We witnessed outstanding records broken and history being made in the NBA this year. We are in for an even better treat with the postseason right around the corner featuring those same players and teams who have made the record and history books count by making it to the postseason with their regular season play. This outstanding season immensely compelled me to write the 1000-word breakdown below on teams that were either an all-around surprise throughout the entire season or made a surprise turnaround at the end of the season. Included below are also some teams that were not necessarily surprising in the regular season, but may create some unique surprises in their playoff spots, such as Toronto and Houston.
Let’s start with… the Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics are the No. 1 seed in the East. This above all, makes them the number one team to beat in the East. They sit above the well-known defending champs with the well-known team leader who is occupied with the bombardment as the single greatest basketball player to ever live. The best thing about the Celtics is that they have genuinely scratched and clawed to their top spot. The Celtics have seen shades of the playoffs from the 7th and 5th seeds respectively in the past two seasons, so they are familiar with the playoff atmosphere and apparently with moving up. Having the luxury of the No. 1 seed is one thing, but to have a staircase to look back on that brought you there is another.
The good news keeps coming in for Boston, as they play an equally yoked Chicago Bulls for the first round, so they do not have to go in with an underdog or top dog mentality. They can just go in and hopefully with a more reformed hope of advancing to face teams that will undoubtedly put their top-seed to the test.
Next… the Milwaukee Bucks
When you take a look at the NBA season and the NBA postseason this year, the Bucks stick out like a sore thumb in both. In the regular season, the Bucks went on an attention-grabbing winning streak after the All-Star break, which made the league consider how teams scramble at the last second to clinch a believable seed. This is how they ended up in the postseason, and now we are considering if this late-season surge might actually help them at all against a team already-on-the-radar.
Milwaukee heads into the playoffs with this eerie, yet promising bubble that we have been hearing about for a while now. The Bucks certainly do not have all of the pieces of a contending team, but they do have some pieces. Two of their brightest stars were down with injury for great portions of the season, but this eerie, yet promising bubble has brought at least one of them back for the playoffs. The return of Khris Middleton along with the other interesting things the Bucks have been up to, like a Rookie of the Year candidate and the history-making of Giannis Antetokounmpo as a top 20 leader in all major stat categories, could overturn the absence of young star, Jabari Parker, and help push for a playoff-playing Milwaukee Bucks team.
Then… the Indiana Pacers
Since we did not get to witness Paul George in the dunk contest this year, we might as well enjoy him in the Playoffs. Considering the magnitude of both Paul George dunking and watching him do it in the playoffs, the 2017 playoffs should be a momentous opportunity for the Pacers.
The playoff journey of Indiana may have been seen before the playoffs on the last day of the regular season where they had to fight along with the Bulls for the final two seeds in the Eastern Conference. The journey of the Pacers does not get any easier, as they have to face the defending champs first to go any further. At last, they are used to this, I believe, though.
And… the Toronto Raptors
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, oh wait – it’s the Toronto Raptors. At least I hope it is the Toronto Raptors, or at least I hope this is the feeling we get when we look up in the sky and create our predictions about this year’s playoffs. This is the feeling we’ve all been waiting for, Toronto. You are no longer a diamond in the rough, Toronto. We see you, Toronto. The playoffs are no longer a long-term goal coupled with the tale of being a young and unexperienced team for the Raptors. The playoffs and the Raptors have met enough times before; the playoffs have seen what the Raptors are about, especially what the dynamic duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry can do. Perhaps it’s time now, for DeMar and Kyle to see what the playoffs can do, which means all they have to do is throw on a cape and let the basketball magic happen.
If you’ve been waiting for a team in the East to adore second to Cleveland, the Raptors have you covered. They might even have you covered at first – which is better than second and therefore, second to none, not even Cleveland. If they can bypass that one round shy of the Finals where they always end up, that is.
Now… the Portland Trailblazers
There might be a more exciting playoff team in the Western Conference than Portland, but I can’t think of any at least for the first round. Like several others this year, Portland saw a surge late in the season and now we see them sitting in 8th place, waiting to face the Golden State Warriors. What makes Portland most exciting is that Portland knows they are exciting. Star guard Damian Lillard takes to social media and releases a rap album, then he says that his team will “win in 6.”
Whether or not they actually win, let alone in 6, is certainly not dependent on rap albums or talk off the court. Watching them face-off with this confidence is highly entertaining, though, especially as another star guard is waiting on that other end of the floor. Portland vs Golden State could turn out to be a point guard contest between Damian Lillard and Steph Curry, or it could be a unique playoff matchup that highlights a team’s will to win.
Onto… the Utah Jazz
Where did the Utah Jazz come from? I mean – where in the world did the Utah Jazz come from? I mean – where in the playoffs did the Utah Jazz come from? If there’s any team more deserving of the “Surprise Team” title in this year’s contest, it is Utah. The Jazz have not been to the playoffs since I graduated high school, which is a long time ago in basketball years. The fact that the Jazz have not even had playoff hopes in so long shows that Utah has basically taken what they have and worked with it.
There’s no doubt that this is the type of spontaneous showcase we are in for with the Jazz against the Clippers. The Jazz will be like a breath of fresh air. The series will be like the Jazz, where you can’t quite trace where they came from or where they’re going, but you have to put your finger on something. They did after all, fight for home court advantage with their opponents to make their mark.
Last, but not least… the Houston Rockets
Houston, we still have a problem – but a very good problem – and it is James Harden. Watching the Rockets is similar to an aircraft mission: they’re always going someplace and we’re always looking forward to it. James Harden has come flying into Houston like a pilot since being traded to the team 5 years ago, and his presence ever since has given both the Rockets and the Western Conference a huge lift.
Houston is up against Harden’s former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, whose lead has just broken an all-time triple-double record and set a new one all at the same time. This is the part where the Rockets ship is supposed to land or sink or do something of the complete opposite of Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder, but with the packed offense of Houston, it just might land where it wants to and not on the terms of OKC.