NBA 2017/18: 5 things we learned last week

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(Photo credit: Keith Allison)

The Rockets are for real

Thanks to last year’s extraordinary Game 7 meltdown in the Western Conference semi-finals against the Spurs, there won’t be many people believing that James Harden and the Rockets can take down the Warriors, should they meet in the Western Conference decider. But as the 2017/18 season’s first 60-win team, they’re showing that they quite possibly can. 

The basketball world is waiting for the Western Conference finals matchup between the Rockets and Warriors, which should act as a de facto NBA Finals, as somehow we’ve found a team capable of at least challenging Golden State. That idea seemed laughable two years ago when Kevin Durant joined the Warriors to form a super team, but such is James Harden and Chris Paul’s elite play, it might be a reality


Don't rule out the Cavs

While there are lingering doubts about Cleveland's ability to challenge in the playoffs, their win against the current Eastern Conference top seed, the Toronto Raptors, last week showed that they are devastating when they flick the switch. While there was little to no defense played by either side, LeBron James was at his best to post 35 points and 17 assists. Also big for the Cavs is Kevin Love’s return from injury, giving them all the pieces of their post trade-deadline squad time to gel before the postseason.

The Cavs are riding a five-game winning streak and looking dangerous.

The Process is ahead of schedule

Entering the season, questions were being asked everywhere about whether the 76ers would be ready to contend for a playoff spot in 2017/18. Last year’s Timberwolves showed that highly regarded young sides don’t win right away, and to begin this season Ben Simmons had never played a match, while the concerns about Joel Embiid's fitness were strong. 

Well, they’re currently occupying the fourth seed in the east and have just secured their first postseason berth in six years. The Process has worked, and the 76ers look an ominous proposition heading in the playoffs and beyond.

No Curry on the menu to start the playoffs

The Warriors are facing an injury epidemic as a host of their big names spent time off the court last week. This also includes Stephen Curry, who Steve Kerr announced is unlikely to be back for the first round of the playoffs. Not that this makes them a friendly matchup for anyone, but it makes them a less formidable side, such is how Curry's long-range shooting forces teams to transform their gameplan. Curry's 26.4 points, 6.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game will be missed in the first round, and while Golden State will still enter that series as heavy favorites they will be that little more vulnerable.


Donovan Mitchell is a phenom

Anyone that only learned last week that Donovan Mitchell is good needs to pay closer attention. Every game sheds new light on this rookie's bright future. This week’s examples included games in which he scored 35, 26, 24 and 21 points, respectively, which displays phenomenal scoring consistency and threat for a rookie. His fourth 35-point game means Mitchell now has the second most scores of 35 or more points in history for a rookie, with Carmelo Anthony leading the list. 

Does anyone in Utah care that Gordon Hayward left anymore? The Utah faithful have a new hero in Mitchell, who looks set to lead them into the playoffs.

What were the biggest takeaways from the NBA last week? Comment below!