The NBA playoffs is the best time of the season for basketball fans. This past weekend provided proof as to why this is the case.
With a pair of Game 7s in the conference semifinals, both games came down to the waning moments. The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Denver Nuggets by a narrow 100-96 margin. Meanwhile, the Toronto Raptors outlasted the Philadelphia 76ers 92-90, thanks to Kawhi Leonard’s game-winning jumper.
Now, the stage has been set. The Milwaukee Bucks will host the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. On the other side of this final four bracket, the Golden State Warriors will host the Trail Blazers.
Here is a look at the biggest question for each of the remaining teams in the NBA playoffs.
Milwaukee Bucks: MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo will always be the first name mentioned when talking about this ball club. But while Giannis gathers the headlines, the matchup that we need to watch is Khris Middleton guarding Kawhi Leonard.
As everyone knows, Leonard had an outstanding series against the Sixers, as he averaged 34.7 points and 9.9 rebounds per contest. Not only that, but he also shot 54.4 percent from the field. Can Middleton and the Bucks somehow slow down Leonard and force other Raptors players to play larger roles?
Toronto Raptors: It is no secret that Leonard is the reason why the Raptors are still alive in the NBA playoffs. In fact, it has been mentioned that his level of play has been Jordanesque.
And because of his production, it’s difficult to argue this sentiment. As good as Leonard has been, though, he’s going to need help. In other words, which of the other Raptors players are going to step up?
The obvious choice is Kyle Lowry. The problem is he’s had difficult moments in the NBA playoffs during his career. Unfortunately, this postseason hasn’t been any different.
Lowry is averaging 12.4 points per game on 41.5 percent shooting from the field and 28.1 percent from 3-point range. Unless Lowry can reverse this unfortunate trend, the Raptors postseason run will come to a disappointing end.
Golden State Warriors: The Warriors are the most championship-tested ball club out of the remaining four teams in the NBA playoffs. They have won three titles in the last four years. Additionally, they are in the conference finals for the fifth straight time. Furthermore, they are the odds-on favorite to win it all again this year.
However, things have been a bit different for the Dubs during their current run through the NBA playoffs. The Los Angeles Clippers took them to six games in the opening round, for instance. Then, they were extended to six games in the conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets.
But the story doesn’t end there. The Warriors biggest problem is Kevin Durant’s recent calf injury, which he sustained in Game 5 against the Rockets in the previous round. As a result, the two-time Finals MVP missed Game 6 and will be re-evaluated this week. According to reports, he could be back by Game 3 of the conference finals. Conversely, he could miss the next round of the NBA playoffs altogether, depending on the severity of the injury.
Can the Warriors continue to have success without Durant in the lineup? It will be interesting to see how this team responds over the next few weeks if that is the case.
Portland Trail Blazers: The Trail Blazers have had a remarkable run during these NBA playoffs. First, they eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. Next, they won a Game 7 on the road against the Denver Nuggets.
This was significant for a couple of reasons. First of all, the Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs in a Game 7 to advance to the second round. Secondly, the Nuggets entered the NBA playoffs with the best home record in the league.
Although this is a huge accomplishment, the Trail Blazers will barely have enough time to exhale. This is because they will travel to Oakland to take on the defending champs. Even without Durant, the Warriors still have plenty of guys who can put the ball in the basket.
On the other hand, the Trail Blazers have only three players who have been double-digit scorers during the NBA playoffs. With that being said, will Portland be able generate enough offense to keep pace with the top scoring team in the NBA playoffs? If not, the series could be a short one.