(AP) – The best time of the NBA season is here. The playoffs have arrived, the 16-team field that will vie for the Larry O’Brien Trophy is set, and here are 10 storylines to watch along the way:
A pair of long droughts for fans in Los Angeles and New York could end in the next few days.
The last time the Los Angeles Lakers won a playoff game in their own building, Staples Center, was May 18, 2012. (Remember, everything last season was at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.)
Let’s put how long ago May 2012 was in some context: At that point, LeBron James still had zero NBA championships, and the Lakers’ win that day was against an Oklahoma City team that had Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
And it has been more than six years — since April 27, 2015 — since a home team won a playoff game in New York. The Brooklyn Nets beat Atlanta that day; the Nets haven’t won a home postseason contest since. The New York Knicks open at home Saturday, against Atlanta, in their first playoff game since 2013.
This season’s NBA playoff pool is just over $20.8 million, down about 10.6% from last year.
All 16 playoff teams are guaranteed a piece of that pool, with the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds getting at least $310,745 just for making the first round.
The Utah Jazz have already secured no less than $1,436,750 — some of that for finishing with the NBA’s best record, some more for winning the West’s No. 1 seed. If the Jazz win the NBA title, they would wind up with $6,104,876, or roughly 30% of the pool.
The Los Angeles Lakers received $6,156,251 for winning last year’s title.
This is the fourth consecutive season in which the pool will be at least $20 million.
Lakers star LeBron James enters these playoffs as the NBA’s all-time leader in minutes, games, points, shots taken, shots made, free throws taken, free throws made, steals and 3-point attempts. He’s second in 3’s made with 414, which trails only Golden State’s Stephen Curry by 56.
That all said, there are few records still within his short-term reach.
If the Lakers make a deep run, he could catch San Antonio’s Tim Duncan for most defensive rebounds; Duncan grabbed 2,081, James is up to 1,954.
There is one milestone he could realistically hit. James is 142 points away from 43,000 for his career when combining both regular-season and playoff games. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (44,149) has more.
Word to the wise: Don’t look at the score of a Denver-Portland game after three quarters and say “this one’s over.”
It might not be the case.
The Nuggets and Trail Blazers were two of the league’s best teams at engineering fourth-quarter rallies this season. Denver won an NBA-high 13 games when it wasn’t leading going into the final quarter; Portland won 12 such games, tied with Washington for second-most in the league.
On the flip side, the No. 1 seeds in these playoffs got there because they knew how to finish games. Utah was a league-best 45-2 when leading after three quarters, and Philadelphia was No. 2 in the NBA in that department — going 39-3 in those situations.
Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers has some playoff milestones insight.
He’s nine wins shy of becoming the fifth coach in NBA history with 100 postseason victories, joining Phil Jackson (229), Pat Riley (171), Gregg Popovich (170), and Larry Brown (100).
Red Auerbach (99) is currently fifth on the list, Jerry Sloan (98) is sixth, Rivers (91) is seventh and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra (85) is eighth.
Rivers has coached in 180 playoff games, seventh-most all time, and is within reach of No. 6 George Karl (185), fifth-place Brown (193), and fourth-place Sloan (202).
Nothing to lose
Washington got into the playoffs with a 34-38 regular-season record, making the Wizards the fourth team in the last two seasons — and the 47th team since the league went to the 16-team playoff format in 1984 — to reach the postseason despite finishing below .500.
Now comes the tough part.
Only one of those previous 46 teams in this format has won a playoff series; the 1987 Seattle SuperSonics won two to reach the 1987 Western Conference finals.
Since that season, sub-.500 teams are 0-29 in first-round matchups. The eighth-seeded Wizards meet No. 1 Philadelphia.
Here’s the division winners this season: Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas and Utah.
History says one of those six teams will win the NBA title.
Starting with 2012, every team to make the NBA Finals has done so after winning a division championship. The 2011 Dallas Mavericks were the most recent team not to win its division but make the finals; they won the title that season.
Dallas beat the Los Angeles Clippers by 51 points on Dec. 27, final score that day 124-73 in the third game of the season for both clubs, and now the teams are about to meet in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
It’s a unique reunion.
The last time two teams who had a game decided by 50 or more points wound up meeting in that season’s playoffs was 34 years ago. Seattle beat Houston in the 1987 Western Conference semifinals, five months after the SuperSonics beat the Rockets 136-80 in a regular-season contest.
Blowouts seem to be a bit of a trend in Dallas-Clippers games. The most one-sided game in the playoffs last season was the Clippers beating the Mavericks by 43 points, 154-111.
Washington’s Alex Len has appeared in 531 regular-season games. New York teammates Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle have played in 450 and 446, respectively.
None has ever appeared in a playoff game. That all should change this weekend.
Among active players, they were the three in the NBA with the most games played without a postseason appearance. Once they all get into a game — Washington faces Philadelphia, while New York faces Atlanta in Round 1 — the active player with the most appearances and no playoff minutes will be Chicago’s Zach LaVine. He’s played in 411 games so far, all of them regular season.
And hello, maybe?
Phoenix’s Chris Paul has played in 109 playoff games but still has never been to the NBA Finals.
He’s approaching the record in that department.
Only five players in NBA history — Al Horford (124), Joe Johnson (120), Paul Millsap (120), Steve Nash (120) and Terry Cummings (110) — have been in more postseason games without ever getting to the NBA Finals.
Nash might get there this year; he’s the coach of the East No. 2-seeded Brooklyn Nets. Paul and the Suns also figure to have a real chance, since they’re seeded No. 2 in the West for these playoffs.
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