The NBA kingdom holding court without its king, Lebron James, in the playoffs is something many would have never envisioned. However, the 2019 playoffs have made the impossible real – James has missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005, his second season after being drafted out of high school.
James’ Lakers underachieved throughout the regular season and missed the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference. Unless James’ finds a loophole in his contract and demands a trade to the Rockets or 76ers in the next week, he will not be suiting up until at least October 2019. James’ absence is arguably the biggest story of the playoffs so far, but his void has been filled capably by exciting action.
Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are still playing, and as usual, the Golden State Warriors are the favorite to win the Western Conference and the NBA title. As of April 22, the Warriors held a 3-1 lead in their series with Los Angeles’ other team, the Clippers, and rebounded nicely with two straight wins after blowing a 25-point lead in game two. Golden State’s biggest challengers in the West are the Houston Rockets, Portland Trailblazers, and the surprising Denver Nuggets.
The Rockets, led by superstar James Harden, have made quick work of the Utah Jazz, taking a 3-0 lead in the series. The Trailblazers closed out the series against Oklahoma City on a dramatic, buzzer-beater bucket The Nuggets are tied 2-2 with the San Antonio Spurs heading into game five on April 23.
The Eastern Conference is atypically strong this year with four teams that have the potential to win the conference title and contend for the league title. The East’s first round has been chalk – the favored teams have commanding leads in each series.
The No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, walked over the Detroit Pistons. The Boston have also made quick work of the Indiana Pacers by sweeping them.
Nets fans have emerged from witness protection that they were forced into following the Paul Pierce trade to cheer on their team. The Nets came out on top in the first game, however, they have fallen back to earth, losing three straight to set up a potential series clincher for the Sixers. The seven-seed Orlando Magic shocked many when they beat the two-seed Toronto Raptors in Game 1 but the magic for the Magic ran out and the Raptors held a 3-1 lead in the series.
While the absence of LeBron may cause some neutral fans to turn away from the NBA playoffs this year, basketball junkies are curious and excited to see what surprises and excitement lay ahead.
Matthew Collins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Matt98533108.