Everything you need to know about the binge-worthy NBA playoffs

After six months of streaks, showdowns and social-media mayhem, it’s time for even more drama. With intriguing storylines from top to bottom, the 2018 playoffs are shaping up to be must-see TV.

Here’s why each of the postseason’s 16 teams will leave you on the edge of your seat during one of the most binge-worthy NBA playoffs ever.

1. Houston Rockets

2017-18 record: 65-17
BPI odds vs. MIN: 88 percent

Remember all the doubts about whether James Harden and Chris Paul could work together? Those questions seem hilarious now. The Rockets rewrote the franchise record books en route to the best record in the league as Harden staked claim to what should be his first MVP award.

Who has the most to prove?
Harden and Paul. There isn’t a duo in the NBA that has more to prove in the playoffs. That’s why they joined forces last summer. A failure to advance past the second round is the one blemish on Paul’s surefire Hall of Fame résumé, never mind that his playoff numbers (21.4 points, 9.4 assists, 48.4 percent shooting) compare favorably with his career stats. For Harden, his most recent postseason memory is a horrible no-show (10 points, 2-of-11 shooting, 6 turnovers) last year in Game 6 of the West semis against the Kawhi-less Spurs that ended the Rockets’ season.

Season in a single game: Dec. 9
Harden’s historic 60-point triple-double aside, the story of these Rockets has been the collaborative brilliance of their co-superstars. That was epitomized in their Dec. 9 win in Portland, the first time the pair played together in a clutch situation, which didn’t happen for a while due to Paul’s knee injury and the Rockets’ dominance upon his return. Harden and Paul took turns carving up the Blazers’ defense, accounting for all but one bucket as the Rockets scored 21 points in the final five minutes.

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James Harden drops his third game of the season with 48-plus points, and the Rockets rally from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit for a 124-117 win in Portland.

What the stats say:
James Harden broke Wesley Johnson‘s ankles with a stepback 3-pointer earlier this season, and there’s always a chance we’ll see more defenders go down. Harden has made more than three times as many 3-pointers on stepback shots as any other player this season.

Season is a success if …
Let’s put this in Texan terms: It ain’t a success without a championship parade. The Rockets never got too high during any of their three double-digit win streaks — or after breaking the franchise record for wins in a season — because they’ve had a championship-or-bust mentality from the moment Paul arrived in Houston. The Rockets confirmed their belief that general manager Daryl Morey had put together a team great enough to challenge the mighty Warriors by cruising through the regular season. They are 16 wins away from satisfaction.

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What to watch in Round 1
Clint Capela vs. Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns, arguably the NBA’s most talented center, would have to have a monster series for the Timberwolves to pull off the monumental upset. He averaged 23.8 points and 14.8 rebounds in four regular-season meetings, but the Rockets still swept. Capela can’t come close to matching Towns’ offensive repertoire, but the Rockets big man has earned the right to come up in conversations about the league’s best young centers. His ability to finish around the rim can expose Towns’ defensive deficiencies: Capela put up 18.8 points per game against the Timberwolves this season, his highest average against any West team.

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2. Golden State Warriors

2017-18 record: 58-24
BPI odds vs. SA: 76 percent

The defending champs have petered into the playoffs, having lost 10 of their past 17 games. The team has struggled without its leader, Stephen Curry, who will be sidelined for the opening round with an MCL injury. Can the team play at a high level without Steph? Can the Warriors turn it on during the playoffs? Is Steve Kerr’s voice still effective? Those are some of the questions facing the Warriors as they enter the postseason looking vulnerable.

Who has the most to prove?
Kevin Durant. Golden State was 40-10 with Curry in the lineup and an underwhelming 17-14 when he was in street clothes. Durant, along with the rest of the team, has not been able to adjust to Curry’s departure in part because the Warriors are mostly running the same system in which the two-time MVP flourished. Will Kerr alter the offense and cater it toward Durant?

Season in a single game: April 10
Utah’s pounding of Golden State by 40 points was an extreme display of how this squad has been going through the motions and living off supreme talent. The Warriors could simply flip the switch in Game 1 of the playoffs, but they’re not going in with the best of habits.

