The 2019 NBA Playoffs are underway. While all teams have the same goal, some are feeling more pressure to advance than others.
Which players, coaches and teams will come under the most scrutiny if they come up short this postseason?
Brett Brown & the Philadelphia 76ers
With all the talent on the Sixers’ roster, the team has high expectations for this season. In the first round, they are facing the young Brooklyn Nets. After dropping Game 1, Philly came back and evened up the series in Game 2, making for an intriguing series ahead.
While the Nets are a good team on the rise, the Sixers, and specifically head coach Brett Brown cannot afford to get sent home in the first round. With Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick all free agents this summer, this season represents the first look at how good the Sixers can be.
A deep playoff run could inspire the upcoming free agents to stay with the young All-Stars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If Philly loses in the first round, or potentially even the second, their newly-acquired stars could sign elsewhere.
Free agents aside, the franchise would almost certainly fire Brown if the Sixers lost to the Nets. While coaching the team during ‘The Process’, Brown’s Sixers got swept in the second round last season by Boston. With an improved roster of two additional All-Star-level players, the bar is set higher for this postseason. An early exit for the Sixers could mean a coaching change in favor of someone able to better galvanize Philly’s talent.
Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors
Since joining the Raptors in 2012, point guard Kyle Lowry has helped get the team to the playoffs six times. Despite playing great during the regular season, Lowry, a five-time All-Star has routinely struggled in the postseason.
The second seed Raptors dropped Game 1 of their series against the Magic, losing to a DJ Augustine go-ahead shot. Lowry went scoreless in the game, shooting 0-7, but still putting up seven rebounds and eight assists. The memes poured in.
Lowry has a history of poor playoff performances. Unless he can turn it around, the Raptors will rely too much on Kawhi Leonard, who can’t do it all by himself. Not to mention, Leonard is approaching free agency, and staying with a co-star who vanishes in the playoffs is not appealing.
Lowry’s $30 million per season contract puts more pressure on him. If Toronto gets upset by Orlando, or even gets sent home in the second round, Kyle Lowry will be facing the most pressure of his career.
Everyone in the Portland – OKC series
One of the West’s most exciting first-round matchups features two teams with a fair amount of pressure. Both the Trailblazers and Thunder are looking to improve off of last year’s playoffs, where they both got sent home in the first round.
For Portland, their last two playoff runs ended in four-game sweeps. Damian Lillard along with CJ McCollum make up one of the best backcourts in the league. Another first-round exit could potentially change Portland’s plan for the future, if the two guards can’t lead the team on a deep playoff run.
For Oklahoma City, another first-round loss would put substantial pressure on Russell Westbrook and Paul George. The two players had incredible regular seasons: Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the third season in a row, and George had career-highs in points and rebounds.
However, regular season records don’t mean much when you don’t get far in the postseason. Westbrook is one of the best individual players the game has ever seen, but a lack of playoff success is starting to impact his legacy. With George, the Thunder should have their sights on the Conference Finals.
Portland took Game 1 at home, but these two teams are evenly matched and the series will likely go six or more games. One thing is for sure: whichever team loses this series will go into next season facing more pressure than ever before.
Featured image credited to Getty Images.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.