Column – NBA playoffs should be entertaining

Austin Hemmingson

ESCANABA — It’s that time of year again. The NBA playoffs get underway today, and this postseason has me as excited as I’ve been in years.

First off, I’m not much of a Detroit Pistons’ fan, but I do follow the team. The Pistons are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2016, but they haven’t been a true title contender since the 2007-08 season when they lost to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference FInals.

This year’s version of the Pistons is the definition of mediocrity, finishing 41-41. They were lucky to make the playoffs after losing four of six to close the regular season, and their best player, Blake Griffin, is battling left knee soreness. It’s hard to say how much he’ll be able to contribute in the playoffs.

However, the Pistons’ first-round opponent, Milwaukee, is the top-seed in the east this year and finished with an NBA-best 60-22 record.

After moving to the U.P. last October, I’ve come to learn fanbases are pretty divided when it comes to cheering for Michigan or Wisconsin sports teams. Even though there won’t be much interest in this series nationally, I think it’s safe to say most local basketball fans will have their eyes on this one.

There won’t be much to watch, as I expect the Bucks to beat the Pistons in four or five games. Each playoff series is a best-of-seven, and the Bucks haven’t won one since they beat the New Orleans Hornets in the conference semis in 2001.

However, not to rile up the local folks, but I’m not buying the Bucks as a true championship contender just yet. You don’t just roll out of bed and learn how to win — it takes time, and this franchise hasn’t won in a long time. The other thing is I’m not sure they have enough star power outside of league MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. Today’s NBA requires you to have at least two or three legitimate all-stars to be a true contender. The 2004 Pistons were an outlier, and that was before LeBron James started the whole concept of the ‘superteam.’

The Bucks will most likely face a stiff test from Boston in the second round. If they make it through the Celtics, a match-up with Toronto or Philadelphia likely looms in the conference finals.

I think Milwaukee could win the east, but it’s completely up for grabs. The problem is I don’t see the east winner beating the west winner in the NBA finals.

The regular season in the NBA isn’t like the regular season in other professional sports. The best teams, like Golden State and Houston, take their foot off the gas to preserve themselves for the playoffs.

Speaking of the Warriors and Rockets, they’re most likely on a collision-course to meet in the second round instead of the conference finals, due to the Rockets falling to the fourth spot on the last day of the regular season.

The Warriors and Rockets are the two best teams in the league, in my opinion. Whoever wins that series should go on to win it all. Last season, the Rockets held a 3-2 lead over the Warriors in the conference finals before point guard Chris Paul went down with a hamstring injury at the end of Game 5. I think revenge will be on their mind this year, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them take down star-driven Golden State if they can stay healthy. However, I’m still picking the Warriors until someone proves otherwise.

The other side of the bracket is made up of Denver, Portland, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. I’ve been a Thunder fan for the last four years, as Russell Westbrook has emerged as my favorite player because of his tenacity and non-stop motor that you just don’t see in the league anymore.

You could argue the Thunder have a legitimate shot to make the conference finals, but they likely won’t make it past Golden State or Houston.

That leads me to my finals prediction: I’m taking Golden State over Milwaukee in six. Yeah I know, I said the Bucks aren’t a true championship contender yet. You probably won’t see that until they get to the finals and run into the current NBA dynasty going for a three-peat.

I hope I’m wrong because I can’t stand Golden State, and particulary Kevin Durant. My hunch is Durant will leave in the offseason, knowing he has to carry a team to a title somewhere else to get recognized in the same breath as LeBron James.

Buckle up basketball fans, we’ve got six weeks of this.