What the stats say:
The best play in the NBA this season has been the Stephen Curry-Kevin Durant pick-and-roll. With Curry as the ball handler and Durant as the screener, the Warriors have averaged 1.29 points per direct play. No other play type — pick-and-roll or otherwise — has averaged more points per direct play.

Season is a success if …
It’s title-or-bust for the defending champs. Golden State used to have a small-ball advantage, but now the majority of NBA teams are made up of small, shooting lineups. Injuries and the emergence of the Rockets could derail the Warriors’ quest. They might be favorites, but this won’t be a cake walk.

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What to watch in Round 1
Draymond Green vs. LaMarcus Aldridge. For the Spurs to have any shot at pulling off an upset, it will be imperative that Aldridge thoroughly dominates. And in order to do so, he will have to go through one of the best defenders in the league in Green. With Leonard out, San Antonio’s offense goes heavily through Aldridge, and the Warriors will likely leave Green on an island to test Aldridge’s efficiency. If he’s not commanding a double-team, the Warriors will exit the first round virtually unscathed. This matchup will determine how serious this series becomes.

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3. Portland Trail Blazers

2017-18 record: 49-33
BPI odds vs. NO: 63 percent

On track for another season in the vicinity of .500 through mid-February, Portland caught fire during a 13-game win streak that propelled the Blazers into the top half of the Western Conference standings. Terry Stotts’ defensive scheme, built around preventing high-value shots and forcing 2-pointers outside the paint, has turned Portland’s liability into a top-10 unit.

The playoffs will be the Blazers’ opportunity to prove that the combination of improved defense and scoring provided by the guard tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum makes them a threat to the West’s elite.

Who has the most to prove?
Jusuf Nurkic. The addition of Nurkic midseason was a key factor in last year’s (now trademark) Portland second-half run, but the Bosnian Beast was limited to 17 total minutes in the Blazers’ first-round sweep at the hands of the Warriors. Although Nurkic’s offense hasn’t carried over on a consistent basis this season, his ability to protect the rim has anchored Portland’s defense. With restricted free agency looming, Nurkic can solidify his value by avoiding foul trouble and making good decisions with the ball on offense.

Season in a single game: Feb. 14
Coming off a home loss to the Jazz that dropped them within a game of falling out of the playoffs, the Blazers started their 13-game win streak in style. They blitzed the Warriors from the start, running up 40 points in the first quarter and withstanding a 50-point effort from Kevin Durant to win 123-117. The game showcased Portland’s winning formula offensively: a huge game from Lillard (44 points, eight assists) with plenty of scoring from McCollum (29 points) and a strong effort by Nurkic (17 points, 13 rebounds).

What the stats say:
McCollum ran 2.70 miles per game this season, the most by any player in the NBA, while Lillard ranks tied for eighth on that list at 2.54. Portland is the only team in the NBA that has two players in the top 10. That’s even more notable considering the Blazers rank 19th in the NBA in pace (possessions per 48 minutes).

Season is a success if …
The Blazers are competitive in the second round of the playoffs. Winning a series wouldn’t be new for the Blazers in the Lillard-McCollum era, though they benefited from injuries to Blake Griffin and Chris Paul during their first-round win over the Clippers two years ago. To justify the luxury-tax bill that re-signing Nurkic and backup center Ed Davis would likely require, Portland could use a couple wins in a matchup with one of the West’s powers.

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What to watch in Round 1
Anthony Davis vs. Jusuf Nurkic. Although Jrue Holiday vs. Damian Lillard might be more compelling in terms of overall talent, the center matchup in this series will probably be more important to the outcome. Portland’s defensive scheme is centered around keeping Nurkic in the paint to defend the rim; according to Second Spectrum data, Nurkic defended 8.9 shots per 100 possessions inside the restricted area, third-most among starting centers. Davis’ ability to pull Nurkic away from the basket, either in isolations or in pick-and-pop plays, will provide other Pelicans an opportunity to penetrate.

