National Basketball Association playoffs kick off

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But bad closes to the first and third quarters (two 6-0 Rockets runs in the final minute) and a couple of key breakdowns was enough to swing the game in Houston's favor (not to mention some incredible play from James Harden).

The Thunder have the talent to advance all the way to the Finals but their inconsistent play has hurt them all season.

Philadelphia, after years of the rebuilding saga known as "The Process", has a chance as well. However, the same can't be said for the other teams.

Kobe Bryant, who was known for a singular focus on winning as he collected five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers - it's no coincidence that his new show on the ESPN+ platform is called Details - understands the drawbacks of focusing too much on hardware, but he said the players know what they are getting into. The Trail Blazers are a hungry team looking to make a run for a championship as they play against No. 6, New Orleans Pelicans that made a surprising run in second half to get here. They will be going up against playoff LeBron James though, which nearly certainly spells defeat. That means Milwaukee has the best player on the court by far in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Toronto Raptors and OG Anunoby snapped a 10-game Game 1 losing streak in the playoffs with their 114-106 opening round victory over the Washington Wizards. This is why without Wall, the Wizards barely survived for a playoff spot. That hopefully sets the stage for a wildly entertaining first round.

Playoff teams split payouts from the pool, often toward bonuses for players and staff. Sadly, the reason they can not compete is because of injuries.

It all starts Saturday, the 16-team tournament that will be a two-month grind following the six-month grind of the regular season.

What a difference two years can make.

The Raptors have the talent, but no experience past the first round.

Historically, Toronto has had its fair share of playoff woes, and its All-Star duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have taken much of the blame. At 33, James has been as dominant as ever, and he has a way of flipping the switch to an even higher level in the playoffs.

"I know for a lot of us, it's kind of scary to see what we did without Jo", rookie 76ers guard Markelle Fultz told reporters. But that can't matter if Portland is going to win a playoff series. Whilst Embiid may miss the opening games, Ben Simmons is coming into his first playoffs with all the confidence in the world. Expect more of that throughout the series but we should see more production from Cook as the series stretches on. However, with Kawhi Leonard most likely out of the postseason and the Spurs taking up the seventh seed, they are definitely an underdog team going into the playoffs.

The West is a different monster all together.

Corresponding points is given to a player who picks the victor of the series as well as the number of games correctly. MVP candidate Anthony Davis, Jrue Holliday and playoff Rajon Rondo is a cast that can compete in the east. If he doesn't, not only can the Thunder lose in the first round, but they could also lose Paul George. Now, they'll just need to hold Paul George to less than eight 3-pointers in Game 2. These teams are more evenly matched than what it looks like on paper, and this series will undoubtedly be one of the most exciting to follow. However, instead of the Warriors running away with the 1-seed like they have for three straight years, the Houston Rockets have dethroned them this year. They have another all-star in Karl Anthony-Towns, but he is not almost enough to defeat the best team in the National Basketball Association this season.

Out West, the Houston Rockets gave emerged as the top dog with the best record in the league and for the first time in three years, they have altered the narrative in that not everybody is in agreement that the Golden State Warriors is a lock to emerge as the Western Conference champions.

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