The NBA playoffs are arguably the most competitive part of the season, and this year’s tournament is proving to be a hard-fought one. The top seeds from each Conference – the Philadelphia 76ers in the East and Utah Jazz in the West – both came through their opening rounds of the postseason, beating the Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies respectively.
Also in that initial round of games were the meetings between the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat, both of whom were tipped to be potential Finals contenders. The Bucks ended up winning a landslide 4-0.
The Brooklyn Nets are now the favorites in the NBA playoffs betting at DraftKings, they kept those hopes alive after beating the Boston Celtics 4-1 in their first playoff round.
A lot of the attention in the playoffs goes to older, more established names like LeBron James, Damian Lillard and James Harden. While their talent and achievements are undeniable, they are also moving toward the end of their careers and the NBA playoffs are becoming increasingly more influenced by younger prospects on the court.
One such name is Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic who, at just 22, is already proving himself a generational talent in the NBA. He featured in last year’s postseason but has already surpassed the points tally he earned then, averaging 38 points a night in four games against the LA Clippers.
In those first two games against the Clippers, Doncic dominated and led the Mavs to a 2-0 lead. However, despite an excellent start in Game 3, Dallas were unable to hold back the Clippers and lost 108-118. Doncic suffered a minor neck injury in that game, which has clearly affected his game somewhat as his figures from the field have dropped since then.
However, he will prove crucial to Dallas’ chances of making the Finals. He’s also in the running for this year’s MVP award, having come fourth in the voting last season. If he can recover from the slight injury and return to his previous form, the Mavericks could go far in the playoffs.
Trae Young, of the Atlanta Hawks, has also been outstanding so far in the playoffs, proving himself instrumental in their 4-1 series win over the New York Knicks. Despite the pressure of featuring in the first playoff game at Madison Square Garden since 2013 – as an away player, no less – Young dropped 32 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and the game-winning shot in that initial meeting with the Knicks.
Despite this only being his third season in the NBA and his first ever playoffs, the 22-year-old is taking the occasion in his stride and producing electric results on the court. The Hawks face an uphill battle to make it to the playoffs, but Young has the sort of talent to give any team trouble.
Lillard, now 30, is one of those more well-known names who is able to grab headlines and was excellent for the Portland Trail Blazers during their back-and-forth series with the Denver Nuggets. The point guard continues to boss games from the backcourt – something he did exceptionally well during the regular season – and came extremely close to leading his team into the next round of the playoffs.
Kevin Durant, one of the NBA’s all-time leading scorers, was sidelined for a surprising amount of the regular season but has been integral to Brooklyn’s success so far in the playoffs.
Attacking the rim with venom and creating countless shots off the dribble, Durant is showing the sort of form that could lead the Nets to an NBA Championship, taking his personal tally to three. He lifted the trophy in 2017 and 2018, being voted MVP in both years. If he can bring that sort of form in this stage of his career, Durant’s status as one of the best ever will be beyond question.
One of the most surprising players of this year’s playoffs has been Deandre Ayton. The 22-year-old has arguably been the best big man in the series so far, helping the Phoenix Suns pull off impressive victories over the LA Lakers in the opening round. The young star is a crucial part of the Suns; when he is on court, they have a net rating of 4.2, compared to minus-14.7 when he is off it. That is an enormous swing.
Nikola Jokic is another big man performing wonders for his team. The Nuggets veteran is coping well without starting guard Jamal Murray, alongside whom Jokic helped the Nuggets to last year’s Finals against the Lakers. He finished the regular season with an average of 26.4 points per game but has improved his form since then during Denver’s thrilling series with Portland.
While established players like Lillard and Durant are once again proving their worth, and their value to their respective teams, young names like Doncic and Young are fighting their way into the limelight with standout performances in this postseason. With so much on the line, these players will likely be the ones to determine who makes it to the Finals.