The NBA regular season is all about planting seeds for the playoffs that those who follow the going-ons of the NBA into the postseason, hope will blossom into interesting matchups and storylines that’ll make conversations more robust than simply a regurgitation of what happened on the floor.
Once again, the NBA does not disappoint.
Whether it’s Dillon Brooks’ words directed at LeBron James coming back to haunt him, or the across-the-board injury bug that torpedoed the title hopes of a number of teams, the storylines that have evolved during the playoffs have been the disabled vehicle on the side of the road that we can’t take our eyes off of.
But when all is said and done, all the smoke that comes about in the playoffs will end with a champion being crowned.
Here’s a closer look at the four biggest storylines in the postseason that will go far in helping determine the next NBA champion which is the storyline that teams still swimming in the postseason ocean care the most about.
Joel Embiid’s Health
After being the runner-up for the league’s MVP award for the past couple of seasons, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid finally broke through this season to win the award.
That’s the good news.
A lateral collateral ligament (LCL) right knee injury suffered in Game 3 of Philly’s first-round sweep of the Brooklyn Nets, sidelined him for two playoff games.
He returned for Philadelphia’s Game 2 matchup against Boston, but his play - and that of his team - didn’t exactly inspire confidence that the league’s top scorer will regain the dominant form we have seen from him this season or that the Sixers could win the series. He had 15 points in 27 minutes of court time.
The only thing dominant in that game was Boston’s play, which ended with a 121-87 blowout win for the Celtics.
Never mind the fact that Embiid has struggled mightily to win any playoff series against Boston.
Not only is the durability of his right knee in question, but compounding that concern is his conditioning which the Celtics found success in by attacking
early and often in Game 2, a similar strategy we’ll likely see more of in Game 3.
And Embiid won’t get a ton of time to improve his conditioning, not with games being played every other day of this series until it’s over.
Jimmy Buckets At It Again
The biggest surprise of the playoffs thus far has been the Miami Heat which knocked off top-seeded Milwaukee in the first round.
Coming through the play-in tournament, the Heat has stepped its play up at the most important point in the season.
And leading the charge for them has been Jimmy Butler, whose Game 4 performance has to go down as one of the most impressive individual playoff performances we have seen in years and should give New York Knicks fans reason to be concerned.
Butler scored a playoff career-high 56 points in the Game 4 victory over Milwaukee. For the playoffs this year, he’s averaging a career-best 35.5 points per game with 6.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting a career-best 58.5 percent (playoffs and regular season) from the field.
While Jimmy Buckets missed Game 2 with an ankle sprain, it is not considered an injury that will keep him out for an extended period of time.
And as we have seen, Butler consistently elevates his play in the postseason. As he works his way back on to the floor following his ankle sprain, can he keep it going?
Father Time Still Waiting On Steph, Lebron And Kd
The second round of the NBA players has had a certain Back to the Future feel about it, when you look at some of the performances put on by players who are supposed to be in the sunset stage of their careers.
Instead, they’re shining in ways you seldom see NBA players in their mid-to-late 30s do so.
LeBron James, 38, is dropping a daily double-double in the playoffs of 22.1 points and 11.1 rebounds while also managing to dish out five assists per game and 1.6 blocked shots as he tries to power the seventh-seeded Lakers into the Western Conference finals.
Stephen Curry, 35, is looking to lead Golden State to back-to-back NBA titles despite being a sixth seed in the West. The future Hall of Famer is shooting 48 percent from the field while averaging 32.6 points per game in the playoffs, both career playoff-highs.
And then there’s Kevin Durant, the centerpiece of the biggest blockbuster trade this season when the Brooklyn Nets shipped him out to Phoenix. Durant, who will be 35 years old in September, is averaging 27.9 points in the postseason while shooting 50.4 percent from the field as the Suns try to get back into their second-round series against Denver after losing the first two games.
How Good Is Denver, Really?
Despite having the best record in the Western Conference this year, a first for the Denver Nuggets, you would think they are the team still alive in the playoffs from the play-in format.
And yet they have been the most dominant team in the second round of the playoffs, showing little trouble in defeating the Phoenix Suns to lead 2-0 in their best-of-seven series.
While NBA teams that play the Nuggets understand they are talented, that doesn’t always come across to NBA fans who have littered social media with their doubts as to how good the Nuggets are.
But the results and the data behind the results, suggests otherwise.
Nikola Jokic is a two-time league MVP, so his impact no matter the metric is immense. But what we’re seeing from the Nuggets is a team that, when healthy, can beat just about any team in the playoffs handily.