War­riors start play­off road, without LeBron there at the end

Sun.Star Pampanga - - PERSPECTIVE! -

The Golden State War­riors are set to be­gin their quest for a third straight ti­tle, and this time it’s up to some­one else to try to stop them.

With LeBron James gone to the West and this year gone en­tirely from the post­sea­son, the East­ern Con­fer­ence head­quar­ters for the NBA Fi­nals won’t be in his home for the first time since 2010.

He played for the ti­tle for eight straight years, which may have been great for the TV rat­ings but lately wasn’t much good for the com­pe­ti­tion. The War­riors swept Cleve­land last year af­ter win­ning 41 in 2017.

Teams are lin­ing up to seize his old spot atop the East, all ca­pa­ble of pro­vid­ing the in­trigue that was ab­sent the last cou­ple years.

There’s Mil­wau­kee, with Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo in po­si­tion to exit June fully atop the NBA with a ti­tle and an MVP award.

Or Toronto, hu­mil­i­ated by the Cava­liers in the last two years but armed now with a for­mer NBA Fi­nals MVP in Kawhi Leonard.

It could be Philadel­phia, with Joel Em­biid and Ben Simmons anchoring per­haps the most tal­ented start­ing five out­side of the Bay Area.

And don’t for­get Bos­ton, the pre­sump­tive East fa­vorite in the pre­sea­son that can still live up to ex­pect at i ons.

The best player is gone, but maybe things will be bet­ter.

“I think the par­ity and the com­pe­ti­tion in the East, and not know­ing and ev­ery­one hav­ing a sin­cere chance maybe in the East that did not, when not you look be­tween Toronto, Bos­ton, Philadel­phia,” TNT an­a­lyst Chris Web­ber said. “All of those story lines, new young stars that’s com­ing in.”

The long road to get to the fi­nals be­gins Satur­day with four games, in­clud­ing the top-seeded War­riors against the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers in the West. No. 2 Den­ver faces No. 7 San An­to­nio in the other West opener, while No. 3 Philadel­phia meets No. 6 Brook­lyn, and No. 2 Toronto takes on No. 7 Or­lando in the East.

On Sun­day, the over­all No. 1 seed Bucks face No. 8 Detroit, and No. 4 Bos­ton hosts No. 5 In­di­ana in the East. In the West, No. 3 Port­land and No. 6 Ok­la­homa City meet in a matchup of North­west Di­vi­sion ri­vals, and No. 4 Hous­ton and No. 5 Utah square off in the opener of a se­ries be­tween two of the strong­est teams in the sec­ond half of the sea­son.

It’s the start of post­sea­son that looks dif­fer­ent far be­yond just the ab­sence of James for the first time since 2005.

It in­cludes Den­ver, in the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Brook­lyn is a play­off team for the first time since 2015 and Or­lando is back for the first time since 2012.

The War­riors, of course, haven’t just been go­ing to the post­sea­son ev­ery year, but get­ting all the way to the fi­nals once they do. They’ve done that four straight years, win­ning three of them, and with a strong fin­ish af­ter some oc­ca­sional lapses surged to the best record in the West.

Still, this play­off path could pro­vide them plenty of ob­sta­cles. The War­riors may need to get by scor­ing cham­pion James Har­den and the Rock­ets, who took them to a sev­enth game last year in the con­fer­ence fi­nals, just to get back to that round this time. AP

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