The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat have won three of the past five NBA Championships. The Heat have been to four of the last five NBA Finals and the Spurs have been a part of two of those five.
The Toronto Raptors and Oklahoma City Thunder have been young squads on the rise for a few years now. OKC has had more overall success than Toronto, but neither has the playoff cache of the teams that they are looking to dethrone in these NBA playoff semifinals.
The Heat and Spurs have been elite squads and consistent playoff participants for the past decade, so most of the more refined NBA heads are probably leaning towards these battle-tested teams with high profile championship coaches to advance to the Conference Finals.
Newer NBA fans who have grown up connecting with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, along with the regular season conquests of KD and Russell Westbrook, are at the very least rooting for some new blood to break through and officially kick off the next era of NBA perennial playoff predators.
Winning these series would definitely dictate an official and final shift in the NBA’s power structure.
In the East, where whichever team LeBron James is on rules, Toronto represents the “new breed” NBA and are trying to close out Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals and meet Cleveland in the Conference Finals.
The Heat, led by Dwyane Wade, a guy who helped lead Miami to NBA Championships in 2006 with Shaq and 2012 and 2013 with King James and Chris Bosh, rep the old guard.
The Heat are no strangers to the grind, fierce challenge and unpredictability of playoff basketball. Everything that Toronto is experiencing for the first time has already been conquered by Wade somewhere along the way. Joe Johnson’s game has been weaker than a levee in New Orleans, but he does have a veteran calm about him.
So the young guys on Miami like Justise Winslow have an invaluable advantage in that they have a seasoned captain and some level-headed vets to navigate their playoff ship through turbulent waters. They can draw on his hunger and killer instinct and leadership; there’s a big difference between climbing a mountain for the first time and knowing just how long it takes to get to the top.
But we see the new young guns of the league in full blast this playoffs and turning a corner. From Portland’s dynamic backcourt to Golden State’s evolutionary dominance. The transformation of the Spurs team with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge leading the charge and of course the league’s most dominant 1-2 punch in OKC with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
The main thing we see from the young players on each team is growth. We see the future of the league and the major players who will be dictating the NBA flow for years to come.
DeRozan and Lowry have struggled with both players shooting less than 40 percent from the field in this Eastern Conference semifinal series. However, an undeniable grit and determination has compensated for their scoring woes and on Wednesday at a most critical juncture -- a Game 5 with the series knotted 2-2 -- the tandem exploded for 59 points, repelled Miami and Wade and hustled to a 99-91 win.
That was a huge hump to get over. Toronto’s two stars, beating like one heart and emerging from their struggles to maestro the most glorious time in Toronto Raptors history. The NBA’s lone Canadian franchise is now just one win away from advancing to its first conference finals. They have two shots to close out the series; on the road in Miami on Friday or at home in a Game 7.
Durant and Westbrook are no strangers to deep playoff runs, falling to Miami in the 2012 Finals, and they haven’t been back since. James Harden was a member of that team and we know about the injuries to both stars that have hurt chemistry and opportunity in past seasons.
However, with free agency looming for both players and the reality that this might be a final run for them as a tandem, OKC has played inspired ball and have the Spurs on the brink of elimination.
As the memories of the last 10 NBA championships fade into our aging memories, the young NBA generation will write their own chapter in the books of NBA history.
While we witness the midnight hour for legends such as Nowitzki, Bryant, Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Wade, this is the awakening for Leonard, Lowry, DeRozan, McCollum, Lillard, Curry, Thompson, Green, Durant and Westbrook. History is being written every night during these NBA playoffs and the changing of the guard is taking place.
The playoffs are still as exciting as ever. An obsession with three-point shooting hasn’t hurt scoring in the least. There’s just more shots to miss and hit. The players are still as talented and the ratings continue to skyrocket. The game hasn’t changed as much as some basketball purists love to lament about.
The only thing that’s really changed are the players.