The NBA's regular campaign is done and so, while awards season is still some way off, it is time for debate to rage once again around the MVP gong.
The seasons saw records set, new stars rise and some veterans retire.
Golden State is also seeking its seventh championship in franchise history. The Bucks will need other contributors, too, as opposing teams will focus on finding ways to stop, or at least slow down, the explosive Antetokounmpo.
Now imagine that he had played more than 32.8 minutes per game and had not been carrying an ankle injury through the final month of the season. At the same time, Harden has elevated the Rockets to fourth place in the Western Conference. Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic and Domantas Sabonis have been excellent since Oladipo's exit. His 45-points, 13 rebounds and six assists without a turnover at Philadelphia on April 4 was the first 45-point, 10-rebound, five-assist and no turnover game in the National Basketball Association since Michael Jordan accomplished the feat on November 3, 1989.
The Rockets haven't been able to get past Golden State in the postseason in three of the last four years, and last year was especially tough after Houston blew a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference Finals.
Golden State are the heavy favourites to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy again this season, with only two teams having achieved a three-peat in the modern era. Brown improved enormously after the All-Star break, raising his three-point shooting percentage by nearly 10 per cent. In fact, the away team has covered the spread in eight of the last 10 games between the two clubs.
James shocked the league when he chose to move to the Lakers last summer. The Magic closed out the season covering each of their final four games while the Raptors enter the playoffs on a 6-1 run versus the line. And speaking of Russell, he emerged as an all-star caliber player and one of the best clutch players in the league. The fifth-seeded Jazz knocked off Oklahoma City in 2018, the Los Angeles Clippers in 2017 and Denver in 2010. They have to come out with the confidence they've had all season long under Budenholzer and continue to let it fly. The back-to-back National Basketball Association champions finished the season with a conference-high 57 wins, but sometimes they seemed to be slipping on the floor, especially on the defensive end. Now, the Warriors should be well-rested for the playoff opener. D'Lo responded by having his best statistical season with the Brooklyn Nets and getting them to their first playoff berth since 2015. Jokic isn't a good defender, but he's maybe the best passing big man we've seen.
This season, thanks to the return of Irving and Hayward, Tatum and Hayward had to adjust to different roles and bench stars like Terry Rozier had less opportunity than past year.
The Clippers pinched an overtime win against a Stephen Curry-less Warriors back in November but lost their other three regular-season meetings with the defending champions. Mike Scott may very well be their most reliable player coming off of the bench. The Sixers have made the playoffs 49 times in their 70-year history and have won the Eastern Conference nine times.
This season witnessed the retirement of the jerseys of Chris Bosh and Manu Ginobili. The 7-foot Lopez may spend much of his time on offense out on the perimeter shooting 3-pointers, but there's work to do around the basket defensively against the NBA's leading rebounder, who grabbed 15.6 boards per game.
24-year-old Antetokounmpo gives even more hope to the city of Milwaukee. I also think Houston's role players may be better this year than last.
Instead, the loss to the Thunder saw them drop down to the fourth seed and a risky first-round series against the Utah Jazz, who have won 32 of the 45 games they have played since January 1 and boast the NBA's second-best defensive rating (conceding 105.7 points per 100 possessions).
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