The NBA Playoffs tip off on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN when the Philadelphia 76ers host the Brooklyn Nets in game one of a seven-game series. While the NBA is not the most surprising league, this season does provide a little more unpredictability than in years past. There will be at least one new title contender with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the defending Eastern Conference champs, heading to the lottery. Here are four lingering questions as the postseason gets under way.
Can they do it again? — The Golden State Warriors can cement their already-fortified dynasty even further, as they seek their third straight title and fourth in five years. The Dubs have looked a little more vulnerable at times this season, though. It's possible, though not probable, that a fresh young team could knock them off the throne.
Can the upstarts be trusted? — The Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference and the Denver Nuggets in the West emerged as forces this season after years of dashed hopes. The essentially postion-less potential league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo leads the Bucks, who have the best record in the league, and fellow All-Star center Nikola Jokic guides the Nuggets, the no. 2 seed out West. But this will be the first major postseason test for many of the teams' young stars. The hunters are now the hunted.
What to make of the Thunder? — The Oklahoma City Thunder had a perplexing season. Led by perennial All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George, they got off to a slow start, gelled in the middle of the season, then faltered again before winning their final five games to end the season and secure the no. 6 seed in the Western Conference. It remains to be seen which team will show up against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, but the Thunder's path to the conference finals is not inconceivable.
Will we miss LeBron? — For the first time in 14 years, LeBron James will not be in the postseason. Heck, it's been eight years since he wasn't in the Finals. But his Los Angeles Lakers disappointed this year and are now caught up in quite a bit of behind-the-scenes drama. It's unclear, though, whether James' absence will allow for some new-look excitement to take hold, or fans will find themselves missing the King. Tim O'Donnell