This may turn out to be one of the most unpredictable and fun NBA Playoffs of our lives. Why? Let’s get this party started.
5) The unearned: Take a look around the field and notice how many teams have massive question marks about their playoff bonafides. It seems like every playoff team has an unanswered question awaiting them in this tournament. Joel Embiid. Giannis. Paul George. Chris Paul. The Jazz. The Nuggets. The Mavs. The Knicks. The Hawks. Every squad, including the top seeds, have plenty to earn on the road to the NBA Finals. Championships burnish a legend forever and take any stigma off your plate (see Leonard, Kawhi). Can these players rise to the occasion and cement their place in the pantheon of legends? Can these teams coalesce and ascend when the spotlight is brightest? Can they achieve the previous unachievable in a slipshod season of Covid? Some team and someone will.
4) The uninjured. The defending NBA champs are the theater we need. Even though the Lakers swooned in the second half of the season, weathering injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, they’re back in the tourney and may be the favorites out west. Had the Lakers limped into the playoffs without one or both of their stars, we know they’d have a short stay. But with the duo healthy, and a better all-around roster than last year, we deserved to see how L.A. defends the crown. No 7-seed has ever won an NBA Finals, so we get to witness whether Lebron can make history… again.
3) The un-bubble. It was a valiant effort last summer to complete the season. No one wanted to see a blank space next to the “2019-’20 NBA Champions” forever. But without fans, and set inside an antiseptic Orlando test tube, the NBA Playoffs certainly didn’t feel very normal. Players killing time making coffee at Disney World seemed a lot less urgent than a sweltering Boston Garden or a delirious Oakland Coliseum. This year we get home courts, fans, and broadcasters at the arenas. The vibe, the color, the energy is back.
2) The unloved. Since the Heat’s creation of a “super team” in ’10, and the ensuing Warriors dynasty, the public has moaned about the overnight formation of contenders. The Nets are perhaps the most egregious of the microwaved feasts. In Miami, Dwyane Wade was already there. Kevin Durant joined a Golden State team coming off consecutive Finals. Brooklyn was a fringe playoff team before it acquired KD, Kyrie Irving, and then James Harden this season. The Nets will challenge the historical engineering of championship teams more than any other. Can you simply pick a roster, much like Daily Fantasy, and without experience together immediately win a title? We get to watch a basketball science experiment in real time.
1) The unknown. Never before have the paths to a title been this wide open in the NBA’s postseason. All but two NBA champions all-time were 1, 2, or 3-seeds. This means the top dogs have always been more talented, more experienced, more battle-tested. But this summer the top seeds have more questions than ever before. The Jazz are unproven, and lack a top-10 superstar. The Suns haven’t been to the playoffs in a decade. The Nuggets are without Jamal Murray, one of their two best players. The Sixers have flamed out every year in the playoffs. The Nets have played only 8 games with all of their superstars on the floor together. The Bucks have yet to make a Finals despite back-to-back 1-seeds. Throw a thermal detonator Lakers team in the 7-hole, and a Heat squad that made the Finals last year as a 6-seed, and you have top teams with formidable opponents early on. Brackets will bust. Dreams will die. And one thing is for certain: chalk won’t hold this year.