With 82 regular season games in the books for each of the 30 NBA teams, it’s time for more basketball for 16 of those teams. It’s playoff time.
Here, we’ll break down two simple keys to watching playoff basketball—storylines and players—so the family can talk hoops all the way into June.
Storylines to Watch
Ghosts of Postseasons Past
The top two teams in the NBA have narratives working against them. The East-leading Raptors and the West’s top Houston Rockets have struggled in previous postseasons. Both have some fresh faces & very deep benches. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and James Harden will look to lead their teams further than ever before.
Regardless of their exact seeding, it feels as though Cleveland and Golden State are pencilled into the Finals. Challengers will have to prove their worth— in order to give us a new-look NBA Finals, it’s going to take a dethroning from a fresh face.
Players to Watch
For each of the 8 first-round series, here’s a player to keep your eyes on.
1 v. 8: Raptors v. Wizards
When Lowry is feeling it on the court, he makes his impact heard: playing pesky defence, drawing charging fouls, and shooting a silky-smooth jumper. He’s entering the playoffs healthy this time around, so he’ll look to show teams what’s he’s made of.
2 v 7: Celtics v. Bucks
The man known as the Greek Freak is the best player in this series, given injuries to Boston’s squad. The Bucks limped at the end of the regular season but Antetokounmpo will look to lead his Milwaukee team over the higher-seed Celtics and into the 2nd round for the 1st time in his career.
3 v 6: Sixers v. Heat
Joel Embiid/Hassan Whiteside
The 76ers’ Embiid (likely out for Game 1) and the Heat’s Whiteside have had a bit of a rivalry over the last year or so. But the two bring out the best in each other, both on the court and off of it. Both can be fun personalities on social media.
4 v 5: Cavaliers over Pacers
Of course. In his 15th season in the NBA, LeBron played all 82 regular-season games, showing off the high basketball IQ and freak athleticism we’ve come to love. He hasn’t lost a 1st-round game since May 6th, 2012.
1 v. 8: Rockets v. Timberwolves
The Timberwolves may not last long in this postseason, but watch out—Butler could win one game for Minnesota all by himself. He’s a tenacious defender who’ll be tasked with locking down Harden and he has a beautiful offensive game too.
2 v. 7: Warriors v. Spurs
Another familiar name. With Stephen Curry out for the 1st round, the Warriors will lean on another top-5 NBA player. Durant is a truly gifted scorer who is just getting better and better on the defensive end.
3 v. 6: Blazers v. Pelicans
The unibrowed Davis has the chance to single-handedly lead his sixth-seeded Pelicans into the 2nd round. An absolute monster on both ends of the floor, he averaged 28.1 points and 11.1 rebounds as well as a league-leading 2.6 blocks per game.
4 v. 5: Thunder v. Jazz
The Dunk Contest winner has made a name for himself, looking like a young Dwyane Wade out there. He’s a freakish athlete for his size and finds ways to score that will always surprise you.