second round.