With only a month and a half left in the season, it’s fair to say that the basketball world is changing. Gone are the days of simply following the traditional path to the top 4 in your conference and a chance at the number 1 overall pick. The 2019 NBA Draft is already proving to be unpredictable, as Kawhi Leonard’s Raptors continue to defy expectations and prove that you can’t always trust the numbers.
Wherever Kawhi Leonard plays this season, his impact will be felt. The 29-year-old is currently averaging a double-double (16.7 points, 10.5 rebounds) and shooting over 50% from the field and 90% from the free-throw line. While it’s still early, the 2019-20 season has already proven to be an interesting one.
Will Kawhi lead the Raptors to the playoffs, or will Toronto’s title hopes crumble? Let’s take a look at where the 6’5″ forward is playing this season, and what each venue has to offer.
The King’s Court: Los Angeles
The opening round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs was arguably the least surprising part of the season. The Golden State Warriors took down the Los Angeles Lakers in five games, with Stephen Curry hitting a buzzer-beater to ice the series. The defending champion Raptors swept past the Minnesota Timberwolves in four games, with Kawhi Leonard leading the way.
The Los Angeles arena, the Staples Center, hasn’t seen a finals match-up since 2013, but the King’s Court is more than equipped to host NBA games. The $528 million arena has a seating capacity of 23,600 and features the largest video board in the NBA. The atmosphere inside the Kings Court is electric, and it’s easy to see why the game has been described as “riveting” and “a real spectacle to watch.” At least once a day, the sun shines directly into the arena, giving the feeling of a real outdoor game. The temperature is also taken into consideration, and the ventilation system ensures that temperatures stay in check.
The problem for the Lakers is that they can’t just show up and win. The King’s Court is the home of the Los Angeles Clippers, and they’re one of the most competitive teams in the league. Furthermore, the Lakers’ rivals, the San Antonio Spurs, are also playing their home games at the AT&T Center, which is just a few minutes away from the Staples Center. The arena could be a tough place for the defending champions to make a deep playoff run. Fortunately for head coach John Kyrie and company, they’ll get a warm welcome in the offseason.
While the Lakers were bounced from the playoffs, they did bring home one piece of hardware. Along with the basketball world, general manager Rob Pelinka and company were elated to announce that star center Anthony Davis had signed a four-year, $100 million contract to remain in Southern California. It was a sweet return for the franchise, which had released Davis during the offseason before he even stepped on the court for the first time.
The Cloud Cuckoo Land: San Antonio
The San Antonio Spurs are the defending champs, and they’ve got the talent to defend their title. Led by head coach Gregg Popovich, the team boasts multiple All-Stars, including LaMarcus Aldridge, Dejounte Murray, and Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs’ arena, the AT&T Center, is one of the most intimidating places to play. The $533 million domed stadium has a capacity of 18,000 and features gold railings and marble accents. The atmosphere inside the arena is absolutely amazing. Unfortunately for the Spurs, they couldn’t get past the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 playoffs. Despite the valiant effort, they fell apart without their best player, Kevin Durant, who left for the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite the setback, Popovich remains confident that his team is still the best in the NBA. He also hinted that they intend to make a run at the title this season. What if Popovich is right, and the Durant injury turns out to be the key to the Clippers’ championship? The Spurs will have to wait and see.
The Rose Garden: New York
The final piece of the 2019 NBA Playoffs puzzle is the New York Knicks. Led by head coach David Fizdale, the Knicks are a team on the rise. With breakout seasons from lottery picks Trey Burke, Courtney Rennie, and Mitchell Robinson, they finished the regular season with 52 wins. The team is filled with young talent, and many expect them to make a deep playoff run this season.
The Knicks’ home, the Garden, is another historic venue that hasn’t seen an NBA Finals match-up since it opened in 1968. Since then, the NBA had maintained a 16 game minimum policy, which prevented the Knicks from hosting a series. However, since the start of the 2019 season, the team has been allowed to keep a single home game per week. Furthermore, based on Garden capacity and revenue, the NBA has also decided that the Knicks can expand their home game schedule to include two home games per week.
With their newfound freedom, the Knicks played host to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. Although they lost to the defending champions in four games, it was a close-fought battle. The atmosphere inside the Garden was electric, and both teams fought to the bitter end. It was a fitting end to a thrilling season. The Knicks will now turn their attention to building upon their season, preparing for a deep playoff run this year.
The playoffs have already shaken up the basketball world, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see anything resembling a traditional path to the NBA Finals. The 2019 NBA Draft had its share of upsets, and one of the biggest surprises was Kawhi Leonard’s decision to pass on the Knicks and choose to sign with the Toronto Raptors. Wherever he plays, his impact will be felt – and with only four months left in the season, it’s fair to say that we haven’t seen the last of him.