In an unforgettable N.B.A. Season, the series could serve as a prologue

N.B.A. The season has unofficially started with a commercial demand from the superstar before the superstar in question (Jimmy Butler) and his then-team (Minnesota) even gathered for a training camp.

Seven months and over 1,200 games later, Magic Johnson has surprised the retirement of two legends – Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade – in an outrageous way by stepping away from Jeanie Buss, LeBron James and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers for a chaotic hour. unscheduled interviews with the media.

And there were countless dramas and controversies between these books, from the unfortunate departure of the Houston Rockets to the almost instantaneous divorce of Carmelo Anthony … to the sad disintegration of the pelican season in New Orleans after the commercial demand from Anthony Davis … to the Lakers of Collapse caused by an injury that ultimately prevented King James from reaching the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.

Regular season? Barely. From Butler's trade request to the Lakers announcement Friday that they were separating from coach Luke Walton, it was an exhausting race. Still, we have finally arrived where we wanted to be all the time: the start of Saturday's playoffs.

The crucial question now, as we descend from this Russian mountain for another, remains centered on the Golden State for the fourth successive spring:

Can anyone beat the Warriors four times in a seven-game series?

My answer remains a company no. But what will make the post-season unique, beyond the absence of LeBron, is the panoply of auxiliary questions that will surely arise on the future of the Warriors and many teams chasing them.

Do not forget that on July 1, a frenzy of free agents begins to be heavily influenced by the playoff results. Directors: Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins ​​of Golden State; Kyrie Irving of Boston; Toronto's Kawhi Leonard; Tobias Harris and Butler, of Philadelphia; Khris Middleton of Milwaukee; Kemba Walker of Charlotte; and Nikola Vucevic from Orlando.

Just to name 10 past, present and future All-Stars.

"I think this summer is going to be the most pivotal period of N.B.A. history, "said Charles Barkley, Turner Sports Hall of Fame analyst. "It's going to dictate the next five years."

Any chance for the Raptors to persuade Leonard to stay in Canada, after months of noises suggesting that the Los Angeles Clippers are pioneers in signing it, would seem to depend on a leak to the NB. finals. The Raptors are my choice to get there by winning after LeBron, but the high stakes at stake, as well as the tormented history of the playoffs in Toronto, will weigh heavily on this team despite its potential as a defensive juggernaut.

The pressure is even more tangible in Philadelphia, thanks to all-in-one transactions for Harris and Butler. These two, as well as J J Redick, are all free agents to come. That's a lot for Sixers Brett Brown's coach, especially when his best player, Joel Embiid, might not be available for the start of the Philadelphia first-round series with the Nets due to the fact that he's not going to be in the game. a knee problem that lasts since the match of the stars. . Rumors about Brown's job security are beginning to circulate.

Uncertainty also stifles the Celtics, who have not even won 50 games and are openly struggling with chemistry problems after seeing the reinstatement of Irving and Gordon Hayward, the former All Star swap player. , much more complicated than expected, including the Boston officials. The fear of the absence of two rounds of injury for the sturdy guard Marcus Smart will not help, the impending specter of Irving's free will and a possible Davis trade lawsuit would add to the tension.

Milwaukee, meanwhile, has the statistical profile of a team that should be strongly favored to represent the East in the final and potentially defeat the Warriors – aside from the fact that the next playoff series won by the other world, Giannis Antetokounmpo, will be the first. The Bucks are the only team in the league to rank among the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency, but I admit to being one of those old school experts who had put aside their lack of skills. Experience in important game.

Denver is West's answer to Milwaukee and proof as seed number 2 that there were uplifting stories to celebrate in the transactional chaos and personality conflicts that tend to dominate the social media sector's share in the league. But the Nuggets' lack of experience not only prevented me from naming them as the Warriors biggest threat at the conference – it makes them vulnerable in the first round against San Antonio.

So Houston is the team most able to derail the Warriors' bid for three rounds. Houston's problem is that an expensive slip of the No. 4 seed in the West dropped it in half of the playoffs. The Rockets must now face Utah Jazz in a first-round match between the hottest teams (Houston (20-5) and third (Utah, 18-7)) since the break from the All-Star game.

Despite all the talk about the fact that the Rockets could take advantage of a rematch against the Warriors in conference semifinals rather than in the finals, when James Harden and Chris Paul will theoretically be newer, that is to say. may be Golden State that will benefit most from the surveillance of Houston and Utah. fight so soon.

The Warriors will not refuse help either, as their veterans and coaches would undoubtedly argue that the regular season period is longer than anyone else's after four consecutive trips in the championship round. Ceaseless speculation about the possible defection of the free agent during the Knicks or the Nets – yes, I warn you not to fall asleep in Brooklyn – has only added to the daily challenge of coach Steve Kerr to keep his team concentrated.

Another warning: remember that the Warriors tend to find this focus quickly once the schedule goes into the playoffs. Both of their last 82 games have been presented as unusually joyless, but Golden State is 32-6 in the playoffs since Durant 's addition.

As long as Stephen Curry's ankle scare earlier this week turns out to be minor, it is likely that the Warriors will become the first team in 52 seasons – out of the 744 teams to reach the playoffs – to participate in a fifth consecutive final. appearance. And then hangs the title No. 4 to cement itself as an undeniable dynasty.

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