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4. Oklahoma City Thunder

2017-18 record: 48-34
BPI odds vs. UTAH: 53 percent

The Thunder spent the season confusing the league and themselves. The glimpses of potential in emphatic wins mixed with head-scratching losses kept them at risk of not making the playoffs until the final week of the season. But with top-tier talent, they could have the Western Conference on notice. The thinking all season was the Thunder were built for the postseason.

Who has the most to prove?
Russell Westbrook. As with everything Thunder-related, this postseason will be yet another evaluation and pending referendum on last year’s MVP. All eyes will be on how he manages crucial possessions with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, if he can stay balanced and if the Thunder can execute in big moments. Westbrook is the Thunder’s leader and has established that the team still goes as he does.

Season in a single game: April 7
The Thunder spent the season leaning on their ability to raise their level of play against the league’s best (7-4 against the Rockets, Warriors, Raptors and Cavaliers) but played down to teams around or below .500. But when their backs were against the wall and things were on the verge of unraveling, even against the elite teams, the Thunder found a way to stay above water. Winning in Houston wasn’t pretty — the Thunder’s three stars struggled — but some timely playmaking and good enough defense got it done.

What the stats say:
One reason OKC is so tough? They out-hustle opponents. The Thunder rank first in the NBA in both deflections and loose balls recovered. Leading the way are their two best players: George’s 3.9 deflections per game led the NBA, as did Westbrook’s 2.2 loose balls recovered per game.

Season is a success if …
The Thunder were billed before the season as contenders. But the fit with Westbrook, George and Anthony took more time than expected, and the bumps along the way have left the Thunder in a precarious position. If OKC can do enough to convince George to return and this becomes year one of a four- or five-year window, playing into the second round would be viewed as a job pretty well done.

What to watch in Round 1
In a tasty showdown of star-power versus symmetry, there are a lot of fun things to pay attention to. Donovan Mitchell in his first playoff series, going against Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, three experienced postseason veterans who pulled Mitchell aside and offered some words of encouragement following their final meeting in December. But what’s transformed the Jazz has been the return of Rudy Gobert and his immense impact on both ends of the floor. Similarly, what unlocks the Thunder and turns them from good to diverse and explosive, is Steven Adams’ versatility. Both coaches will try small lineups to pull Adams and Gobert from the paint, but both players are agile and dynamic. Plus, it’s just good, solid fun watching two giant human beings go against each other.

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5. Utah Jazz

2017-18 record: 48-34
BPI odds vs. OKC: 47 percent

With Rudy Gobert protecting the rim, the Jazz are the NBA’s best defensive team, which makes them dangerous. Add in rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell, who has the ability to score in bunches, and the Jazz are also entertaining. Utah has been playing at an elite level over a span of nearly three months since Gobert got healthy. Only the Rockets had more wins since Jan. 24 than the Jazz, who climbed from nine games under .500 to the No. 4 seed with a 25-5 run in which Utah had the NBA’s best point differential (plus-10.7 per game).

Who has the most to prove?
Ricky Rubio, who will finally taste the NBA playoffs. He has played in high-stakes games internationally for Spain, so Rubio shouldn’t wilt under the pressure. But is he a long-term fit with Utah’s core or simply a placeholder at point guard next to Mitchell? With a year remaining on his contract, Rubio has played a significant role in the Jazz’s run by making foes pay for giving him good looks. Rubio’s 3-point stroke has been a glaring weakness throughout his career, but he has shot 43.6 percent from long range since Jan. 24.

Season in a single game: Dec. 1
It was apparent that the Jazz got great value by trading up to draft Mitchell with the 13th overall pick before he poured in a franchise-rookie-record 41 points in a comeback win over the Pelicans on Dec. 1. But that performance validated hope that Mitchell could be the bonafide go-to guy the Jazz so desperately need in the wake of Gordon Hayward’s departure. Mitchell, the first rookie since Carmelo Anthony to lead a playoff team in scoring, scored 12 points in the final five minutes that night and showed a killer instinct that is rare in a young player.

What the stats say:
Think Utah is lost on offense without the departed Hayward? Think again. The Jazz find ways to get good looks. They created 19.8 uncontested shots per game this season, best in the NBA.

