The NBA playoffs: Can the newcomers bring new energy to the party?

The NBA seems to be in a period of transition with stars like Lebron James and Kevin Durant making way for a new generation of stars like Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo. In addition, the league seems to be transitioning away from the super team era, where teams would stockpile as many all-stars on one team as possible and hope they can all play together; this has been a fixture of the NBA for the last decade.

This has been evident through teams like the Miami Heat, the Phoenix Suns, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Boston Celtics. None of which have a top-five player in the NBA, but won enough games during the regular season to be given a top-two seed in each respective conference. While these teams are all captained by top-level talent, they all play in team-friendly systems that share the ball and rely on a lack of a weak link to win.

Meanwhile, star-studded teams like the Kevin Durant- and Kyrie Irving-led Nets were swept in the first round. Additionally, the Lebron James- and Anthony Davis-led Lakers and the Kawaii Leonard- and Paul George-led Clippers did not even make the playoffs.

The Nets have been a spectacle all season with Irving’s vaccination status restricting him from playing until very late into the season, and former MVP James Harden not being happy with his usage on the team and demanding a trade. Once he was traded to Philadelphia, the player they got back for Harden – Ben Simmons – didn’t play a single game for the team. This fiasco of a season resulted in them getting swept by Boston.

While the Nets’ season was by all accounts a complete failure, teams like the Heat have been the surprise of the NBA. At the beginning of the season, FiveThirtyEight (“538”) and ESPN predicted them to be a fringe playoff team, saying they would be lucky to win 45 games. Instead, the Heat won 53 games and netted the top seed in the east, then proceeded to make light work of the Hawks in the first round.

Around the rest of the league, the Warriors have relied on Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and their plethora of above-average talent to return to their consistent winning ways securing the three seed in the West.

There, they beat the six-seed Nuggets 4-1 in the first round, who are led by MVP favorite Nikola Jokić. The MVP race has become a three-person race between Jokić, Embiid – who led the league in scoring as a center – and the consistently dominant Antetokounmpo.

The first round of the playoffs are winding down now as the higher seeds have struggled a bit, but have hung on to punch their tickets to the next round. The question going forward is, how will these new teams like the Grizzlies, Heat and Mavericks compete with veteran teams like the Celtics, Bucks and 76ers? It will all come down to experience and hitting shots in key moments like it usually does.