NBA Roundtable: Making sense of Kevin Durant’s debut, Lakers’ playoff hopes

The NBA playoff push has officially begun. 

This week, our panel of NBA newshounds — Ric Bucher, Melissa Rohlin and Yaron Weitzman — steal a note at the star-weighted down Suns, who will represent the East in the NBA Finals, and proper how far Hollywood’s most-noteworthy team can experience without its chief.

1. What are your takeaways from Kevin Durant’s debut with the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday?

Weitzman: No doubt, I don’t deem there’s grand to steal from watching a team with three All-Stars, together with an all-time huge, defeat the lowly Charlotte Hornets. We don’t should always imagine the Suns beat a lottery team to know that right here’s no doubt one of many league’s honest title contenders. This is the impossible thing about Kevin Durant: Thanks to his taking pictures and dimension and flexibility, he’s the rare star who might well well perchance even be dropped into any ecosystem and fit honest in. You don’t should always elope 40 plan end-and-rolls for him. You don’t should always cowl him on defense. Correct slot into the lineup and — to make expend of no doubt one of his well-liked phrases — let him “hoop.” This Suns team is going to be superior. Its ceiling shall be sure by the health of its stars. 

Bucher: Gordon Hayward turn into as soon as guarding KD and Kelly Oubre Jr. turn into as soon as on Devin Booker. The Hornets got right here into the game with the worst offense in the league and that turn into as soon as with LaMelo Ball attend and after a five-game a hit lag. This turn into as soon as their first game without Ball (broken ankle) and it showed. It took them almost five minutes to get their first bucket and the heaves at the rim weren’t end. The Suns’ capability to defend without Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder is going to resolve correct how far they’ll experience and the plot grand better they are with KD. Playing the Hornets might well well no longer provide an resolution to that demand.

Rohlin: Wednesday’s game supplied a explore into how devastating the Durant-Booker tandem is going to be for the leisure of the league. Durant didn’t note rusty in his first game since Jan. 8. And he and Booker looked effortless together — and this turn into as soon as handiest their first game. When Durant for sure finds his rhythm and learns his teammates, this team is going to be very stressful to cease. Query to imagine them in the Finals.

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2. Who had the more impressive 71-point performance: Damian Lillard or Donovan Mitchell?

Weitzman: Invent I for sure should always grab from the 2? Can I correct explain anytime someone scores 71 parts, it’s rather impressive? Though I bid if I for sure should always grab one, I’ll should always experience along with Lillard, correct on anecdote of Mitchell’s game went to time previous rules, meaning he accomplished 50 minutes as compared with Lillard’s 39.

Bucher: Lillard’s effectivity scoring 71 turn into as soon as unheard of, and I appreciate the assertion he made on the heels of innuendo that the Blazers had been on the brink of tank for Victor Wembanyana. All that acknowledged, he did it in opposition to the Houston Rockets, the 2d-worst defensive team in the league. Mitchell got his in opposition to the Bulls, no doubt one of many stingiest defenses in the league. He didn’t correct get, either, nonetheless mild 11 dimes. Microscopic edge to Mitchell.

Rohlin: Both had been impossible performances. I deem my well-liked section might well well perchance’ve been the aftermath of all of it, when Mitchell tweeted that his mother texted him, “You gotta get 72 now.” I additionally love the truth that Mitchell’s performance got right here following a season wherein his star had fallen in Utah, and Lillard had that kind of performance following taking part in handiest 29 games final season thanks to an abdominal ache. They’ve both had assertion seasons, and people games had been both of their magnum opuses. 

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3. Milwaukee has overtaken Boston for basically the most helpful myth in the NBA and is utilizing a 16-game a hit lag. Are the Bucks officially your well-liked to grab the title?

Weitzman: They’re no longer my well-liked, nonetheless they’re no doubt one of them. The Bucks are a machine. They hold the league’s top defense. We know what Giannis can impact and does in the playoffs. The best factor that might well well handle them attend is their half court offense. Stunning now or no longer it is center-of-the-pack in the league, which can very successfully be difficult in the playoffs. However we know the Bucks are going suffocate opponents, we know they’re going to steal and get 3s (fourth in frequency of shots from deep; thirteenth in 3-point accuracy), and we know that they’re going to atomize the offensive glass (ninth in the NBA), all of which helps stand up for their gradual assault and tilts the math of their favor by giving them more parts per shot and more shots per possession. Also, right here are Giannis’ playoff numbers precise by plot of the final two seasons (33 games): 30.8 parts on fifty three% taking pictures, 13.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.2 blocks. So, yeah, the Bucks hold as honest as a shot as someone this season.

Bucher: They’ve been my plan end to grab all of it since the initiating of the season, and I’ve but to hold a motive to alternate my thoughts. More than the leisure, I love how quietly they experience about their alternate and, in the phrases of Pat Riley, they “withhold the principle factor the principle factor,” a.k.a., a hit one other championship. They’ve obtained in every plot that that you might imagine at some point soon of the lag — comebacks, blowouts, final-possession scores, final-possession stops — and with an assortment of gamers lacking at diversified parts. Giannis talks loads about constructing honest habits and that’s what I leer the Bucks doing as a team. That doesn’t continuously happen when a team goes on a prolonged a hit lag. I’m reminded of a conversation with Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams in Boston at some point soon of the Warriors’ 73-9 season. They had been 23-0 at the time and would beat the Celtics in double time previous rules to push it to 24-0. Adams grumbled that they weren’t taking part in fundamentally sound basketball and worried at some point soon it would come attend to chunk them. The lag led to Milwaukee two nights later, and we know how the season ended. I leer none of that with Milwaukee.