Season is a success if …
This season is already a success, not that they’d be satisfied with a first-round exit. Few expected the Jazz to return to the postseason right after Hayward’s exit, which could have been crippling for a small-market team that relies heavily on developing homegrown talent. Even fewer anticipated the Jazz could overcome Gobert’s missing 26 games due to injury. Quin Snyder, who has quietly established himself among the league’s best coaches, deserves a lot of credit. With Gobert and Mitchell as foundation pieces, the forecast is bright for Utah.

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What to watch in Round 1
Joe Ingles vs. Paul George. Russell Westbrook can’t win a playoff series alone, as we saw last spring when the Rockets made quick work of the Thunder in Round 1. That’s why Oklahoma City pulled off the offseason trade to get George, giving Westbrook an All-Star partner. The Jazz need Ingles, one of the league’s better irritants, to keep George from getting comfortable during the series. That didn’t happen enough as the Thunder won three of four regular-season games against the Jazz, with George averaging an efficient 21.8 points per game against Utah.

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6. New Orleans Pelicans

2017-18 record: 48-34
BPI odds vs. POR: 37 percent

Anthony Davis is worth watching every game just to see what spectacular line he will put up next. New Orleans has surprised many with an inspiring playoff run after losing DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending Achilles injury. After Cousins went down on Jan. 26, the Pelicans lost five of six games but recovered by going 20-8 since Feb. 10, riding Davis’ MVP-caliber play.

Who has the most to prove?
Playoff Brow. The NBA world will be watching to see what he’ll do in his second trip to the postseason. Davis hopes to make this one last a little bit longer than his first playoff experience in 2015, in which he averaged 31.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 1.3 steals but was swept by Golden State. Can Davis overcome a Portland defense that will spend an entire series geared toward containing him?

Season in a single game: Feb. 26
Davis did more than just carry the Pelicans after the Cousins injury. He went on a historic tear, leading the Pelicans on a crucial 10-game win streak. His defining moment in that stretch came against Phoenix, when he detonated for 53 points, 18 rebounds and 5 blocks, joining Bob McAdoo as the only NBA players with 50 points, 15 rebounds and 5 blocks in a game since blocks were first tracked in 1973-74, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

What the stats say:
If you’re into helter skelter, the Pelicans are the team for you. More than simply Davis’ dominance since Cousins went down, New Orleans has ramped up the speed at which it plays, ranking first in pace and averaging more miles per hour on offense than any other playoff team.

Season is a success if …
The Pelicans find a way to beat Portland. Let’s be real: When Cousins tore his Achilles, the injury figured to rip New Orleans’ playoff chances to shreds. But Alvin Gentry’s team persevered. Even when the team hit a four-game slide in late March that threatened their playoff chances, New Orleans bounced back by winning the next four games. Every team in the West not playing Houston or Golden State in the first round will feel like it can advance after basically playing playoff-like games down the stretch just to get in. New Orleans has a chance to advance with Davis on its side.

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What to watch in Round 1
Nurkic’s ability to defend Davis will be huge, but Holiday will have to find a way to give Davis some much-needed offensive support and counter Damian Lillard. The Pelicans and Blazers are 2-2 against each other this season but Lillard went for 41 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a 107-103 Portland win the last time the two teams met on March 27. Holiday was more than up to the task as he finished with a triple-double with 21 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds in that loss.

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7. San Antonio Spurs

2017-18 record: 47-35
BPI odds vs. GS: 24 percent

Despite missing its best player in star forward Kawhi Leonard for all but nine games, San Antonio found lineups and rotations that consistently competed with the best teams in the West. Meanwhile, LaMarcus Aldridge became the player the Spurs expected in the summer of 2015 when they signed him as that year’s most significant free-agent acquisition. He has been deserving of being included in the MVP conversation this season.

