By: Joe Cardoso
Well, here we are hoop heads the time of year where our coffee and Red Bull intake triples, so we can watch those western conference battles. The NBA Playoffs are here! And with that comes hope, expectations and always some surprises. I want to look at some players/teams that I will have an intense eye on. Either due to past playoff failures, preseason hype, or just plain old interest in how they perform. Pressure bust pipes, but it can also make people rise to the moment. Legacies are made in the NBA playoffs, no one remembers that regular season shot or dunk, but they do remember that series-winning buzzer beater or otherworldly performance. What player or team is under the gun in the first round?
Toronto Raptors (1) Vs Washington Wizards (8)
Toronto Raptors: Without question, the pressure is on Kyle Lowry. Why do you ask? Can’t shake off his performance last year when it mattered most. Good thing for Lowry and the Raptors is he is healthy, and they have home court until the NBA Finals. No excuse for Kyle or his squad, he can cement himself and the team with a good run and top-notch play.
Washington Wizards: John Wall this is the moment my man. A season that saw Wall in and out of the lineup, and haters throwing shots at him can be put on the back burner with an epic playoff performance. He is STILL one of the top 5-point guards in the league when healthy and the “experts” minus Paul Pierce don’t give the Wiz a chance. Along with his running mate Bradley Beal, anything is possible. We have seen some great games by Wall in the playoffs (game 6 last year) and he can add to it this year.
Boston Celtics (2) Vs Milwaukee Bucks (7)
Boston Celtics: Brad Stevens is one of the best coaches in the NBA period. And with all the injuries and ups and downs this season has been a true test. A legit run in the playoffs and the legend grows. No Kyrie Irving, no Gordon Hayward and leaning on Jayen Brown, Jason Tatum, and Marcus Smart when he comes back. What magic can he make happen? The Bucks can be dangerous, and Stevens won’t let his team underestimate them.
Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo has the talent to be the best player in the NBA sooner rather than later. It was on display all season long. In his short NBA playoff history, he has yet to get out of the first round. With the Celtics missing so many players this may be his best shot at doing it. The season ended as rough as it could for the Greek Freak and the Bucks, but the roster is loaded with hungry, healthy, young players. Is this the series where he and the Bucks put it all together?
Philadelphia 76ers (3) Vs Miami Heat (6)
Philadelphia 76ers: We trusted the process and the results and dare I say the results are more than anyone could have imaged. Now the playoffs and anyone who thinks the Sixers are just happy to be there are in for a surprise. As far as who is under the most pressure or who must perform. I’m going with the boy wonder Ben Simmons. Joel Embiid is a beast but anything but healthy most of the time. With the uptick in play during the playoffs I wonder can he handle it? Simmons makes everyone around him better, and with vets like JJ Reddick and a stable of young talent, they have weapons. Miami won’t just lay down this series will be fun.
Miami Heat: Scrappy, tough and no quit is the description for the Heat and with the addition of franchise legend Dwyane Wade to provide leadership, here they are in the playoffs. Erik Spoelstra makes magic happen and I base that off the 19 one-possession games and the 9, YES 9 overtime games. Mr. Whiteside, you have talked a big game all year and NOW is time to show everyone how good you are. I don’t count his first playoff run this is the time to make it or fall back.
Cleveland Cavaliers (4) Vs Indiana Pacers (5)
Cleveland Cavaliers: This is easy it’s the new guys. The Cavs flipped their entire roster and added Rodney Hood, Larry Nace Jr., and Jordan Clarkson to get younger and more athletic. Well, what better time to show up fellas. A bad performance could be what pushes LeBron James out of town. What will they do? This will be broken down and looked at game by game like no other series in the first round.
Indiana Pacers: This is Victor Oladipo team hands down and his play and leadership back that claim up big time. But he isn’t under the most pressure to ball out this postseason. I think the guy who can kick-start the Pacers is Lance Stevenson. He lives for the spotlight the playoffs bring, and when he is locked in he can tilt a series. On defense getting into the head or ear of a player or knocking down some timely shots. This is a young team and he could be the vet they need to relax and just play ball. And a small part of me says Myles Turner needs to show he should be starting and not the young gunner Domantas Sabonis.
The time has come for playoff memories to be made, and that is my look at the east with a west break down coming soon. Who do you think is the key to seeing your team reach the second round? Discuss with me @JoeCardoso301 or @NutsAndBoltsSports. Let’s Get It On!