So much is at stake in this year’s postseason.
The 2019 NBA Playoffs, which begin on April 13 and continue until mid-June, will be among the most consequential in years.
The NBA is in a state of transition. LeBron James, the league’s marquee star, is not participating in the postseason for the first time since 2005. His decision to go to Los Angeles destabilized one conference, and the Lakers’ abject failure of a season threw the rest of the league into chaos. We were already guaranteed a new Finals matchup for the first time since 2014, but not even having LeBron in the playoffs means the league’s signature on-court showcase will take on an entirely different character.
One storylines is familiar. The Golden State Warriors are the overwhelming favorite to win their fourth title in five years, despite an uneven regular season dominated by rumors of Kevin Durant’s imminent departure in the offseason.
The others, though, are new. The rise of the East-leading Bucks, led by emerging superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. The retooled Raptors, hoping to convince new star Kawhi Leonard that they are a marquee franchise worthy of a long-term commitment. James Harden’s Rockets, back for more after digging themselves out of an early-season hole. The all-in 76ers, who ditched the slow-and-steady Process to build a top-heavy roster ready to win now. The confusing Celtics, led by the confusing Kyrie Irving, with one last chance to coalesce into the on-paper juggernaut most expected when the season began.
The rest of the field offers intrigue, too. There are fresh faces like the rising Nuggets, Nets, Clippers, and Magic; small-market success stories like the Blazers, Pacers, and Jazz; and old heads with a twist in DeMar DeRozan’s San Antonio Spurs Spurs and Paul George’s Oklahoma City Thunder. Even if the Warriors are heavily favored to win the title, their competition has an opportunity to change their images with deep playoff runs.
Ultimately, this postseason is a prelude to the summer, when countless stars could change teams and the Lakers get another shot to fortify LeBron’s roster. Still, what a prelude it’ll be. If and when the league’s balance of power redistributes itself this summer, we’ll remember the 2019 NBA Playoffs as the root cause.