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2022 NBA Playoffs: Storylines to keep track of

Mercifully, Adam Silver’s unnecessary play-in tournament ends Friday night when the eighth seed for the playoffs in each conference is determined.

Playoff Prime Rib will be served Saturday and Sunday with the first round opening. Silver loves the extra cash – and extra teams – the new play-in event generates, but this ended up being a lackluster format.

The Western Conference 9th and 10th seeds (the Pelicans and the Spurs) held records of 36-46 and 34-48, respectively, and diluted the product when the Lakers came up short from LeBron James.

Meanwhile, the top 10 seeds in the East were determined with five games remaining in the regular season, and all suspense ended when the Knicks were mathematically eliminated.

The postseason is long enough and it should be a good break from the pandemic and playing into next season. But don’t count on it. All Silver cares about is additional income.

Here are the 10 most compelling questions for the playoffs:

Will Stephen Curry’s health derail the Warriors’ comeback season?

Curry, who has been out since March 16 with a sprained ligament in his left foot, could be rusty in Game 1 on Saturday night and face a minute limit. They also achieved a terrible draw in No. 6 Denver. It’s playing with fire. If correct, Curry is still on top of his 3-point madness. He’s the greatest marksman of all time and put on a show at the Garden in December when he broke the NBA record for most career 3-pointers. Calling for Klay Thompson to step up and young shooting guard Jordan Poole, the 28th pick of 2019, must continue to be a golden state windfall.

Do James Harden and Ben Simmons live up to the hype?

“The Beard” has played in 21 games for the 76ers since the Nets traded and averaged just 21 points, scoring over 30 on one occasion. His shooting percentages were on the decline – 40.2 overall, 32.6 from 3. However, his playmaking was elite and much needed (10.2 assists). But the Raptors will be a tough hit. Of course, anything Harden brings is way better than Simmons’ contributions to the Nets. He could/possibly/could make his debut later in the first round. I’ll believe it when I see it.

James Harden
James Harden’s scoring has come down since joining the Sixers, but he’s averaging 10.2 assists.
NBAE via Getty Images
Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons has yet to qualify for Nets and it remains unknown if he will face the Celtics in the playoffs.
for the NY POST

How high can Ja Morant take the young grizzlies?

The Grizzlies have their highest seeding in franchise history (No. 2), another team record with 56 wins. As much as Morant became an MVP nominee, the Grizzlies also won big when he wasn’t playing (20-4) – which speaks to their deep ensemble. Scouts believe they can reach the Western Conference Finals. Desmond Bane, who the Knicks are leaving at 25, is a sensational outside threat, and big man Jaren Jackson Jr. is hearing noise about Defensive Player of the Year. They have a brilliant young coach in Taylor Jenkins so it’s not just a yes.

Can the Suns take the next step and win it all?

Yes. When the Suns were last seen on the playoff stage, Devin Booker choked in Game 6 against the Bucks in last Spring’s Finals (0-on-7 of 3, six turnovers). If he played just a moderate game, the Suns would have forced a Game 7 in Phoenix and likely won the title. Don’t expect Booker to fail the Suns again in June. Monty Williams is my pick for Coach of the Year because he made Phoenix even more impressive after last season’s final run. The Suns set a franchise record with 64 wins, and the timeless Chris Paul won his fifth assists title. Mikal Bridges, who the Knicks passed over in the 2018 draft, has become arguably the NBA’s best full-back. Expect a parade in the Valley of the Sun when CP3 finally gets his ring.

Will this be a Knicks fan’s delight: Dallas vs. Utah?

The conspiracy theory states that if the Jazz bounce in the first round, their Westchester superstar combo guard Donovan Mitchell will seek a trade with the Knicks. Meanwhile, the Knicks have targeted Mavericks playmaker Jalen Brunson as an unrestricted free agent. However, if Dallas is running away, why would owner Mark Cuban think about losing him? Even as Kristaps Porzingis heads to the nation’s capital, the Mavericks are littered with ex-Kinks – Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr., Reggie Bullock, Trey Burke.

Can the Bucks repeat?

Third-ranked Milwaukee is the least hyped defending champion in history. The Brew City cast is back. If Giannis Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t take free throws and 3-pointers to alarming levels of mental block, they should at least make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. But their defense — and their hunger — wasn’t as strong as they were during their title run.

Giannis Antetokounmpo
Can anyone stop Giannis Antetokounmpo from a replay for the Bucks?
AP

Can the nets finally take over all of New York City?

The image of these networks is that of a renegade gang that the nation loves to hate. Kevin Durant is as much a sorrel as he is a superstar, and the unvaccinated Kyrie Irving showed disregard for his teammates this season, forcing Harden out the door. But it’s playoff time and all is forgotten. So many of us were born in Brooklyn, our parents are Brooklyn Dodgers fans and the enemy are the hated Celtics. It’s time for even Knicks supporters to rally in Brooklyn, especially after this week’s tragedy at the subway station at the Nets’ practice headquarters.

Are Da Bulls real?

The Bulls had a spectacular offseason, shooting past the Knicks overall but suffering a slip late in the season (8-15 after the All-Star break). Though the Knicks had more cap room, the Bulls used theirs wisely to catch Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and DeMar DeRozan, who reeled off eight straight games with 35+ points to break Wilt Chamberlain’s record in February. After losing ball for the season in mid-January, Chicago slipped down to sixth place and is unlucky to meet geographic rivals Milwaukee in Round 1. The Bucks are 15-1 in their last 16 meetings.

How much is Silver for N’awlins?

The NBA has been damaged by Zion Williamson’s injury streak. But letting New Orleans creep in as an eighth seed if they pull off a play-in win over the Clippers on Friday would be good for the league. Williamson sat on the Pelicans bench in a purple suit during Wednesday’s Spurs loss despite a foot injury that cost him the season. The network showed footage of Williamson warming up before the game and doing a rotating slam dunk that made Obi Toppin blush. Williamson may one day force a trade to the Knicks, but the Pelicans have shown a nice core (Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Jonas Valanciunas, New Yorker Jose Alvarado) that may have excited Zion, right there to stay.

How does Pat Riley do it?

After a run to the 2020 Bubble Finals, the Heat dipped last season and lost in one fell swoop to the Bucks. Riley added Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker and the Heat are No. 1 in the East after a 53-29 season. It’s almost tragic that the Heat are run by the smartest man in basketball from upstate Schenectady and the Knicks are run by an agent, Leon Rose.

https://nypost.com/2022/04/14/2022-nba-playoffs-storylines-to-monitor/ 2022 NBA Playoffs: Storylines to keep track of

JOE HERNANDEZ

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