After more than five months of action, the NBA playoffs are about to start. Out in the East, the Cavaliers are still holding on the top spot by a game while their rivals Golden State Warriors have clinched the top seed with three games to go. Also in the East, the 7th and 8th seeds are still being contested by a possible four teams. The following are the top storylines that all fans are waiting to unfold:
1) Contenders—I am convinced that barring any major injuries, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors will face each other in the NBA Finals for the 3rd straight season. The Cavs are a lock since they don’t have serious competition. Sure the Boston Celtics can give them a run for their money with their young core but the men in green are simply not there yet. The Warriors, meanwhile, will have to contend with either the San Antonio Spurs or the Houston Rockets in the Conference Finals. They also have a possible second round match-up with the still dangerous L.A. Clippers so they will have a tougher road ahead.
2) MVP—Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets’ James Harden are the top candidates for Most Valuable Player. Westbrook has 41 triple-doubles tied with Oscar Robertson’s 1961-1962 record for most in a season and he can still beat that record. Since the Big O, Westbrook will be the first player to average a triple double in a full season, a feat that will be difficult to match. This speaks much of his versatility and talent. His rival Harden is also averaging a near triple double and is leading the league in assists. Harden made the move from shooting guard to point guard this season. In the process, he has improved in every statistical category plus the Rockets have a much better record than the Thunder. This is too close to call.
3) Playoff Seeding—LeBron James will tell you that seeding doesn’t matter but the statistics say otherwise. No. 1 seeds reached the NBA Finals 50 percent of the time in the last 50 years winning the NBA title 14 times since. No. 2 seeds meanwhile reached the Finals only 32 percent of the time, winning the title six times. As you reach the lower seeding, you will note a sharp drop in chances. Seeding reflects the team’s potency and chemistry and of course, it gives you the home court advantage.
4) Rebuilds—There are good teams and there are championship teams. Teams such as the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies, and the Portland Trailblazers have a lot to think about. These are the teams that have a good enough line-up to make the playoffs but fall short of “contender” status. The Hawks for instance are pinning their hopes (and future) to resigning the 32-year old Paul Millsap. The Blazers have all 15 players under contract next season which might stymie their options for a roster upgrade. The Grizzlies are at an end of the era of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and the Raptors can’t seem to get over the hump, even in the weak Eastern Conference. Expect these teams to have a major facelift next season.