Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Eastern Conference Playoffs

"A New King"


                 In the eastern conference, something has me captivated. I'm shocked by the game to game, series, and year-long overall conference dominance that is being displayed.


                 When LeBron James left the east I thought he would be making room for a few teams to spread the wealth around. I thought maybe multiple new stars would get to show their ability to lead a team to the finals. It looked like this would be a break for Kyle Lowry who was joined by Kawhi Leonard in Toronto and Ben Simmons with a healthy Joel Embiid playing for the 76ers to take that next step and prove to the basketball world they are ready to take the torch. It also looked like Kyrie Irving with the help of Gordon Hayward and Jason Tatum may finally have an opportunity to get out of Lebron's shadow. Instead what appears to have happened is a new shadow is emerging with the potential to be just a broad as the one cast by James and it calls Milwaukee home.


                The Greek freak shows nightly why he has the nickname. The man is nothing short of a freak of nature. His ability to move with that fluidity as a seven-footer is a gift from God. His ability to take over a game as he has done all year long is a testament to his hard work and dedication to his craft.


                Before the series between the Bucks and Celtics began I expressed that I felt the playoffs, because of the pressure involved, are a different animal from the regular season. I didn't think Giannis Antetokounmpo and his lack of experience combined with less talent around him than that on the Boston roster could keep up. Game one had me pounding my chest and saying I told you. Game two, three, and four have made me question everything I thought I knew about the Celtics roster. However, I've quickly realized it's not actually about them, a new king to rule the east has emerged.


                When Toronto added Marc Gasol, I declared that was the veteran piece that would provide the leadership to propel them into this year's finals. I do still like the Raptors to finish off this series against this talented, emotional, injury prone, young Philadelphia team. The 76ers are probably the best collection of talent in a starting five other than the Warriors. The problem is Joel Embiid has nearly the same god given talents as Antetokounmpo but not the same level of dedication to being his best. This has led to him not being in his peak physical shape and as a result, he carries around extra weight. The unnecessary pounds do not help with the litany of injuries he is consistently suffering from or his chronic back issues. In addition, his immaturity leads to public comments about how other players on the team may be afraid to shoot because the fans are booing. It seems this comment was about Ben Simmons but was it necessary, and did it help anything?


                Simmons has the potential to follow the model set out by Magic Johnson and LeBron James as a big man with excellent vision and the passing skills to run the offense. The difference is, unlike those two greats, Simmons doesn't seem to be making any headway on his jump shot. I agree with Embiid that the booing contributes to this. The problem is calling him out in the media only applies more pressure that at this point it does not appear Simmons can thrive under.


                Then there is the ultra competitive Jimmy Butler who is the opposite of Joel. Anything Joel lacks in seriousness, dedication, intensity, and hard work, Butler more than makes up for. The problem is some people aren't ready for that kind of leadership and it seems that the other two stars on this team, with their youthfulness and lack of will to work, fall into that category. A leader that pushes as hard as he does combined with a cast, who just want to have fun, mixes about as well as oil and water.


                We'll see how things play out in each of the current eastern conference series before I declare my pick to win the conference finals, but short of another Bubonic plague, I don't know what is going to slow Giannis down.

(Follow me on twitter @jake_ruch for my real-time sports-related thoughts, and updates on when I post new articles on my blog.)

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