In this year’s NBA playoffs, it’s already clear: there will be a new champion.
Lots of rookie champions too.
The second round of the playoffs begins on Saturday night, and nowhere are the franchises that have combined to win nearly two-thirds of the titles awarded in league history. Instead, there are what might be considered new faces: the Phoenix Suns, who are in the second round for the first time since 2010; the Brooklyn Nets, who advanced for the first time since 2014; and the Atlanta Hawks, for the first time since 2016.
Also, when the NBA gets to its final eight teams, there won’t be more than eight players and maybe as few as five who have already won a championship ring.
So for pretty much everyone who stays in the playoffs, it’s a whole new world. New teams. New faces. New stories. And at the end, of course, there will be a new winner and a whole bunch of guys taking their marks on the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time.
“I don’t think it matters one way or the other,” said Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers, who will be one of only two coaches left in the second round to have guided a team to one title, with either Rick Carlisle (Dallas Mavericks) or Tyronn Lue (Los Angeles Clippers) the other. “I think people like good NBA basketball, and that’s what they want to see.”
And it could be great, but it will definitely be different.
This is only the third time in NBA history that a season’s finalists – in this case, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat – were not among the last eight teams to compete the following season. At least five of the last eight teams in last season’s reboot bubble are completed for this season. Of the last four in the NBA last year, only the Denver Nuggets are back in the last eight this season.
“Our goal is much bigger,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone.
Among the teams not found at the moment: the franchises that have combined to win 36 of the last 37 NBA championships. That is 47 of the last 49 titles. That is 68 of the 74 never awarded. The Lakers, who celebrated the 17th NBA crown in franchise history last year, came out in the first round this time, limping for elimination with a Game 6 loss to the Suns on Thursday night. The Heat’s reign as Eastern Conference champions ended with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks.
“It was exhausting,” said Lakers forward LeBron James. “Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally draining.… Every team has to deal with it, obviously, but with us and Miami, going long term in the bubble and coming back right away this season has been very draining. . “
James missed the playoffs in 2019 due to injury. Other than that, he had made the NBA Finals every season since 2011. This race is over.
Round two begins in Brooklyn, where the second-seeded Nets host third-seeded Milwaukee on Saturday to kick off a series of Eastern Conference semifinals. The eastern semifinals’ other series begins Sunday, with fifth-seeded Atlanta visiting number one Philadelphia. In the Western Conference, the number one seed Utah Jazz will face either the Clippers or the Mavericks, while the second seed Phoenix will face third seed Denver starting Monday.
Perhaps the absence of the usual suspects of the past two decades or so – the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs join the Heat and Lakers on this list – is surprising. But the way that first round has unfolded also can’t come as a total shock, as the top three seeds from both halves of the group have reached the conference semi-finals, and nothing worse than a seed # 5 will only fill in the fields.
While having the new faces in the next round may be good for the league, those who are still playing don’t really waste time from an overall perspective.
“I’m not even going to go,” Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan said. “I’m not going to talk about what’s good for the league. I’m focusing on the Hawks and facing Philadelphia.”
As of Friday, there were eight players left in the playoffs who were part of a team’s winning trip to the NBA Finals: Danny Green of Philadelphia and JaVale McGee of Denver are three-time champions, Kevin Durant of Brooklyn and Clippers teammates Kawhi Leonard and Rajon Rondo each have two rings, and Kyrie Irving of Brooklyn, Serge Ibaka of the Clippers and Dwight Howard of the Sixers each have a title.
And no one has won a ring, obviously, with their current club.
All of this means that the path to the NBA Finals is wide open for the first time in years and that a breakthrough awaits someone.
“We have the chance to do something special,” said Jazz center Rudy Gobert.
Green has spoken to his teammates about what winning in a ring looks like, but his lessons most often revolve around the years his teams have failed – and how to avoid those moments.
“I think a lot of people around the world are surprised that the defending champions and Miami came out as soon as they did,” said Green. “It happens. Injuries happen. It’s a long season.… As a fan, I like to watch basketball, watch competitive basketball and cheer on the underdogs. I like to see some teams go more. away from them.
“But as a player I don’t focus or worry about any other team.”