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Apr 15, 2017
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There are countless reasons to get pissed off every freakin' day. The nationwide traffic, the ongoing circus of local politics, and the alarming shortage of Chicken Joy thigh parts. As if things weren't bad enough, the scorching weather is frying the humanity out of us, and we heard Kris Aquino's much-welcomed hiatus from TV is nearly over.

Still, hoop junkies all over the world can still give each other high-fives and try the Cleveland Cavaliers' crazy handshakes, for the 2017 NBA Playoffs is ready to roll! Starting April 16, we'll have the luxury to block out everything that's wrong with the world for a few hours each day as we get to witness the game's fiercest battles for basketball immortality.

But before immersing ourselves into the intense hardwood action lying ahead, it's just apt that we look at the most compelling storylines involving the premier teams in the upcoming postseason.


WEST

Culmination of reclamation

When Kevin Durant went down in late February, the Golden State Warriors appeared vulnerable without their prized forward, going 2-4 in their next six games. Apparently, those setbacks gave Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson enough time to regain the form that led the team to last season's historic 73 wins. The Dubs couldn't have asked for better momentum heading to the playoffs.

They have won 14 straight, including one game with KD back in the lineup. The 11.8 average scoring margin reminded everybody of their total dominance. For Golden State, it’s really as simple as this: if the main guys don't get hurt and defensive anchor/key playmaker Draymond Green could stop aiming for the nuts, Durant's heel turn will be all worth it.


Championship window closing

Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have been playing the Los Angeles Clippers' best basketball late in the season. Their efforts have positioned the team (4th seed) for a first-round matchup with the 5th-place Utah Jazz. It's not a disappointing campaign at all for Doc Rivers and his wards. But gone are the days when they're among favorites to win it all. It'll be a tough task, especially against a hungry Utah squad that fought long and hard just to get back to this point. And if the Clips do overcome the Jazz, their opponents next round will most likely be the Warriors (sorry, Portland). It would take a miracle for LA to reach the Western Conference Finals. That said, expect Paul and Griffin to to opt out of their contracts in the offseason in hopes of bigger paychecks, and more importantly, greater success with a different franchise.

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Da real MVP

The tug of war between James Harden and Westbrook for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy has been the top story all season long. Basically, it's basically Harden's superb numbers (29.2 PPG 8.1 RPG 11.2 APG) that generated more wins (55) for the Houston Rockets versus Westbrook's astronomical triple-double average (31.7 PPG 10.7 RPG 10.4 APG) and being able to take a modest Oklahoma City Thunder crew to the 6th spot in the stacked West.

Although it has nothing to do with the voting process, the opening clash of these two juggernauts will be the ultimate decider on who truly deserves the league's highest individual honor. Based on their teams' head-to-head record (HOU 3-1 OKC), it seems that the Rockets have the Thunder all figured out. Brodie, on the other hand, has made a career out of proving people and logic wrong. Perpetually playing with a chip on his shoulder, the Triple-Double King might just pull off an upset.


Still can't sleep on the standard

The San Antonio Spurs own the second best record in the league (63-19), after averaging a 7.4 point-per-game differential, while holding their opponents to 98.1 points per contest, good for the No. 1 defense in the league. Pop also has Kawhi Leonard, the one guy who can decently cover LeBron James and isn't too shabby on the other side of the floor himself (25.8 PPG). Aside from the Cavs and the Dubs, San Antonio is very much capable of going all the way. The road to the title, however, will be tumultuous. Their initial test would be the bruisers of Memphis, followed by either the high-octane Houston offense or the rage of Russ. So before they take on their would-be conference rivals, *cough*Golden State*cough* the Spurs maybe all worn out. Still, they're too good to be written off. For the Silver and Black to win ring No. 6, Tony Parker must ask Tim Duncan where that fountain of youth is at.

