NBA Playoffs Off to Exciting Start

At the beginning of the season, 30 NBA teams were united under one goal, to be crowned NBA champions in May. After an action-packed season, only four teams remain in pursuit of the most coveted prize in basketball, the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, and Boston Celtics were in contention to win it all after strong starts to their playoff runs.

After a strong regular season, the Miami Heat finished atop the Eastern Conference with a 53-29 record. Led by star wing Jimmy Butler, defensive anchor Bam Adebayo, veteran point guard Kyle Lowry, and Tyler Herro, the Sixth Man of the Year Award winner, the Heat were able to amass 5 more wins than their pre-season expectations. This strong form continued through the playoffs, and they were able to beat the Trae Young-led Atlanta Hawks in five games and overcame an injury-riddled Philadelphia 76ers in six games. Erik Spoelstra’s men look to keep this momentum going in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Facing the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals were the Boston Celtics, looking to put their hands on their first NBA championship since 2008. The Celtics started off the campaign slow but were able to turn their season around due to Jayson Tatum’s rise to stardom. Tatum’s offensive prowess, combined with the best league-wide defense, led by Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, earned the Celtics the second seed in the Eastern Conference. After a surprising first-round sweep of the star-studded Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics carried their strong form over to their second-round matchup by edging out the Bucks in a closely contested seven-game series.

The Warriors exceeded many expectations this season and have put together a strong playoff run. Jumping out to a league-best 24-5 start, the return of five-time all-star Klay Thompson, and the emergence of young star Jordan Poole, all came together perfectly for the team to gel and play with excellent chemistry. In the first round, the Warriors easily defeated the Nikola Jokic-lead Nuggets in five games. In the second round, the Warriors defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in six games. Although the Grizzlies put up a valiant fight following the loss of their star player Ja Morant to a knee injury, the Warriors’s victory was inevitable.

Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks are in their first Western Conference Finals since their 2011 championship-winning season. Behind an MVP-caliber season from Doncic, the Mavericks and new coach Jason Kidd secured the fourth seed. In their first-round series against a talented Utah Jazz team, Jalen Brunson stepped up in Doncic’s absence in the first two games, helping the Mavs advance in six games. In their second-round series against the one-seeded Phoenix Suns, Doncic averaged over 30 points a game, helping the Mavericks edge out the Suns in a seven-game series.

Furthermore, NBA awards were announced earlier in the playoffs. Nikola Jokic was controversially awarded the league’s back-to-back MVP, averaging career-highs in both points and rebounds. Many thought the award should have gone to the 76ers’ star center, Joel Embiid, who put together a dominant season on both the offensive and defensive end of the court. He was the first center to lead the NBA in points per game since Shaquille O’Neal in the 1999-2000 season. Darius Garland was awarded the most-improved player award, while Heat player Tyler Herro was presented the sixth-man of the year award. In a strong rookie class, the rookie of the year award was given to Scottie Barnes, who surprised many with his offensive fluency alongside his praised defensive effectiveness.

With a lot to play for, the end of these NBA playoffs prognosticates to be as exciting as the start of them. Due to a strong start to their playoff run, I believe the Miami Heat will go on to become NBA champions, with Jimmy Butler picking up the Finals MVP.