NBA playoffs are heating up

Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant (35) looks to pass against tOklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook (0) in the first half of an NBA game at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)


Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant (35) looks to pass against tOklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook (0) in the first half of an NBA game at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Aidan Trejo, Reporter

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After a long, eventful NBA season, we have finally reached the part of the season that people actually care about: the playoffs. 

We have seen the rise of rookies including Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell. We’ve also seen season-ending injuries to star players Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Sorry, Celtics’ fans. 

The league also has been witness to the continued success of LeBron James. With 82 games in the book, we have watched many teams that are capable of winning a championship this year. There are multiple teams from the Western and Eastern conferences that have a chance at winning the 2018 Finals.

Let’s start with the best team in the West, the Houston Rockets, who were up 3-1 on the Minnesota Timberwolves going into Wednesday’s game.

 Not many doubted the Rockets would be successful this year, but many people were surprised by how successful.In Chris Paul’s first season as a Rocket, he helped set the Rockets’ single season win record as well as dethrone the Warriors as the top seed in the West. 

With the fast play of Mike D’Antoni’s offense paired with the two-time MVP runner-up James Harden’s premier offensive ability and Paul’s elite court vision, this trio seemed to have clicked instantly. 

The progression of Clint Capela and shooters such as Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson are also reasons for the team’s success. The Rockets are very confident entering the playoffs and are capable of knocking off the Warriors as long as Harden and Paul don’t choke like they seem to do every postseason.

The defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors have faced a lot of health concerns throughout the season as star point guard and two-time MVP Stephen Curry  missed 31 regular games this year and was out for the first round of the playoffs as he healed from a MCL injury to his left knee. 

The Warriors still won that first round series, 4-1, against San Antonio and now face the Anthony Davis and the red hot New Orleans Pelicans, who just swept third-seeded Portand. The second round begins for the second-seeded Warriors in Oakland on Saturday.

The Warriors won their first round series largely behind  their three other All-Stars, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, all of whom also missed multiple games late in the season with injuries. Although banged up entering the playoffs, the Warriors are still favored by many to win the finals.

Although they are not heavily favored compared to previous years, they are still the same team that won 16-of -17 playoff games en route to last year’s title. Above all, the Warriors are still an experienced team with four All-Stars who knows what it takes to win the finals.  The Warriors have dominated the Spurs in the first round matching the 2001 Lakers for the best record through 19 playoff games at 18-1. 

A surprise in the East that only die-hard Raptors fans and Drake saw coming, the Toronto Raptors are the top seeded team in the East. The Raptors are an established team that have made the playoffs each of the last five seasons. Led by star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors seemed like the team that could reach the Finals this year, but were tied 2-2 with No. 8 seed Washington heading into Wednesday’s game.

The Celtics were early favorites to reach the finals this year although that was quickly derailed by an injury to star small forward Hayward, who broke his leg in the first seven minutes of his Celtics career. 

This injury didn’t seem to slow down the Celtics as Irving went on an absolute tear in the first month of the season as Boston won 16 straight games. But Irving’s recent knee injury may prove to be the fatal blow to the Celtics.

Although the first round series has been close, with Boston leading Milwaukee 3-2 going into Thursday’s game, second-year player Jaylen Brown has emerged as Boston’s main scoring option averaging more than 24 points per game.

A team that surprised many was the 76ers as they have been the laughing stock of the NBA for the last four seasons, winning no more than 30 games in a season. Despite a mysterious injury to top pick Markelle Fultz, the 76ers won 52 games, which included a 16-game win streak to end the season. 

Led by All Star Joel Embid and Rookie of the Year favorite Simmons, the 76ers are a dangerous young team with proven veteran J.J. Reddick. Simmions has had little struggle adjusting to the playoffs, posting a triple double in Game 4 and becoming the first rookie to do this since Magic Johnson in 1980.

Phily won its first round series, 4-1, over Miami. 

The Cleveland Cavaliers have reached the NBA Finals for the past three seasons. Although this year’s team has a completely different look than last year’s, they still have LeBron James, who can make any team a championship contender. 

Cleveland was tied 2-2 with Indiana heading into Wednesday’s game.

I think the 76ers will prove to be a challenge to many teams and they are my personal pick to face the Warriors in the finals.