2022 NBA Playoffs: Storylines to monitor

Mercifully, Adam Silver’s unnecessary play-in tournament ends Friday night when the eighth playoff seed in each conference will be determined.

The playoff prime rib will be served Saturday and Sunday with the opening of the first round. Silver loves the extra money — and extra teams — the new play-in event generates, but this became a lackluster format.

The Western Conference’s 9th and 10th seeds (the Pelicans and Spurs) held records of 36-46 and 34-48, respectively, diluting the product when LeBron James’ Lakers fell short.

Meanwhile, the top-10 seeds in the East were determined with five regular-season games to go, all suspense ending when the Knicks were mathematically eliminated.

The postseason is long enough, and it should be good riddance to the pandemic and play-in next season. But don’t count on it. All Silver cares about is extra revenue.

Here are the 10 most compelling questions entering the playoffs:

Is Stephen Curry’s health going to derail Warriors’ comeback season?

Out since March 16 with a sprained ligament in his left foot, Curry could be rusty and on a minutes restriction in Saturday night’s Game 1. They also got a terrible draw in No. 6 Denver. It’s playing with fire. When right, Curry still is at the top of his 3-point madness. He is the greatest shooter of all time and put on a show at the Garden in December when breaking the NBA record for the most career 3-pointers. Calling on Klay Thompson to step up and young shooting guard Jordan Poole, the 28th pick in 2019, needs to continue to be a Golden State godsend.

Will James Harden and Ben Simmons live up to the hype?

“The Beard’ played in 21 games for the 76ers since the Nets’ trade and averaged just 21 points, scoring more than 30 once. His shooting percentages were down — 40.2 overall, 32.6 from 3. However, his playmaking has been elite and much-needed (10.2 assists). But the Raptors will be a tough out. Of course, whatever Harden brings is a lot better than Simmons’ contributions for the Nets. He might/possibly/could make his debut later in the first round. I’ll believe it when I see it.

James Harden’s scoring has been down since joining the Sixers, but he’s averaging 10.2 assists.
NBAE via Getty Images
Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons has yet to suit up for Nets and it remains unknown if he will against the Celtics in the playoffs.
for the NY POST

How high can Ja Morant take the young Grizzlies?

The Grizzlies have achieved their highest seed in franchise history (No. 2), with their 56 wins another team record. As much as Morant became an MVP candidate, the Grizzlies also won big when he didn’t play (20-4) — which speaks to their deep ensemble. Scouts think they can make the Western Conference finals. Desmond Bane, whom the Knicks passed on at 25, is a sensational outside threat, and big man Jaren Jackson Jr. is hearing noise about Defensive Player of the Year. They have a brilliant young coach in Taylor Jenkins, so it’s not just Ja.

Can the Suns take the next step and win it all?

Yes. When the Suns were seen last on the playoff stage, Devin Booker choked in Game 6 vs. the Bucks in last spring’s Finals (0-for-7 from 3, six turnovers). If he played just a moderate game, the Suns would’ve forced a Game 7 back in Phoenix and likely won the title. Don’t expect Booker to let the Suns down again in June. Monty Williams is my choice for Coach of the Year for making Phoenix even more formidable after last season’s Finals run. The Suns posted a franchise-record 64 wins, and ageless Chris Paul won his fifth assists title. Mikal Bridges, whom the Knicks passed on in the 2018 draft, has become arguably the NBA’s best perimeter defender. Expect a parade in the Valley of the Sun as CP3 finally gets his ring.

Will this be a Knicks fan’s delight: Dallas vs. Utah?

The conspiracy theory is if the Jazz get bounced in the first round, their superstar combo guard Donovan Mitchell, out of Westchester, will seek a trade to the Knicks. Meanwhile, the Knicks have targeted Mavericks playmaker Jalen Brunson as an unrestricted free agent. However, if Dallas makes a run, why would owner Mark Cuban think of losing him? Even with Kristaps Porzingis off to the nation’s capital, the Mavericks are littered with ex-Knicks — Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr., Reggie Bullock, Trey Burke.

Can the Bucks repeat?

Third-seeded Milwaukee is the least-hyped defending champion in history. The Brew City cast is back. If Giannis Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t bricking free throws and 3-point shots to an alarming, mental-block level, they should make the Eastern Conference finals at least. But their defense — and hunger — hasn’t been as lit as during their title run.

Giannis Antetokounmpo
Can anyone stop Giannis Antetokounmpo from a repeat for the Bucks?
AP

Can the Nets finally capture all of New York City?

The image of these Nets is a renegade band the nation loves to hate. Kevin Durant is as much a sourpuss as superstar, and unvaccinated Kyrie Irving showed disregard for his teammates this season, forcing Harden out the door. But it’s playoff time and all is forgotten. So many of us are Brooklyn-born, our parents Brooklyn Dodgers fans and the foe is the hated Celtics. It’s time for even Knicks supporters to rally around Brooklyn, especially after this week’s tragedy at the subway stop by the Nets’ practice headquarters.

Are Da Bulls for real?

The Bulls staged a spectacular offseason and soared past the Knicks in the standings but suffered a late-season slide (8-15 after the All-Star break). Though the Knicks had more cap space, the Bulls used theirs wisely in snaring Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and DeMar DeRozan, who reeled off eight straight games of 35-plus points in February to break Wilt Chamberlain’s record. After losing the Ball for the season in mid-January, Chicago slipped all the way down to the sixth seed and has the misfortune of facing geographical rival Milwaukee in Round 1. The Bucks are 15-1 in their past 16 meetings.

How much is Silver rooting for N’awlins?

The NBA has been damaged by Zion Williamson’s series of prolonged injuries. But to have New Orleans sneak in as eighth seed if it posts a play-in victory Friday over the Clippers would be good for the league. Williamson, despite a foot injury that cost him the season, sat on the Pelicans bench during the Spurs’ rout Wednesday decked in a purple suit. The network showed footage of Williamson, in pregame warm-ups, doing a spinning slam-dunk that would make Obi Toppin blush. Perhaps Williamson will one day force a trade to the Knicks, but the Pelicans have shown a nice core (Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Jonas Valanciunas, New York Jose Alvarado) that might have native Zion excited about staying put.

How does Pat Riley do it?

After a run to the 2020 bubble Finals, the Heat dipped last season and lost in a sweep to the Bucks. Riley added Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker, and the Heat are No. 1 seeds in the East after a 53-29 season. It’s almost tragic the Heat are run by the smartest man in basketball out of upstate Schenectady and the Knicks are run by an agent, Leon Rose.

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