Marquist Parker Sports Editor
The NBA regular season is winding down, and that means the playoffs are upon us. This season has given us some spectacular moments, from Harden’s historic scoring explosion to Giannis dunking his way to the MVP conversation. The playoffs are usually where any questions about teams are answered, but the regular season is where those questions originate. With that said, here are the most pressing questions heading into the postseason:
Who are these Boston Celtics?—This year’s Boston Celtics season has been the most tumultuous in recent memory. A team that came into this season with NBA Finals expectations, Boston has been plagued by inconsistency and infighting for most of the year. The problems started when the team followed up an impressive October with an awful November, losing to the Knicks, Mavericks, and needing a 20-point comeback to beat the tanking Suns. The low point of the season was after the March 3 game against Houston. In this game, Boston was dominated from the first quarter and only showed a spark of life with under five minutes left in the game. The Houston loss made them 3-7 over the last ten including two 20-point collapses at home to the Lakers and Clippers. This combined with the impending free agency of Kyrie Irving that’s hanging over the team like a storm cloud, it is easy to understand why the Celtics aren’t inspiring the confidence like they did before the season started. The season has absolutely been hot and cold, but when the Celtics are clicking, there aren’t many teams that can beat them. The playoffs are best of seven, which means somebody has to beat them four times, and with Boston being so good inside TD Garden, that task might prove to be a daunting one for the East’s elite teams.
Can we finally trust Toronto?—The last five years have been misery for the Toronto Raptors, the cycle of regular season hype and postseason disappointment has been well documented, but the fans think this year is going to be different. The summer saw the team part with franchise legend DeMar DeRozan in exchange for superstar Kawhi Leonard. The team also added Danny Green, Marc Gasol, and Jeremy Lin, and also got a career year from Pascal Siakam. The Raptors look like a new team, but this was also said last year when LeBron James crushed their spirits in a four-game sweep. With the King in the West, it finally looks like Toronto’s time.
Should we be worried about the Thunder? – After the mid-season run that catapulted Paul George into the MVP conversation it looked like Thunder would finish as a top three seed in the West and challenge Golden State in the playoffs. That run is over and it seems like OKC has real problems. The team is 5-9 since the All-Star break and have fallen to sixth in the West. With upcoming games against some of the NBA’s best teams, it looks like their fall will continue. OKC has still been a good defensive team, tenth in the league in points per possession after the All-Star break, but their offense is not good enough to merely be “good,’ they have to be elite on defense. A late season collapse is not a positive sign for this team, and if everything holds in the Western Conference, OKC would have a date with their old pal James Harden and the Houston Rockets.
How strong are the Warriors’ numbers? – For a half a decade, the Golden State Warriors had the motto “strength in numbers,” this motto perfectly described them. The Warriors were consistently one of the deepest teams in the league, that is no longer a reality. The team is not lacking in star power, boasting a team with five All-NBA players, including two MVPs, but the bench has been cause for concern all season. Andre Iguodala is 35-years-old, and Shaun Livingston hasn’t been as effective as before. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the two-time defending champions: Golden State’s star acquisition DeMarcus Cousins is working back from a torn Achilles and hasn’t looked like himself; Draymond Green’s offense has fallen off a cliff; and the chemistry between the team and likely free agent Kevin Durant has been concerning. The Warrior’s problems are not just in the locker room, they’re in Houston. The Rockets took the champions to the brink, losing a close game seven at home, and they don’t look to be going away. James Harden has put together a season for the ages, Chris Paul and Clint Capela are finally healthy, and the unexpected resurgence of NBA journeyman Kenneth Faried has been a positive development. In recent years the Warriors have looked like an unbeatable juggernaut, this isn’t one of those years. This team can be beaten. Will they be beaten is another question.