Rohlin: I deem that lag is getting grand less attention than it deserves. They’ve clearly hit their lumber at the honest time, which can very successfully be very harmful for the leisure of the league. Antetokounmpo is handiest going to improve because the playoffs stretch on, as we noticed in the team’s championship elope in 2021. That being acknowledged, I’m no longer particular in the occasion that they’re my well-liked to grab the title. In the East, I additionally in spite of every little thing appreciate Boston and deem Jayson Tatum has taken his game to a recent stage this season. It would additionally be a mistake to depend out Philadelphia, as prolonged as Joel Embiid can put together to live healthy for his first postseason in four years. Then, in the West, each person obviously desires to leer out for Phoenix for the explanations we discussed above. 

4. What percentage probability impact you give the Lakers of making the playoffs — play-in or top-six seed — with LeBron James sidelined for a protracted amount of time? 

Weitzman: Effectively, as of Thursday morning, the machines over at 5 Thirty Eight build the Lakers’ odds of making the playoffs at 55% — and that turn into as soon as sooner than we discovered that LeBron’s injured foot wouldn’t be evaluated for round one other three weeks. Going by the calendar, meaning he’ll miss at a minimal the Lakers’ next 10 games — there are handiest 19 remaining on the schedule. As of Thursday, the Lakers had been a game in the attend of the Contemporary Orleans Pelicans for the West’s closing play-in jam. Build all of it together, and I’d explain the Lakers’ season has come to an cease. 

Bucher: I’ll give them a 3% probability. A pair of assorted groups are going to should always crumple to be succesful to produce a route. I shall be a glorious deal bowled over if LeBron plays over again this season. 2nd look in three weeks doesn’t indicate he’s attend in three weeks, it correct approach they’ll then resolve when he might well well very successfully be ready to come. An higher physique ache would enable him to steal care of some stage of conditioning, nonetheless I don’t leer how he does that with an ankle tell, so I would demand he’ll need some time to get attend in game form. As for Anthony Davis, don’t get me started after he sat out the OKC game irrespective of being ache-free (Darvin Ham’s phrases). The best time he’s ever led a team to a playoff jam is in Contemporary Orleans when the Pelicans slid into the eighth jam after the Snort lost both Durant and Russell Westbrook to ache. That turn into as soon as eight years and hundreds principal overlooked games ago.

Rohlin: It in spite of every little thing is depending on if Davis can play MVP-caliber basketball over over again. Right by plot of James’ five-game absence in November, Davis went on a toddle, averaging 31.8 parts and 17.4 rebounds to attend the team experience on a three-game a hit-lag and experience 3-2 over that length. The recent-note Lakers are grand better than they had been attend then with their alternate closing date additions. So, if Davis can steal over and the team’s recent objects can star of their roles, the Lakers hold a honest probability of making the play-in tournament. However that’s quite rather a lot of “ifs.” So, all issues regarded as, I’d give the Lakers a 70% probability of making the play-in tournament. 

5. Don’t note now, nonetheless the Warriors are up to fifth in the West. May maybe perchance perchance mild Golden Reveal over over again be regarded as a title contender this season? 

Weitzman: They’re additionally correct one game sooner than the play-in and three games sooner than the 11th-space Lakers — so let’s no longer give this team too grand credit. The Warriors are mild 12th in offensive effectivity and 15th in defensive effectivity. They’re mild a unsightly 7-23 on the avenue. All that acknowledged, they mild hold an upside unlike any team in the Western Convention. Case in point: When their starters hold shared the bottom in non-garbage-time minutes, they’ve thumped opponents by a ridiculous 22.2 parts per 100 possessions, the 2d-handiest quantity in the league among all five-man lineups which hold accomplished higher than 200 possessions, in line with Cleansing the Glass. So, yeah, there is title ability right here. However I additionally wouldn’t be a glorious deal bowled over in the occasion that they fell into the play-in and flopped of their first game there.

Bucher: As grand as seeing Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Inexperienced get one other attend-from-the-dreary elope and having the Recede Center rockin’ by plot of one other postseason might well well perchance be stress-free, I correct don’t leer it. They’re a brutally sinful avenue team (7-23) and a sub-par defensive team and I don’t leer any motive those flaws are going to be erased in the postseason. Their offensive machine is stressful to prep for at some point soon of the frequent season on anecdote of it’s so odd, nonetheless the postseason provides time for that. We additionally don’t know what Steph is going to be when he gets attend from ache.

Rohlin: I’ve continuously thought it can well well perchance be a mistake to depend out this team. Many did that final season, and so they replied by a hit their fourth championship in eight years. Definite, as antagonistic to Curry, the Warriors hold looked disjointed for grand of the season. However whereas he has been sidelined with a lower leg ache, they’ve reputedly begun to flip issues round. They’ve made up quite rather a lot of ground in the Western Convention, Thompson has came upon his groove, and the Warriors are wanting a heck-of-a-lot more cohesive. When Curry returns (potentially as quickly as next week), they might well well be a threat. Don’t sleep on the league’s dynasty. In games that depend, this team knows the manner to grab.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA author for FOX Sports activities. He is the author of “Tanking to the High: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Courageous Route of in the Historical previous of Legitimate Sports activities.” Educate him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

Ric Bucher is an NBA author for FOX Sports activities. He beforehand wrote for Bleacher File, ESPN The Journal and The Washington Put up and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s fight with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He additionally has a day-to-day podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Educate him on Twitter @RicBucher.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA author for FOX Sports activities. She beforehand covered the league for Sports activities Illustrated, the Los Angeles Instances, the Bay Dwelling Facts Neighborhood and the San Antonio Enlighten-Facts. Educate her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

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