NBA Playoffs 2019: With LeBron James missing from the mix after eight seasons, a look at the biggest Eastern Conference storylines

  • An Eastern Conference sans LeBron James will have a top seeded Milwaukee Bucks team which hasn’t won a Playoff series since 2001.

  • An Indiana Pacers side sans All-Star Victor Oladipo face the marauding might of the Kyrie Irving-led Boston Celtics.

  • A Brooklyn Nets team with an underdog mentality will face off against a Sixers side which is racing against time as free agency approaches.

An Eastern Conference sans LeBron James. A top seeded Milwaukee Bucks team which hasn’t won a Playoff series since 2001. An Orlando Magic outfit which is wafer thin on Playoffs experience facing a Raptors side awash with it. A Brooklyn Nets team with an underdog mentality facing off against a Sixers side which is racing against time as free agency approaches. An Indiana Pacers side sans All-Star Victor Oladipo facing the marauding might of the Kyrie Irving-led Boston Celtics.

As the NBA 2018-19 Playoffs begin, here are the most enthralling storylines from the first round matchups in the Eastern Conference:

No 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs No 8 Detroit Pistons

Matchup History: The Bucks and Pistons are meeting in the Playoffs for the fifth time. Detroit has won the previous four series, with the last victory coming in 2006.

Milwaukee’s Best: The Bucks finished with the NBA’s best record for the first time in 45 years. Next step for Milwaukee: Win a Playoff series for the first time since 2001.

Going Greek: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) has become only the fifth player to average at least 27.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists in a season, joining Wilt Chamberlain (twice), Oscar Robertson. Elgin Baylor and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His play on both ends of the court makes him an MVP favourite.

Griffin Grind: Blake Griffin’s last two trips to the Playoffs, with the Clippers in 2016 and 2017, ended prematurely due to injury. He’ll open this series with a sore knee that kept him out of Detroit’s season finale. Griffin is the first Pistons player to average at least 24.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists in a season.

Humble Beginnings: Khris Middleton was drafted by the Pistons with the 39th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and played one season in Detroit before being traded to Milwaukee. He has quietly developed into an All-Star — the NBA’s first with NBA G League experience — and a vital cog in the Bucks’ attack.

Centres of Attention: Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez are coming off excellent regular seasons. Drummond led the league in rebounding (15.6 rpg) and double-doubles (69). Lopez finished 17th in three-pointers made (187) and ranked fourth in the league in blocks (2.2 bpg).

Starts at the Top: Mike Budenholzer (Bucks) and Dwane Casey (Pistons) have been here before — just not with their current teams. Both enjoyed tremendous success in their previous coaching stints, in Atlanta and Toronto, respectively, winning Coach of the Year honours and making annual trips to the Playoffs.

Healthy Living: Reggie Jackson was the only Piston to play in all 82 games this season after appearing in only 97 games the previous two seasons. Jackson grew as a lead guard in his first season playing for Dwane Casey, taking better shots and committing fewer turnovers.

No 2 Toronto Raptors vs No 7 Orlando Magic

Matchup History: This is the second Playoff meeting between Toronto and Orlando. In 2008, the Magic defeated the Raptors in the first round.

Magic Moment: Orlando are back in the Playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season, ending the East’s longest active postseason drought. The Magic’s mediocre record belies its current form. After a 20-31 start, Orlando went 22-9 down the stretch — the NBA’s third-best record in that period.

Experience Gap: Orlando’s starters have a combined 33 games of Playoff experience — 28 from one player (DJ Augustin). All-Star Nikola Vučević (Montenegro) has played in one Playoff game and Magic mainstay Aaron Gordon hasn’t played in any. Toronto is seasoned with NBA champions Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and postseason fixtures Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka (Republic of the Congo) and Marc Gasol (Spain).

Ross Roars: Terrence Ross, who played his first 4½ seasons with Toronto after being selected eighth overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, enjoyed a career year with Orlando this season as a top Sixth Man Award candidate. In 2017, the Raptors traded him to the Magic for Serge Ibaka, who was resurgent this season with Toronto.

