Damian Lillard DeMarcus Cousins Donovan Mitchell Fashion Giannis Antetokounmpo Jamal Murray James Harden Joel Embiid Kyrie Irving NBA NBA Playoffs

From Giannis to Boogie to the no-name Nets, everybody in the playoffs has something to prove — The Undefeated

From Giannis to Boogie to the no-name Nets, everybody in the playoffs has something to prove — The Undefeated

Everyone loves watching a ballplayer with one thing to show. And the NBA playoffs are the last word proving floor.

With the stability of energy reset by LeBron James’ failure to make the postseason, new stars are poised to say new territory. This ambition can solely be validated within the playoffs, when each bucket and cease is more durable. Extra manhood is on the road than throughout some January sleepwalk in Memphis, Tennessee. Each workforce is primed to stop what nice gamers are nice at. Every recreation is a battle, every collection a conflict.

Plus, plenty of guys coast within the common season. Don’t act such as you don’t know.

Listed here are some plotlines to observe in the course of the time of yr when the true measure of gamers, groups and legacies is revealed:

THE STARS

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he isn’t just “The Greek Freak.”

Mark Blinch/NBAE by way of Getty Pictures

Is that this child for actual? The 24-year-old Milwaukee mantis terrorized the NBA this season together with his preposterous mixture of size, deal with, energy and Physician Octopus dunks. Analytics are for nerds, however his Imply-Mug Metric is off the meter. Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to the perfect document within the NBA, and he ought to win his first MVP award … all of which might really feel wasted if he doesn’t make no less than the Japanese Convention finals. Will Antetokounmpo’s lack of a constant jumper show deadly towards primed playoff defenses? Can the league’s most ascendant star keep his trajectory towards Kawhi “Clamps” Leonard in a possible convention finals matchup? Will Kawhi’s clean stare defeat the Giannis grimace? Solely the playoffs can inform.

Kyrie Irving

Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving (middle) is greeted by teammates after making the game-winning shot towards the Indiana Pacers on March 29 in Boston.

AP Photograph/Winslow Townson

Dude confronted extra questions than Jussie Smollett because the Boston Celtics underachieved this yr. Why was Boston higher final season with out an injured Irving? Is his ball-dominant type stifling the skills of younger bulls Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier? Ought to he have punked Gordon Hayward for passing to Tatum on the finish of an in depth loss? Can Irving lead? Irving bolted Cleveland as a result of he was annoyed in King James’ shadow. Heavy is the top that wears the crown. The vultures are circling Irving, they usually might chase him out of Boston if issues stink any worse within the postseason.

James Harden

James Harden of the Houston Rockets watches from the bench throughout a recreation towards the Los Angeles Clippers on April Three at Staples Middle in Los Angeles.

Photograph by Chris Elise/NBAE by way of Getty Pictures

What might anybody with Harden’s unguardable expertise have left to show? Properly, for starters, that his fashion of iso-ball can produce one thing past gaudy stats. Or that he can carry out at his step-backing greatest when it means probably the most. Harden ran out of fuel within the 2017 playoffs. In final yr’s Western Convention finals towards Golden State, Harden shot 19-for-78 from Three-point vary (a bricktastic 24%) because the Rockets misplaced in seven video games. Talking of Houston, the Rockets as a franchise have to show that capturing so many 3s gained’t find yourself capturing them within the foot once more. Of their Recreation 7 loss to the Warriors, which was in Houston, the Rockets missed a report 37 of 44 photographs from behind the arc. Did we point out the sport was performed in Houston? Sure, Chris Paul was injured for the final two video games of that collection. His hamstring popped once more this yr. Paul must show he can stay ambulatory, or he may need to comply with the homies Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony into the sundown. And talking of Anthony — nah, too merciless. Let’s simply keep in Houston, the place there are plenty of chips on the desk. The playoffs will reveal their hand.

THE HUNGRY

DeMarcus Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins of the Golden State Warriors arrives at Oracle Area in Oakland, California, earlier than a recreation towards the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 5.

Photograph by Noah Graham/NBAE by way of Getty Pictures

No one has extra to show in these playoffs than Boogie. Disrespected in free company final summer time, labeled as an issue baby, coming off an Achilles tear, Cousins signed a bargain-basement, one-year rental cope with Golden State. He bodily carried out nicely after returning to motion in January and elevated his manufacturing on the finish of the common season. Attitudewise, he’s now the man restraining Kevin Durant as an alternative of being restrained from Durant. However the Warriors play far much less successfully with Cousins on the courtroom. Will Dangerous Boogie bubble up if he’s benched? Will his presence assist or hinder the Dubs as they chase a 3rd straight championship? Cousins is in his ninth season and has by no means made the playoffs. Stakes are excessive as he chases massive cash and a return to franchise-player standing.

Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets (left) drives on Stephen Curry (proper) of the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Area in Oakland, California, on April 2.

Photograph by Ezra Shaw/Getty Photographs

The Denver Nuggets level guard burns to determine himself as an elite participant on the league’s most stacked place. He’s not glad scoring 48 factors towards Irving — he’s going for 50. He’s taunting Lonzo Ball and scrapping with Russell Westbrook. After 5 years out of the playoffs, the Nuggets have been one of many surprises of the league this yr. Murray is in his third season, with no playoff expertise, posting good Mercedes numbers of 18.2 factors and Four.eight assists per recreation. Let’s see if he can rev his recreation into Ferrari territory alongside Westbrook, Paul, Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry.

Donovan Mitchell

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (middle) shoots as Los Angeles Lakers gamers Alex Caruso (left), Jemerrio Jones (second from left), JaVale McGee (second from proper) and Mike Muscala (proper) defend in the course of the second half of a recreation April 7 in Los Angeles. The Lakers gained, 113-109.

AP Photograph/Mark J. Terrill

Everyone knows the child was phenomenal when he destroyed Oklahoma Metropolis within the first spherical of the playoffs final yr. We additionally know that in Spherical 2 he shot 36 % from the sector and 25 % from Three as Utah misplaced the collection Four-1 to Houston. Couple that with being snubbed for this season’s All-Star Recreation and Spida is upfront about proving he’s an actual star and never only a high-usage spotlight movie. “We’ll see,” Mitchell stated. “It provides you that starvation.”

All of the Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris watches from the bench in the course of the third quarter of a recreation towards the Indiana Pacers on April 7 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports activities

Let’s be trustworthy, this can be a entire squad of dudes different groups didn’t need. I’m nonetheless not precisely positive who Joe Harris is. Who doesn’t have one thing to show on this crew?

The Vets

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum

Portland Path Blazers guards Damian Lillard (left) and C.J. McCollum (proper) congratulate one another after a 96-88 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in Recreation Three of their first-round collection in the course of the 2016 playoffs.

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports activities

Probably the greatest backcourts within the league is operating out of time to show it might energy a real contender. Portland’s embarrassing first-round sweep final yr by the underdog New Orleans Pelicans ratchets up the strain this postseason. On a person foundation, no one is doubting Lillard’s ice-cold recreation or McCollum’s artful talents. The query is, are they the appropriate nucleus to compete into Might towards Houston or Oklahoma Metropolis, a lot much less Golden State? Or would the Blazers be higher off buying and selling certainly one of them for much less duplicative skills? The season-ending damage to middle Jusuf Nurkić lowers the Blazers’ expectations for now, however there’s not an excessive amount of sand left within the hourglass of Portland’s operating buddies. One other first-round exit might cripple their future collectively.

Blake Griffin

Detroit Pistons ahead Blake Griffin (23) celebrates after scoring a 3 level basket towards the Sacramento Kings through the second half at Golden 1 Middle.

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports activities

Keep in mind Blake? Used to play in Los Angeles, jumped excessive, humorous man (typically)? He performs in Detroit now. He could also be interested by proving that he’s nonetheless related. Which is tough to do from Detroit. A primary-round matchup towards the Bucks could possibly be simply the correct stage.

Gregg Popovich

Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs pictured throughout a recreation towards the Miami Warmth at American Airways Area on Oct. 30, 2016, in Miami.

Rob Foldy/Getty Photographs


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Can he win a playoff collection with gamers from, you recognize, America? Perhaps Pop goes so onerous at President Donald Trump as a result of he wants immigrants to compete. Simply sayin’.

THE PROCESS

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers is launched earlier than a recreation towards the Boston Celtics on March 20 on the Wells Fargo Middle in Philadelphia.

Photograph by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE by way of Getty Pictures

This man talks an excessive amount of to not dominate within the playoffs. Yeah, his troll recreation is sweet for spicing up the common season. However sooner or later, like proper now, the Philly massive man must again up the landfill portions of trash he talks or grow to be his personal punch line. After Embiid declared himself “probably the most unstoppable participant within the league,” a motivated Antetokounmpo got here to Philly on April 5 and stopped Embiid’s shot on the rim 4 occasions. Two of these blocks left the 7-foot, 250-pound Sixer rolling on the ground. Actually, bro? With the current signings of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, the Sixers group expects to win massive proper now. No one in Philadelphia is making an attempt to course of one other second-round playoff exit.

Jesse Washington is a senior author for The Undefeated. Yow will discover him giving dudes the bizness on a basketball courtroom close to you.

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