Matt Bush, FISM News
As the second round of the NBA playoffs kicked off last night, there is no bigger story than Joel Embiid being out indefinitely with a right orbital fracture and mild concussion. There has been no announcement about whether or not this injury will require surgery and no specific timetable given for his return to the lineup.
Embiid is not just the Sixers’ best player; he is also one of the major favorites to win the NBA MVP award and has been dominant on the court throughout this year. In a league that has become all about perimeter basketball and shooting threes, Embiid is part of a group of three centers who have asserted themselves as some of the best players in the NBA: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, and Embiid.
The 76ers had a tough series ahead of them to begin with taking on the top-seeded Heat, but without Embiid the team is not likely to advance. Even with the addition of James Harden, the 76ers probably do not have the firepower to compete with the Heat’s league leading defense.
One of the biggest questions about Embiid’s injury has to go to Philadelphia’s coach, Doc Rivers. The injury happened with less than four minutes left in the game and the 76ers up by 30. Why was Embiid still in the game? He is their only hope to advance past the second round, he is clearly injury-prone, and there was no way Toronto was coming back.
In addition to the Heat-76ers series and the Embiid injury storyline, there are some other great matchups in the playoffs this year and some incredible story lines as well. Here are five things to watch in this year’s NBA playoffs:
JA MORANT AND THE GRIZZLIES
Morant and the Grizzlies are young, immature, and inexperienced. But they also just keep winning. They are the second seed out of the west, and they are a fun team to watch. Morant is their star, but the Grizzlies went 20-5 when Ja was out of the lineup, showing the depth and talent that this team has to make a run this year and to be at or near the top in the future as well.
RETURNING CHAMPION BUCKS
It is hard to repeat in any sport, but the Bucks are looking really good coming into the second round and then beating Boston by 12 in Game 1. They physically dominated the Celtics all game, but they are playing without their second-best player in Khris Middleton. He was Robin to Giannis’ Batman last year, and they will need him if they have plans to repeat this year.
THE CURRY/THOMPSON/GREEN TRIO
Golden State won the first game of their second-round matchup with the Grizzlies, but watching that team play is like looking into a mirror from ten years ago when the Warriors’ dynasty was just beginning. The three main players from the team that won three championships in four years are still together, but it has been five years since their last finals win.
LUKA AND THE MAVS
Can Luka carry the Mavs? The short answer is “no.” They just do not have the firepower that every other team left in the playoffs has. It will, however, be fun to sit back and watch one of the NBA’s youngest stars play against one of the NBA’s best teams in the Phoenix Suns. The outcome will have a lot to do with Luka’s health, as well as when Devin Booker will return for the Suns.
THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Lebron James, Anthony Davis, and Damian Lillard did not make the playoffs. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George could not make it out of the first round of the playoffs. There are always transitions in the league as stars age and retire. Magic and Bird passed the torch to Jordan. Jordan passed the torch to Shaq and Kobe who promptly passed the torch on to Lebron James. Change is happening again, and it will be interesting to see who picks up the baton next.