It was June 24th 1998, and a skinny tall white teenager from Germany emerged on American soil to change the face of European involvement in the National Basketball Association. 21 years, 31,560 points, a league MVP and an NBA Championship later, Dirk Nowitzki retired as the greatest European player of all time to grace the hardwood. With his mission accomplished, the creator one the one-footed fadeaway jumper, passes the torch to new European superstars, Luka Doncic and MVP favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo. With the NBA playoffs starting Saturday, how can the current crop of European stars influence each series.
Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs Detroit Pistons (8)
Milwaukee enter the playoffs, with home court advantage throughout, led by their captain Giannis Antetokounmpo, while the Pistons scraped through to reach the 8th seed, securing their qualification on the last night of the regular season, on the backs of their two big men, Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin . The Bucks swept the season series versus the Pistons, but in order to continue this trend in the absence of Malcolm Brogdon, role players such as the European trio of, Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol, and Ersan Ilyasova will have to step up. With a rested Greek Freak, the Bucks simply have to much firepower for an admirable but underwhelming Pistons side.
Prediction : Bucks 4-1 PistonsEmbed from Getty Images
Golden State Warriors (1) vs Los Angeles Clippers (8)
Italian foward, Danilo Gallinari and his plucky underdog Clippers, despite trading away their best player two years in a row, will attempt to pull off the upset of all upsets when they face the two-time defending champion, the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors haven’t been at their best all season with chemistry issues and lax performances peppered throughout their season, but history has shown us that this team is simply too good to lose in the first round.
Prediction: Warriors 4-2 ClippersEmbed from Getty Images
Toronto Raptors (2) vs Orlando Magic (7)
Nikola Vucevic, the Montenegrin all-star, and his French sidekick, Evan Fournier will try to create the upset when the Magic take on the Kawhi led Raptors. The season series was tied 2 games a piece.
The Toronto Raptors have struggled the past couple of season to get out of the East, but with the addition of Spanish Center, Marc Gasol, and emerging English star, OG Anunoby, the Raptors will be to strong for the Magic .
Prediction : Raptors 4-1 MagicEmbed from Getty Images
Denver Nuggets (2) vs San Antonio Spurs (7)
Nicknamed the Joker, Serbian magician Nikola Jokic’s skills are no laughing matter. As the heart and soul of the Nuggets, the offense runs through him. if Jokic plays up to his potential in his first playoff series, the Nuggets will advance. But, if he doesn’t and Latvian and Italian snipers, Davis Bertans and Marco Bellinelli make their three point shots, this series could get tricky for Denver.
Prediction : Nuggets 4-2 SpursEmbed from Getty Images
Philadephia 76ers (3) vs Brooklyn Nets (6)
On paper, this matchup favors the 76ers, who have an abundance of talent, but on their night, the Brookly Nets can beat anybody in the league. If the Nets can make it rain from threes, then this series can get very tricky for the 76ers, who themselves lack sharp shooters other than JJ Reddick.
However, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Jimmy Butler should figure out a way to go through.
Prediction: 76ers 4-3 NetsEmbed from Getty Images
Portland Trail blazers (3) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (6)
This star studded matchup, featuring Lillard, McCollum, WestBrook and George, could mean that role players will have a vital role, if the star players cancel themselves out.
With the Blazers unable to count on their Bosnian center Jusuf Nurkić out for the season with a horrific leg injury, Portland are at a disadvantage. Steven Adams will most likely make the paint his home in this series, and bully Enes Kanter. In other words, things aren’t looking up for the Blazers, especially when you consider that the Thunder swept the season series against them.
Prediction: Blazers 2- 4 ThunderEmbed from Getty Images
Boston Celtics (4 ) vs Indiana Pacers (5)
What would have been the most compelling matchup of the playoffs, the injury to Pacers star Victor Oladipo gives Boston a slight edge. The Pacers cannot be overlooked though as the frontcourt duo of Myles Turner and second generation Lithuanian star, Damonta Sabonis will provide real problems for a Celtics squad that has failed to live up to expectations all year.
At the start of the season, the Celtics were serious contenders to emerge out of the East, but now face the serious threat of a first round exit.
Prediction Celtics 4-3 PacersEmbed from Getty Images
Houston Rockets (4) vs Utah Jazz (5)
Can Ricky Rubio’s contain Chris Paul, can Donovan Mitchell keep up with Harden’s scoring, and can Rudy Gobert stifle Clint Capela? These are the questions that will dictate this series.
If Utah want to pull off the upset, at least two of the matchups will have to go in their favor, against a more talented Houston starting 5, but not necessarily a better roster.
Prediction : Rockets 3-4 JazzEmbed from Getty Images
Co-written by Jack Nevill
Featured Image/ Michael Tipton