The NBA awaits a new champion, and the path is wide open

Full Screen
1 / 3

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) celebrate the team's double-overtime win against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 5 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Tuesday, June 1, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

In this NBA, this much is already clear: There will be a new champion.

A lot of first-time champions, too.

The second round of the NBA playoffs start on Saturday night, and nowhere to be found are the franchises that have combined to win almost two-thirds of the titles awarded in league history. There are new faces, like a Phoenix team that’s in the second round for the first time since 2010, Brooklyn for the first time since 2014, Atlanta for the first time since 2016.

Plus, when the NBA gets down to its final eight teams, there will be no more than eight players — and possibly as few as five, depending on how the last remaining first-round series between Dallas and the Los Angeles Clippers ends on Sunday — who have previously won a championship ring.

So, for virtually everyone left in the playoffs, this is a whole new world. New teams. New faces. New stories. And in the end, of course, there’ll be a new winner and a whole lot of guys who get their fingerprints on the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time.

“I don’t think it matters one way or the other,” said Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers, who’ll be one of only two coaches left in the second round to have guided a team to a title, with either Dallas’ Rick Carlisle or the Clippers’ Tyronn Lue being the other. “I think people love great NBA basketball and that’s what they want to see.”

And this might be great.

But it will certainly be different.