NBA play-off talking points

We are reaching the business end of the NBA season, and there are a number of storylines in this first-round of the play-offs.

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Keith Allison

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Keith Allison

The NBA regular season ended on the last weekend, meaning the playoffs are now imminent. Having gone into depth on the championship contenders a month ago, here are three storylines to following the first-week of play-in games and in anticipation of the play-offs.

The Knicks are Back!

After an 8-year hiatus filled with controversy, the New York Knicks are not only back in the playoffs, but also have home court advantage. How? A new front office, a new coach and an All-NBA power forward. 

Since becoming General Manger last February, Leon Rose has not put a foot wrong. This success has been exhibited on the court. Coach Tom Thibodeau and his assistants Johnny Bryant and Kenny Payne have instilled a tough winning culture in New York. Possessing the fourth best defensive rating, the Knicks have held multiple teams under 100 points, harking back to the gritty basketball of the 90’s.

Former University of Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne has been able to reconnect with former Kentucky player Julius Randle, who has made significant improvements this season. Including a first all-star appearance, Randle became the first Knick to average over 24 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists, joining five other players in NBA history. With Randle the centre of the offence, sophomore R.J. Barrett and former MVP Derrick Rose have provided valuable secondary scoring, propelling the Knicks to the fourth seed.

A matchup against the Atlanta Hawks awaits and should leave Knicks fans optimistic. During the regular season, the Knicks won all three games against the Hawks with Randle averaging elite numbers. Coach Thibodeau is renowned for his defensive schemes, meaning the Hawks main threat in Trae Young will face a collection of guard/wing defenders in Barrett, Reggie Bullock and possibly Frank Ntilikina. Overall, this is a good matchup for the Knicks, giving them a strong chance to reach the second round.

Los Angeles Lakers overcome the Golden State Warriors

In the first week of the playoffs, we looked no further than the Warriors-Lakers play-in game for entertainment. Stephen Curry faced off against Lebron James for the fifth time in the playoffs to earn the right to play the second seed Phoenix Suns.

In the second half of the season Curry has been unbelievable. With no Klay Thompson, defences have been able to place greater focus on Curry, but this has been to no avail. He finished the season as scoring champion, while through April he scored the most three pointers in a single month. In recent weeks Warriors coach Steve Kerr has moved towards small ball, giving Curry more touches, thus maximising his production. 

However, despite the combined talents of Curry offensively and Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins in the defence, the Warriors were unable to overcome the still-dominant Lakers, who advanced to the Western Conference play-offs for their game against the Suns.

The Warriors, meanwhile, will have to beat the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday morning if they are to progress to the play-offs.

Curry still shone in the match, scoring a game-high 37 points, which highlighted once again his ability to carry this below par Warriors team to results, although it was James that had the final say, hitting the game winning shot: a three-pointer from 34 feet with only 58 seconds left on the clock.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Courtesy of Getty Images

This victory came despite the Lakers starting five lacking playing time together this season, but ultimately the quality of Lebron and Davis came through.

The Lakers remain the team to beat in the West, a fact that is still understood in the upper echelon of the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets both rested key players in order to lose their final games and avoid the third seed, which could’ve meant either a first or second round matchup with the Lakers.

With both teams losing, the standings remained the same, as the Clippers clinched the fourth seed and therefore will avoid a matchup with the Lakers until the Western Conference finals (if they make it). For the Clippers this shows quite a fall from grace considering the teams’ arrogance last season

Are the Heat Back?

The current Eastern Conference champions Miami Heat had a slow start to the season. A 22-14 record after the All-Star break ensured they clinched the sixth seed avoiding the play-in tournament. Awaiting them are the third-seed the Milwaukee Bucks, who the Heat defeated 4-1 in the second-round last season. 

The Heat have the man to limit Giannis Antetokounmpo’s production in Bam Adebayo, while their array of wing defenders in Jimmy Butler, Trevor Ariza and Andre Iguodala will be able to rotate on the Bucks secondaries in Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.

Jimmy Butler proved last year that when the playoffs arrive, he can compete with the best. A year of experience under this Heat side mean they know what is required to reach the finals once again, and it would therefore be naïve to underestimate them. 

Butler’s words in recent weeks reiterated this once again: “We get there, I’ll handle the rest”.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Courtesy of Getty Images