EAST

Built for back-to-back

When they're clicking, they look invincible—just like they did in April 6 when they convincingly defeated the current top seed, Boston Celtics, on the road. Problem is, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been inconsistent in the past weeks. Just four days after that Beantown beatdown, the Cavs blew a historic 26-point lead to the Atlanta Hawks entering the 4th period. In their season closer, Cleveland relinquished the stranglehold on the East by falling to the Miami Heat. It has been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing for the Cavaliers lately.

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Fans, though, shouldn't panic. LeBron and co. are expected to turn their "championship switch" on come playoff time and return to the Finals in epic fashion. Just take a look at this Cavs roster. You've got the best player in the planet, a ruthless assassin for a point guard, a pair of frontcourt studs, and a top-heavy long-range unit. The Cavs are even scarier this time. Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy an avalanche of postseason shellacking, courtesy of the Wine and Gold.


The dark horse(s)

The two other teams that could make noise in the East are the 3rd seed Toronto Raptors and the 4th place Washington Wizards. The Raps have gotten off track a few games after the midseason arrival of Serge Ibaka, which turned out to be nothing but a period of adjustment. With the wrinkles ironed out, DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry lifted their team back to a podium finish in the conference. Peaking at the right time, a grudge match against Cleveland looms for Toronto.

Like Canada's dynamic duo, the tandem of John Wall and Bradley are not to be dismissed. Washington's starting backcourt puts up 46 points on a nightly basis, and on any given outing, can give opposing guards more than they could handle. Against the Atlanta Hawks in Round 1, watch Wall and Beal pick apart the inexperienced pairing of Dennis Schroder and Tim Hardaway, Jr. The Wizards might even give the Celtics quite a scare.


Must become deer to be feared

Jason Kidd has steered his young, exuberant ball club back to the playoffs. Thanks in large part to Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the Milwaukee Bucks in all five major statistical categories—23.1 PPG 8.7 RPG 5.4 APG 1.7 SGP 1.9 BPG all throughout the season. Next in line getting buckets for the Bucks is comebacking Khris Middleton (40% 3PT). In the absence of the team's other stud, Jabari Parker, Middleton's sharp shooting has bolstered Milwaukee's playoff push.

Now, all their hard work will rewarded with a first-round crack at the the Toronto Raptors. How much damage they'll inflict on the Raps will be a strong indication of their true strength and the direction they need to go in order to make it to the next level. Are they really the future of the NBA or has this group reached its ceiling? The team's makeup in the following years may very well depend on this postseason appearance.


Fallen giants

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Just four years ago, the Indiana Pacers lost in 7 games in the ECF to eventual champions, the LeBron-led Miami Heat. Fast forward to today, the Pacers are seeded 7th with a 42-40 record. To be honest, their chances against James' new squad in the opening round look bleak. And so does Paul George's days in Indiana. In the offseason, the team signed multiple All-Star caliber players to beef up. But the outcome was way off the expectations. Now, all that’s left in the team’s once bright future is uncertainty and the prospect of an early playoff exit. This sad development for the Pacers means two things. They will have to rebuild and PG-13 (23 PPG 6.6 RPG 1.5 APG), who'll be a free agent in 2018, might request to be traded next season to a legit title contender. Interesting times indeed for Paul George, not so much for Indiana.


Ultimate win-win situation

Contrary to what many hoops scribes expected, the trade deadline passed without a move from the Boston Celtics that would've brought in either Paul George or Jimmy Butler. GM Danny Ainge must have too much faith in this current lineup, not wanting to risk disrupting team chemistry with a blockbuster deal. He puts his trust in his lone superstar Isaiah Thomas and believes that a band of hardworking Cs could challenge the Cavs.

Thing is, Ainge might just have a point. Boston has clinched the top seed in the East, Thomas (29.2 PPG) is playing out of his mind, and Coach Brad Stevens has transformed the Celtics into a cohesive unit. They actually have the ability to push Cleveland to the limit in the conference finals. Plus, the Celtics have assets. Ainge may also get Thomas elite company in the next couple of drafts, thanks to the Brooklyn Nets. At the moment, Boston is both good and in an ideal situation. Management puts no pressure on them to win now, yet they're equipped enough to contend for a title, which makes them really dangerous.

 

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