Fortunately, Adam Silver’s unnecessary play-in tournament ends on Friday night when the eighth playoff seed in each conference will be determined.
The playoff ribs will be served on Saturday and Sunday with the opening of the first round. Silver loves the extra money, and additional teams, that the new entry event brings, but it turned out to be a lackluster format.
The Western Conference’s ninth and 10th seeds (the Pelicans and Spurs) had records of 36-46 and 34-48, respectively, diluting the product when LeBron James’ Lakers fell short.
Meanwhile, the top 10 seeds in the East were determined with five regular-season games to go, all suspense ending when the Knicks were mathematically eliminated.
The postseason is long enough and it should be a good way to get out of the pandemic and play next season. But don’t count on it. All Silver cares about is the extra income.
Here are the 10 most compelling questions ahead of the playoffs:
Is Stephen Curry’s health going to derail the Warriors’ comeback season?
Out since March 16 with a sprained ligament in his left foot, Curry could be rusty and on a minute restriction in Game 1 on Saturday night. They also got a terrible tie at No. 6 Denver. It is playing with fire. When he’s right, Curry is still at the peak of his 3-point madness. He is the greatest shooter of all time and put on a show at the Garden in December when he broke the NBA record for most career 3-pointers on him. Asking Klay Thompson to step up and young shooting guard Jordan Poole, the 28th pick in 2019, should continue to be a blessing from Golden State.
Will James Harden and Ben Simmons live up to the hype?
“The Beard” played in 21 games for the 76ers since the Nets trade and averaged just 21 points, scoring more than 30 once. His shooting percentages are down: 40.2 overall, 32.6-for-3. However, his game has been elite and much-needed (10.2 assists). But the Raptors will have a tough start. Of course, anything Harden brings is far better than Simmons’ contributions to the Nets. He could/possibly/could make his debut later in the first round. I’ll believe it when I see it.
How high can Ja Morant take the young Grizzlies?
The Grizzlies have achieved their highest seed in franchise history (No. 2), with their 56 wins, another team record. As much as Morant became an MVP candidate, the Grizzlies also won big when he didn’t play (20-4), which speaks to their deep set. The scouts think they can make it to the Western Conference finals. Desmond Bane, who was dumped by the Knicks at age 25, is a sensational outside threat, and big man Jaren Jackson Jr. is hearing Defensive Player of the Year rumors. They have a bright young coach in Taylor Jenkins, so it’s not just Ja.
Can the Suns take the next step and win it all?
Yes. When the Suns were last seen at the playoff stage, Devin Booker choked in Game 6 against the Bucks in the Finals last spring (0-for-7 3, six turnovers). Had he played a moderate game, the Suns would have forced a Game 7 in Phoenix and likely won the title. Don’t expect Booker to let the Suns down again in June. Monty Williams is my pick for Coach of the Year for making Phoenix even more formidable after last season’s Finals. The Suns posted a franchise-record 64 wins, and the perennial Chris Paul won his fifth assists title. Mikal Bridges, whom the Knicks passed in the 2018 draft, has become arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA. Expect a parade in the Valley of the Sun when CP3 finally gets the ring from him.
Will this be the delight of Knicks fans: Dallas vs. Utah?
The conspiracy theory is that if the Jazz are ejected in the first round, their superstar shooting guard Donovan Mitchell of Westchester will seek a trade to the Knicks. Meanwhile, the Knicks have targeted Mavericks playmaker Jalen Brunson as an unrestricted free agent. However, if Dallas makes a run, why would owner Mark Cuban think of losing him? Even with Kristaps Porzingis in the nation’s capital, the Mavericks are riddled with ex-Knicks: Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr., Reggie Bullock, Trey Burke.
Can the Bucks repeat?
The third-seeded Milwaukee is the least publicized defending champion in history. The cast of Brew City is back. If Giannis Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t shooting free throws and 3-pointers at an alarming level of mental block, he should at least make it to the Eastern Conference finals. But defending him, and hungering for him, hasn’t been as brilliant as during his title run.
Can the Nets finally capture all of New York City?
The image of these Nets is a renegade gang that the nation loves to hate. Kevin Durant is as much a bitter as he is a superstar, and unvaccinated Kyrie Irving showed contempt for his teammates this season, forcing Harden out. But it’s playoff time and everything is forgotten. Many of us were born in Brooklyn, our parents are fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the enemy is the hated Celtics. It’s time for even Knicks fans to gather in Brooklyn, especially after this week’s tragedy at the subway stop near the Nets’ practice site.
Are they Da Bulls for real?
The Bulls staged a spectacular offseason and overtook the Knicks in the standings, but suffered a late-season slump (8-15 after the All-Star break). Though the Knicks had more cap space, the Bulls used theirs wisely by nabbing Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and DeMar DeRozan, who had eight straight 35-plus-point games in February to break Wilt Chamberlain’s record. After losing Ball for the season in mid-January, Chicago fell to the sixth seed and has the misfortune to face geographic rival Milwaukee in Round 1. The Bucks are 15-1 in their last 16 meetings.
How much is Silver worth supporting N’awlins?
The NBA has been damaged by Zion Williamson’s series of protracted injuries. But for New Orleans to slip away as the eighth seed if it pulls off a play-in victory over the Clippers on Friday would be good for the league. Williamson, despite a season-ending foot injury, sat on the Pelicans’ bench during the Spurs’ rout Wednesday dressed in a purple suit. The network showed footage of Williamson, in pregame warmups, hitting a spin dunk that would make Obi Toppin blush. Perhaps Williamson will one day force a trade from the Knicks, but the Pelicans have shown a good core (Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Jonas Valanciunas, New York native Jose Alvarado) that could have Zion excited to stay.
How does Pat Riley do it?
After a run to the 2020 Bubble Finals, the Heat dipped last season and lost in a sweep to the Bucks. Riley added Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker, and the Heat are the No. 1 seed in the East after a 53-29 season. It’s almost tragic that the Heat are run by the smartest man in north Schenectady basketball and the Knicks are run by an agent, Leon Rose.