But first, here is one bonus NBA number before we begin: 20, as in 20 years Kobe Byrant has played in the NBA. Here are some highlights from his last game (at age 37, his final line? 60 points on 50 shots):
31 in 10: 31 games in 10 days. Not for the faint of heart. From April 16 to April 25 you average 3 games of NBA basketball every day. Not just any games either, mind you. You are getting 31 games of playoff basketball. Now of course not every match-up between Toronto and Indiana or Charlotte and Miami is going to be an instant classic, but you are also more than likely not going to be getting a game like the one above. (Both Utah and the Lakers missed 29 shots in the first quarter including 12 in the paint. Yikes.)
1 and 2 (seeds): The number 1 and 2 seeds in the West (Golden State and San Antonio) have a combined record of 140-24 (.853). Are the real NBA Finals this year taking place in the Western Conference Finals? The Warriors averaged (!) 115 points a game, while the Spurs held opponents to only 92 points a game. Can anyone else even compete? The two teams have lost a combined 3 games on their home courts. Any potential playoff opponents have to beat Golden State or San Antonio four times in a seven game series. That’s unreal.
1 and 2 (2nd edition): Speaking of the Warriors, their first round opponent is the Houston Rockets, a team they faced in last year’s Western Conference Finals, but their clash this year might not be as evenly matched as last year’s heights. The Rockets are coming in with 14 less wins than last year and are allowing 106 points a game; tops in this year’s playoff field as an 8 seed. As a consolation, the series will feature the league’s top 2 scorers in Steph Curry (30 ppg) and James Harden (29 ppg). With Houston scoring 106 a game, even if this series is quick, it won’t be boring.
48-34 (x4): The Eastern Conference Playoffs is a strange swamp in the middle. Miami, Boston, Atlanta, and Charlotte all enter the playoffs with a 48-34 record. What does this mean? It’s hard to tell other than this might be the least captivating part of this year’s playoff push. Can Miami breakthrough with a veteran squad? Can Boston or Atlanta surprise us? It’s possible, as a surprise team could emerge from this mushy group.
6 then 2, then 1: The road for the Oklahoma City Thunder (a team with a solid 55-27 record, as well as 1 of only 6 teams to win over 50 games this year) is the bumpiest in playoff basketball. They must go through a scrappy Dallas team that went 7-3 in their last 10 games and held opponents to 92 points in that stretch. Then it’s on to San Antonio, and after that (with luck), Golden State in the Conference Finals. Can this Thunder team, who so desperately wants to hold on to Kevin Durant (above) and Russel Westbrook this off-season, have any tougher of a draw?
By the way, just for fun, here is a 37 year old Dirk Nowitzki dropping 40 points on Portland a month back:
The Thunder both want and need to play as few games as possible in the series versus the Mavericks, but Dallas may make it tough to do just that.
Any number but 1,2,or 1: In the West, the Warriors and the Spurs hold the top 2 seeds. In the East, Lebron James and Cleveland are starting their run to get King James to six straight NBA Finals as a 1 seed. Can any other team become relevant besides these 3 teams? Heck, can any other team crack the narrative? Toronto only finished 1 game behind Cleveland, and with a long playoff road towards a potential match-up with the Cavaliers in the East Finals, they might be the only squad with a shot to dethrone Lebron. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are averaging 23 and 21 points a game respectively, so here’s hoping for Toronto to provide the big fireworks outside the above power trio.
5: The last time we had 5 first round series go to a Game 7 was 2014. With only 3 (or 4) seeming contenders lurking, it may be highly unlikely that we see a repeat of that this year, but we can always hope. The 3-6 and 4-5 matchups in the East might be the only two to go to a Game 7.
Graphic by NBA.com, Spurs/Warriors Photo by Custom/Kens 5, Thunder Photo by Playmaker Magazine