The NBA playoffs are right around the corner. The top six seeds of both conferences are set in stone after yesterday's season finale. The play-in games will take place this week to determine the final two seeds for the East and West. On Saturday, playoff basketball re-enters our lives.
It's all very exciting and this year has no shortage of storylines. LeBron James will be on a low-seeded playoff team for the first time in a very long time. The Utah Jazz will hold homecourt advantage for as long as they last in the playoffs after finishing the season with the league's best record. Likely MVP Nikola Jokic will take on an even bigger burden as he and the Denver Nuggets embark upon a playoff run without Jamal Murray at his side. Joel Embiid played like an MVP when he was healthy this season and will try to buck the trend of early playoff exits for his Philadelphia 76ers team as the top seed in the East.
Perhaps most intriguing plotline of them all is the Brooklyn Nets. They're loaded with star power but haven't been able to stay together on the court long enough to really show what they can do. Ever since the trade that brought James Harden to NYC in January, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Harden have taken turns sitting out games for weeks at a time due to various injuries and maladies. None serious enough to compromise their availability for postseason play, but serious enough that the Nets were comfortable sacrificing any shot at on-court chemistry to ensure everyone's health for when the games really matter.
So we don't really know what we're going to get when the Brooklyn Big 3 steps onto the court come this weekend against whoever ends up with the 7th seed after the play-in tournament. We know that Harden has been willing to step into more of an distributing role in Brooklyn and will be the de facto point guard. We know that Irving and KD are extremely good at scoring points and will continue to do so. We have no idea what the offense will really look like, how much they'll rely on isolation basketball with very little time to get into a rhythm with one another, and how the crunchtime touches will play out.
It should be quite enjoyable to watch Brooklyn try to figure all that out on the fly and adjust accordingly depending on what works and what doesn't. The question is if it'll be enough to take down the very best teams and win a championship. Nobody is worried about Round 1 for Brooklyn, but after that, when they likely have to go through the Bucks and Sixers and then whichever powerhouse emerges from the Western Conference gauntlet, just having talent won't be enough. Harden, Irving, and Durant will have to be operating at peak capacity to bring the Nets their first championship.
Doubt that kind of talent at your own risk, but we've also seen superteams falter in the biggest moments before. Max Kellerman, for one, is entirely on board here and believes we'll see Harden win a Finals MVP when it's all said and done.
This feels likely if the Nets do end up in the Finals. Harden hasn't scored as often as we're used to while in a Nets uniform, but his assist numbers and efficiency have been absurd. It is extremely possible that, with everyone clicking after three rounds of the playoffs, Harden averages a triple-double with a few big scoring performances to bring home the title.
I'm more interested in seeing what would happen after that. It would be a narrative reversal of epic proportions. The only critique anyone can make about Harden's resume is his lack of playoff success. For whatever reason, every year Harden has gotten to the playoffs, he can't make the final push to bring his team over the top and his numbers dive considerably compared to the regular-season stats.
To turn it around and win the highest postseason award possible, even on a loaded team, would make us all reconsider his place on the pantheon of the league's greatest players. It's a legacy-altering trajectory. For the sake of the discourse, I want this to happen. This weekend should bring us our first hint as to how likely that is.