A NBA Bandwagoner's Predictions for the 2018-19 Playoffs
By: Jay Kim
With the NBA opening night happening just a couple weeks ago, avid NBA fans all across the country are especially looking forward to the 2018-2019 season, and for good reason. Unlike the last several seasons in which the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers dominated the NBA finals every year, there are new teams that have emerged as threats in the lineup of contenders looking to win and dethrone Steve Kerr and the splash brothers. Here are four teams that I, as nothing more than a NBA bandwagoner, believe will be the top contenders of the coming season.
Like popular belief, the Warriors remain as one of the deadliest teams in the league this season. The team could play the whole game with at least two all-stars playing on the court; once bigman DeMarcus Cousins returns from his injury, the Warriors could even have three. The team is looking to claim its fourth title in five years and, for me and many other commentators and analysts alike, it seems very likely. The team is simply the most balanced and talented team in the western conference. After the Warriors signed Kevin Durant, a player that has been widely-accepted as the second best player in the NBA after Lebron, in 2016, it has just become impossible to think of a team that could dethrone this dynastic team. What makes the team particularly stand out this season is that the Warriors have always had an issue with the big man in the key. For instance, players like Andrew Bogut, Zaza Pachulia, and Jordan Bell were simply not a good center that could match the caliber of the fast-paced destructive offense. With Cousins joining the team, fans could easily expect greatness the franchise has ever expected. Yet, there are clearly some drawbacks. Although the team indubitably features one of the strongest starting 5’s fans have seen in NBA history for the past couple decades, its bench is rather sparse, and would have to rely on the veterans like Andre Iguodala and rely on Shaun Livingston and Quinn Cook to up it a notch this season compared to a relatively-disappointing last season.
The spotlight of the 2018-2019 season preview was primarily focused on one man, Lebron James. Lakers almost always have had one star player that drove fans all around the world crazy: Kareem, followed by Magic, Shaq, Kobe. This year, James is strongly anticipated to and will be the powerhouse of the team. Now, people might question how an addition of one man can drastically change a franchise’s position prediction from a mediocre team to a top contender this season. That is because James is really really good. He has appeared in 8 consecutive NBA finals in two different teams: Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers. Unluckily, as a team that prides itself being one of the most successful franchise in NBA history, the Lakers was unable to make it to the playoffs last year, however, there is no doubt among NBA fans that the Lakers will make it this season with the hard carry of the King. After leaving the Miami Heat for the 2015 season, Lebron has carried the Cavaliers to the playoffs and when the debate comes down to whether Lebron will make it to the playoffs, I believe the odds are strongly for the Lakers. Further, the team has acquired some strong veteran players on the way like Javale McGee and Rajon Rondo. As the youngest team last season, I believe that the addition of veterans could make a positive impact on the team by leading young, aspiring superstars like Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. To top this, many of the players in the roster are quite versatile: James, Ingram and Kyle Kuzma could possibly play positions from 1-4, many of the starters could make decent 3’s, and has three 7-foot centers. Yes, James is strong enough to carry the whole team, however, Lakers also has the asset to back the King James’ attempt to dethrone the Warriors.
Boston Celtics is by far the most successful franchise in NBA history, winning 17 titles in its team history. The team has made it to the last four straight playoffs, however, last year was especially a devastating blow out because many anticipated last season to be the year where the Celtics will make it to the finals if it hadn’t been the loss of key players. Gordon Hayward came back from a devastating leg injury and missed out on a whole season. Irving went through another knee surgery, missing the remaining last season since March. This season, with both of the key players back, the Celtics definitely have a chance as long as its players like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford continues to play like last season. Personally, I would look out for second-year rookie Jayson Tatum, who played a huge role in the Celtics with 2 key players out despite it was his first season out of Duke. All in all, however, with Lebron James now playing in the western conference, leadership of talented coach Brad Stevens, and key players like Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving returning from injuries, the Celtics has the clearest path towards the NBA finals among all the teams in the East.
Although many strongly believe that the Rockets led by James Harden is perhaps the only contender against the Warriors in the Western Conference, I believe that the Utah Jazz could easily boot the Rockets if Donovan Mitchell shows his potential as an all-star-caliber player. The Jazz is strong enough to threaten the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals as is with Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and Mitchell. Utah’s defense is simply phenomenal and would easily be rated as a top 5 defensive team in the NBA. One of the reasons why I chose the Jazz over the Rockets is that the Rockets hasn’t done much to improve the team for this season. In fact, they have lost Trevor Ariza to the Phoenix Suns and have merely picked up fading all-star Carmelo Anthony, a 34-year-old who gave a huge disappointment to Oklahoma City Thunders fans last year with a 21.4 percent success rate at his treys during the playoffs against the Jazz. If the Jazz could get some of its underrated players scoring like Dante Exum and Grayson Allen, who are relatively unknown compared to Gobert and Mitchell, the team would have a definitive chance in contending in the western conference final. Some may argue that Jazz fell to the Rockets in five games last year, but the reason is quite simple: they couldn’t score. However, as long as the team could up its offensive scheme this season, Jazz could be everyone’s dark horse pick.
The onset of the season has been quite tumultuous. Star players haven’t played upto the crowd’s expectations while some rookies have shown huge improvements compared to last year. Of course, it is indubitably too early to make any insightful predictions of the season: teams like the New Orleans Pelicans led by Anthony Davis and Toronto Raptors led by Kawhi Leonard are nothing to sneeze at. Yet, I believe that is the beauty of the 2018-19 NBA season; while as a Golden State Warriors fan I hope the Warriors are able to rack up another ring, I am also looking forward to a season where a completely unexpected team makes its to the finals.
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