Deep Connection: Magic President Jeff Weltman was Raptors President Masai Ujiri’s right-hand man in Toronto’s front office before being hired by Orlando in 2017. They also worked together in Denver, where Weltman helped Ujiri land his job with the Nuggets. At the time, Ujiri was an international scout with Orlando.

Canadian Roots: Orlando’s Khem Birch (Canada) is a Quebec native and Canadian national team member.

Even Split: Orlando and Toronto split four games in the regular season, with each team winning once on the other’s home court.

No 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs No 6 Brooklyn Nets

Matchup History: Brooklyn and Philadelphia are meeting in the Playoffs for the third time overall and first time since 1984. The previous two meetings came in the first round, with each team winning a series.

High School Reunion: Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid (Cameroon) and Ben Simmons (Australia) all went to Montverde Academy in Florida. Russell and Embiid were teammates for one season before Embiid transferred. Russell and Simmons led Montverde to national titles in 2013 and 2014.

High Stakes: The Sixers put their core together on the fly with in-season trades for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. Both players are free agents this summer, increasing the urgency for Philadelphia to win now.

Brooklyn Build: Nets GM Sean Marks has put on a masterclass in rebuilding. From hiring coach Kenny Atkinson, to trading for All-Star D’Angelo Russell, to rediscovering Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris, Marks’ deft touch has the Nets back in the Playoffs for the first time since 2015.

Underdog Days: The Nets have embraced an underdog mentality that stems from having a collection of players who have overcome adversity. D’Angelo Russell was traded by the Lakers after his second season, his leadership questioned by Magic Johnson. Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris emerged from the NBA G League. Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs (Latvia) all went for lower than expected in their respective drafts.

Shooting Stars: Brooklyn’s Jared Dudley refers to teammate Joe Harris as the “modern JJ Redick,” a reference to Philadelphia’s venerable sharpshooter. Harris led the NBA in three-point percentage this season, while Redick ranked seventh in three-pointers made.

Same Cloth: Sixers coach Brett Brown and Nets GM Sean Marks worked together under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. Brown began his tenure in player development before joining Pop on the bench. Marks, a former Spurs player, worked in the front office, except for the 2013-14 season, when he replaced Brown as an assistant.

No 4 Boston Celtics vs No 5 Indiana Pacers

Matchup History: The Celtics and Pacers are meeting in the Playoffs for the sixth time, all in the first round. Boston leads 3-2. Most recently, Indiana defeated the Celtics in the 2005 Playoffs.

Homecoming: This series marks a homecoming for Boston coach Brad Stevens and forward Gordon Hayward, who both grew up in the Indianapolis suburbs and led Butler to college basketball prominence.

Bird Watching: Larry Bird is closely associated with both franchises. He won three titles and three MVPs as a player with the Celtics. He is currently an adviser to Indiana President Kevin Pritchard. Bird served as the Pacers’ president for more than a decade and was the team’s coach for its only trip to the NBA Finals, in 2000.

Old School: This series has an old-school feel. Both teams play a hard-nosed, physical style, particularly on the defensive end, and have the depth to go all out.

Coming Together: The Pacers refused to wilt after losing All-Star Victor Oladipo in January. The Celtics showed similar resolve last season after losing Kyrie Irving in March, reaching the Conference Finals.

Elder Statesmen: Boston’s Al Horford and Indiana’s Thaddeus Young are two of the league’s most respected veterans. Members of the 2007 NBA Draft class, Horford and Young bring steadiness and leadership.

Ready for Their Close-up: The Pacers have several under-the-radar players who have helped keep the team on track in Oladipo’s absence. Chief among them are NBA blocks leader Myles Turner, Sixth Man Award candidate Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania) and 18-point-per-game scorer Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia).

Replacing Smart: With Celtics starter Marcus Smart sidelined, Jaylen Brown is poised to play an even bigger role. After a slow start this season, Brown has looked more like the player who broke out last season.

Click here to check out the biggest storylines from the Western Conference

Updated Date: Apr 13, 2019 21:12:04 IST