By Jalon Dixon, Columnist
With the playoffs only weeks away, there are many different storylines that will play a pivotal role in deciding this year NBA champion.
In the Eastern Conference, we have some new faces like the forward Blake Griffin-led Detroit Pistons, the forward Kawhi Leonard iteration of the Toronto Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets, who look to be in the playoffs for the first time in four years.
With so many teams entering the mix, and Lebron James no longer dominating the East off of sheer will power, we might finally see our first competitive Eastern Conference playoff run in nearly a decade. Teams like the Nets, Pacers and Miami Heat may be young, but their aggressive defense and team-oriented style of play makes them threats to those atop the conference.
One of the most vulnerable teams at the top is actually the team in first place, the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks are ravaged by injuries with point guard Malcom Brogdon and shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo out for the season with heel and foot injuries, center Pau Gasol in and out of the lineup and MVP candidate power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo hurt.
As a team who has been leading the pack since the very beginning of the season, Milwaukee may have the worst luck of all the playoff teams. With a lack of contribution from key rotation pieces and Antetokounmpo not at 100 percent, their championship aspirations could be plagued by bad timing.
The Eastern Conference is looking for a new champion considering the last eight years have been spent crowning whatever team James was on. With that roadblock out of the way, whether you are an experienced veteran team or a youthfully enriched team, this year’s postseason will give every team a chance to show what they can really do.
In the Western Conference, most would love to joke about how James is missing the playoffs for the first time in forever and it happens to be in his first season in the Western Conference. As compelling a story as that is, it does not have as much weight as looking at the Golden State Warriors looking to three peat.
Although we all have practically penciled them into the finals, the Warriors may be facing their toughest road yet. In this postseason, they could run into a motivated Oklahoma City Thunder team in the first round. With the possibility that the Thunder, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets could reach the finals, we might see the Warriors pushed to a seven games series more times in one postseason than they were over the course of their entire five year run.
Speaking of the Thunder, Rockets and Nuggets, they all have something to prove. For the Thunder, point guard Russell Westbrook and small forward Paul George want to at least get past the first round after a disappointing first round exit to a young Utah Jazz team last season. It’s going to be a tough out with the Warriors possibly being their probable opponent, but that only raises the stakes.
The Rockets are looking to prove that last season was a fluke and that with a healthy point guard in Chris Paul, they can take down the Warriors and reach the NBA Finals. Paul only has so long left in his career, so there is no time like the present to go all in for the championship.
For the surprise team in the Nuggets, they are looking to put their franchise back on the map with a deep playoff run. As a team that has not been very competitive since the glory days of forward Carmelo Anthony and guard Chauncey Billups, they went from missing the playoffs five straight years to sitting atop with conference alongside the Warriors with an identical record of 51 – 24.
As one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the postseason, it will definitely take at least one trip to the second round to solidify them as a future threat in the conference.
There are so many new faces and teams entering the postseason with a whole bunch more basketball to be played. The playoffs are finally around the corner, and the quest for NBA supremacy will soon begin.