Here are the winners and losers even before the opening tip of the 2019 NBA playoffs:
BIG WINNER: The NBA.
Without LeBron James around anymore, the Eastern Conference playoffs are actually unpredictable. Imagine that. Well, starting with the second round, anyway. When the Boston Celtics passed the Indiana Pacers late in the regular season, it increased the chances of the East’s Big Four — the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston — getting together for some pretty great basketball in early May. And a potential Houston Rockets-Golden State Warriors semi in the West? More must-see TV. Coming soon.
BIG LOSER: Dwyane Wade.
Gotta say: Tuesday night was an all-timer in the NBA, highlighted by the going-away parties for Wade and Dirk Nowitzki. It was a shame they had to share the national stage, and that’s on Wade. If he’d been inspired to put on more dazzling displays like his grand finale and fewer like the lackluster effort in the February home blowout loss to the Detroit Pistons that in the end cost the Heat a playoff spot, we’d be seeing a potential seven-game Wade vs. Giannis extravaganza starting this weekend.
SMALL WINNER: Neil Olshey.
Did anyone notice that the Portland Trail Blazers actually got better just when their season appeared to blow up when Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum got hurt late in the tightly contested Western playoff battle? Credit Olshey, the Portland general manager who had the foresight to add another big quality man (Enes Kanter) and another scorer (Rodney Hood) before things got desperate. Now it’s Kanter vs. Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams in a true rarity — a classic battle of big men — in a powerful first-round duel of former teammates.
SMALL LOSER: Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Yes, it could have been Giannis vs. Wade. Or Giannis vs. the entertaining Brooklyn Nets, against whom he had a triple-double and averaged nearly 30 points a game. Even Giannis vs. the Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker would have been better than ... Giannis vs. the Pistons. Ugh. The Bucks dominated their Central Division rival this season, sweeping the four-game series, even though Detroit coach Dwane Casey found a way to suck the life out of the MVP candidate, twice holding Giannis to 15 points. Do yourself a favor: When Bucks-Pistons Game 1 comes on television this weekend, switch over to the Masters. Even a replay if need be.
LOSERS WHO’LL SOON BE WINNERS: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving.
The curtain closed on the regular season with Anthony Davis getting booed by his home (former) fans, even though he’s still under contract with the New Orleans Pelicans. You got LeBron on the sideline and Magic Johnson out of work, and it’s all interrelated. And don’t think it ends now that the playoffs are here. The over/under is 24: the number of hours between the season-ending loss and the announcement that Durant, Leonard and Irving are out of here. Who will be the first to get the Davis treatment on his way out the door? Somewhere, odds are being posted.
—By Dave Del Grande, Field Level Media