Who has the most to prove?
Aldridge. The absence of Leonard coupled with a putrid performance in the postseason last year makes him a marked man. In Game 1 of the 2017 conference semifinals, Aldridge scored a career-low four points and finished with a plus-minus of minus-36, which registered as the worst by a Spur in the postseason under Gregg Popovich. In the 43 minutes after Leonard limped off the floor last year with an ankle injury in the conference finals against Golden State, Aldridge posted more turnovers (eight) than made baskets (seven). Second-year point guard Dejounte Murray falls into this category, too, after wrestling the starting job away from future Hall of Famer Tony Parker.

Season in a single game: March 8
Leading Golden State by eight points with 4:44 left to play, the Spurs watched Kevin Durant go off for 15 of his game-high 37 points in the fourth quarter as the Warriors rallied to a 110-107 victory. The fact that Stephen Curry left the game in the first half with an ankle injury only amplified frustrations for San Antonio, which has become accustomed to blowing prime opportunities this season due to shoddy clutch-time performances. The Spurs have missed Leonard’s ability to close games.

What the stats say:
The Spurs still have a superstar stopper, and it is not Kawhi Leonard. Among 212 players to face at least 30 drives against 2018 All-Stars, Kyle Anderson allows the third fewest points per chance on drives, at 0.72.

Season is a success if …
Given all the drama stirred up from the bizarre Kawhi saga and all the tinkering with rotations to get San Antonio into the postseason for the 21st consecutive year, this season is already a success, with Popovich deserving of Coach of the Year consideration. But the real indicator of whether this season has been a success is when, if at all, Leonard returns to the lineup. The Spurs want Leonard back on the floor, but it’s not about what he can do to help them win, according to a league source. It’s about showing the rest of the team he is committed to San Antonio for the long haul. The team needs to see Leonard in the locker room, in film sessions, on the team plane and at team dinners. Leonard is up for a supermax extension this summer, and a return in the playoffs could go a long way toward alleviating doubts about his long-term prospects in San Antonio.

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What to watch in Round 1
Aldridge struggled with Leonard out of commission during last season’s matchup with the Warriors in the conference finals due to Golden State constantly throwing double teams at him. San Antonio expects the Warriors to continue to throw everything at Aldridge, but the team is confident the power forward is better equipped now to handle such a scenario. The club also believes the supporting cast — players such as Danny Green, Kyle Anderson, Pau Gasol and Patty Mills — needs to step up and make the open shots created by Golden State’s focus on Aldridge.

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8. Minnesota Timberwolves

2017-18 record: 47-35
BPI odds vs. HOU: 12 percent

The suspense held until the regular season’s finale, but the Timberwolves are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Jimmy Butler loves the stage the playoffs provide and desperately wants to show he can lead his team into the second round and beyond, but his health will be worth monitoring after he missed more than a month because of a meniscus injury in his knee.

Who has the most to prove?
Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, who are supposed to be the future of the Timberwolves organization. But neither young player has developed the way Tom Thibodeau would have liked. Towns has superior offensive talent and showed flashes of putting it all together, but there are far too many times when he doesn’t have a solid presence defensively. As for Wiggins, he hasn’t shown consistency on either end.

Season in a single game: April 11
The drought is over! Game No. 82 sent Minnesota to the postseason for the first time in 14 years in a de facto playoff game of its own, as Butler poured in 31 points and Towns added 26 in an overtime thriller against the Nuggets.

What the stats say:
As much as Minnesota missed Butler’s All-Star production, it could have also used his grit and determination. Case in point: Butler’s average miles per hour getting back on defense in transition ranks first on the team and first among every 2018 All-Star.

Season is a success if …
It’s hard to believe a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 14 years could make the postseason and still have its season considered unsuccessful, but that is the tightrope the Timberwolves are walking. After so much optimism early in the season, Towns, Wiggins Co. were not able to pick up the slack when Butler went down. The only way the Wolves’ season can be considered a success is if they claw their way into the second round.

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What to watch in Round 1
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1. Toronto Raptors

2017-18 record: 59-23
BPI odds vs. WAS: 88 percent

After several seasons of residing in the league’s upper-middle class, the Raptors asserted themselves in 2017-18 as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. They climbed the ladder by injecting spacing and creativity into their offense and by instilling greater discipline in their de