It’s the most wonderful time of year. Our LeBron’s are hung on our mantles with care, and visions of Larry O’Brien trophies dance in our head. Despite the fact that Cleveland was involved in 14 championship contests over the last 12 months, the sports world world does not, in fact, revolve around us.
Let’s take a look around the NBA at some of the story lines driving the NBA playoffs.
Jeff Teague Stubbed His Toe On An Invisible Rock
The ankle sprain isn’t supposed to keep Teague out for Game 1 of the series against the Cavaliers, but it could certainly slow him down. The Pacers are short on ball handlers and creators, so the loss of Teague would be a massive blow. Teague has had a great year, setting career highs in assists per game and true shooting percentage. You can argue whether he was worth swapping for George Hill,1 but you can’t argue he important he is to the Pacers’ playoff hopes. And when “Jeff Teague’s ankle” was near the top of list of your hopes to begin with, those hopes couldn’t afford much damage.
Most Valuable Playoff Series
Two one-man wrecking crews and MVP candidates face-off in the first round as the Houston Rockets take on the Oklahoma City Thunder. We’ve spent the better part of the season arguing who deserves the MVP between James Harden and Russell Westbrook, so watching them go head-to-head will be one of the most interesting plots of the first round.
Harden’s elite passing and team full of shooters against Westbrook and the gritty, defense-minded Thunder provides a great juxtaposition of styles. And the winner of this series will advance to likely face another MVP candidate in Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs.
Tony Allen Throws a Wrench in Memphis’ Playoff Hopes
Tony Allen was injured in Memphis’ season finale and is likely to miss their entire first round (and probably only round) series against the Spurs. The versatile defender is an integral part of a thin and over-achieving Grizzlies roster. Much like the Jeff Teague injury, it’s hard to decrease the odds of winning when they are already zero percent, but losing Allen is still disheartening for the Grizzlies.
While it won’t receive the same coverage, Allen’s injury is a counter-argument to those who lament players resting in the regular season. The Grizzlies had nothing to play for as their playoff slot was set, and now they are without a player that started 66 games and played the fourth most minutes for them this season.
First Round Upset?
Everyone is trying to find a potential first-round upset, and there just isn’t an obvious choice. The Celtics haven’t made it out of the first round in years, but Chicago doesn’t feel like a huge threat, even if they have the best player in the series in Jimmy Butler.
Most people are picking the Jazz to beat the Clippers, but that’s a four seed versus a five seed and both teams have the same record. Maybe the best chance at an upset would be the sixth seed Milwaukee Bucks over the third seed Toronto Raptors. Toronto is deep and talented and has been playing great even with their best player, Kyle Lowry, missing a huge chunk of the season. But they also barely beat the Pacers in last year’s playoffs. Milwaukee went 17-10 after the All-Star break with insanely talented Giannis Antetokounmpo, criminally underrated Khris Middleton returning,x` and likely Rookie of the Year winner Malcolm Brogdon joining the starting unit. Milwaukee is the type of team that creates the kind of awkward match-ups that can upset a better team. I doubt it happens, but if I had to pick an upset, that’s where I’d put my money.
Paul George Contract
A major story line that will hang over the off-season, even as the Pacers are unlikely to advance past the first round, will be Paul George’s inclusion in the All-NBA team. Due to the new Designated Player Exception, if George makes the team, he stands to make an additional $70 million on his next contract. George, with his contract only running through next season, has been heavily linked to the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency, as well as a trade target for the Boston Celtics. If George makes the All-NBA team, the Pacers, and only the Pacers, can offer him the massive contract. George is a massive talent, possibly the second best player in the Eastern Conference, and could swing the fortunes of many teams. If he makes the All-NBA team and remains in Indiana, it will have a ripple effect on the NBA, changing the plans of several teams, adding $70 million to George’s pockets, and likely creating 70 million clicks due to an additional five years of Danny Ainge planting “Celtics almost traded for Paul George” stories.
Check back for updates on the various story lines as we progress through the playoffs. While it feels like the Cavaliers and Warriors will coast to a Finals rematch, we’ve seen enough in past years to know it’s never as easy as we assume.
- Editor’s note: He wasn’t. [↩]