There's still a long way to go in the NBA playoffs, but the first round has provided clarity on several teams – and players. Here are my top 10 takeaways thus far.
10) The bubble worked There was plenty of skepticism going into the restart that any league could properly pull it off. We've learned quickly that the NBA and NHL bubbles may be the safest places on the continent. Bravo to the league and the players for taking it seriously and policing themselves.
9) George is an unknown Playoff Paul finally had a breakout Game 5 for the Clippers, but where was that for the start of the series? He says the bubble put him in a dark place. Well, if LAC makes a deep run, they'll be there until October, so George needs to be able to navigate the isolation. If he does, the Clippers can win a title. If not, they're toast.
8) Pressure mounts on the Bucks A Game 1 loss to the Magic created another round of hand-wringing over Milwaukee's shoddy effort since the restart. But the Bucks seem to have put that behind them. Easy to do against the Magic, much harder against the Heat and beyond. Giannis is the DPOY and will likely win MVP. Anything short of the NBA Finals is a disappointment.
7) Carmelo isn't done yetA year ago, it seemed over. Anthony's Hall of Fame career was flickering after busted stops in OKC and Houston. Then the Blazers were ravaged by injury, got forced into taking a flier, and Melo responded with a renaissance season. He knocked down big threes. He fit in well with his teammates. He was part of the solution, not the problem. There's still more Melo left.
6) Jamal Murray is going to get paidThe Nuggets sharpshooter erupted in Games 4 and 5 and now he's staring at a big payday down the line. He's only 23 years old and signed an extension last year with Denver. That deal will take him through the summer of '25. It's worth $170M, which is obviously big money. But what does a 28-year old free agent sniper command in a league that adores its shooters? Murray is going to be one of the most highly coveted pieces of that class.
5) The Sixers have real issuesSure, Brett Brown needed to be fired. But the Sixers issues are more far-reaching than that. Is Joel Embiid assertive enough to be the focal point of a contender? Will Ben Simmons have a fear of shooting forever? Will anyone take Al Horford's contract? Can Tobias Harris be an important player on a really good team? It's hard to trust Elton Brand to navigate all these problematic dynamics. Philly is messy.
4) The Nets' job is really interestingIf Brooklyn's front office throws the kitchen sink at Gregg Popovich (money and control), would he still turn it down? Probably. He's 71 years old and seems an unlikely candidate to start something new, like inheriting a superstar-driven team with insane expectations in the largest media market. But it also means the Nets won't want to settle. This is their chance at relevance, winning, and taking fans away from the crosstown Knicks. This job forces the coach to play nice with two of the biggest head cases in the league, KD and Kyrie. Who wants it?
3) Mitchell is now a starIt's official, he has arrived. Donovan Mitchell exploded for one of the highest-scoring playoff games ever to begin the series and has kept his foot on the gas ever since. He is proving to be a capable enough player to carry a team in the playoffs. This was his coming-out party. He may battle the reality of playing in a small market, but if the Jazz win, he'll be talked about as a star.
2) Luka is already a top-five playerLook no further than his debut, a tour de force as a 21-year old. It was the most points ever scored in a player's first postseason contest. Then combine that with his Game 4 heroics against the 2-seed Clippers, dragging the Mavs back from a 21-point hole, then drilling the game winner from 28 feet in OT. He did that all without his best teammate, Kristaps Porzingis. He's surreal to watch dominate at such a young age, but everyone in the league knows it's just the beginning.
1) Don't doubt LeBron yetKing James may be showing gray in his beard, and his hairline may be retreating. But his game can still be dominant and thorough. Since the Game 1 loss to the Blazers, LeBron has done everything needed to guide the Lakers to wins. That includes understanding when to cede the offense to Anthony Davis and when to take over himself. There's still elite, legendary basketball in LeBron, and it may end in another title. That much is clear.