NBA playoff preview

Courtesy of Rantsports.com

Frank Sumrall, Staff Writer

The NBA playoffs are upon us, and while it remains clear the Golden State Warriors are the team to beat, plenty of other teams had entertaining seasons that make for interesting playoff cases.

The Cleveland Cavaliers finished on top of the Eastern Conference, but it wasn’t easy. The Toronto Raptors bit at their heels all year long, while Cleveland dealt with a myriad of trouble off the court. The Cavs fired David Blatt after a 30-11 start and replaced him with Tyronn Lue, while LeBron James grew tired of his teammates’ lackadaisical approach to the game.

While Toronto could not quite claim the top seed, they set a new mark for most franchise wins in a season behind the big three of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and team ambassador and rapper Drake. It was a strong year for Toronto, who also hosted one of the greatest All-Star weekends in recent memory. Now it’s time for them to win their first playoff series since 2001.

Below the top two teams are the surprising Boston Celtics, led by All-Star Isaiah Thomas and head coach Brad Stevens, who proves to be one of the best coaches in the NBA. The Miami Heat also bounced back from losing James, but the injury bug continues to find them. Chris Bosh battles against blood clots that were once seen as career-ending, while Dwyane Wade desperately tries to fight off Father Time.

The Atlanta Hawks clinched their ninth straight playoff appearance behind the talented front court of Paul Millsap and Al Horford, and the Charlotte Hornets, led by Kemba Walker, clinched a spot for the first time since 2002 under the Hornets’ name.

The Western conference played host to two amazing seasons from the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. The Warrior’s well-documented success comes as no surprise, but head coach Gregg Popovich of the Spurs set a new franchise record in wins despite his acclaimed big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili hitting retirement age. Kawhi Leonard remains arguably the second best player in the NBA while LaMarcus Aldridge, despite some growing pains, remains a valuable free agent pickup.

Outside of those teams, there is a significant drop-off. The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to have the same issues despite having the fourth best record in the league. Russell Westbrook recorded 16 triple-doubles alongside Kevin Durant, who looks close to his old self after his nagging injuries faded away, but they can’t do it alone. The team is responsible for 13 blown leads after leading in the fourth quarter.

The Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies remain playoff regulars despite significant injuries. Blake Griffin missed 44 games due to injuries and a team suspension after punching a team employee, but the Clippers survived the storm. Memphis had it even worse as 28 players suited up for the team, the most of all time. At one point, every starter from opening day was out. No team has made the playoffs with 24 or more players seeing playing time, but Memphis locks down the sixth seed.

The Portland Trail Blazers claimed the fifth seed, which still shocks the NBA world. Four of the five starters from last year bolted out of Oregon in free agency, leaving Damian Lillard alone to anchor the team. But the band of misfits proved the world wrong with their strong and breakneck pace of basketball.