LeBron James' decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers last summer has dramatically changed the NBA landscape. The departure of James didn't only take away the Cavaliers' status as a legitimate title contender, but it also turned them into one of the worst teams in the league in the 2018-19 NBA season. As of now, two NBA teams are battling for the empty throne in the Eastern Conference -- the Milwaukee Bucks and the Toronto Raptors.
Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is currently one of the frontrunners to win the Most Valuable Player award this season, definitely knows how hard it is to face James' team in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Antetokounmpo said that the Eastern Conference became "open" from the time James took his talent to the Western Conference.
"I didn't see it as open," Antetokounmpo said Thursday, via ESPN. "But now that I look back and see how everything went, it's definitely open, not having LeBron in the East and not trying to go through him."
LeBron James had ruled the Eastern Conference for eight consecutive years in his combined stints with the Miami Heat and the Cavaliers. During James' reign, Antetokounmpo's Bucks couldn't even advance to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now that James is gone, the Bucks managed to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001 and are just three wins away from going to the NBA Finals.Before the start of the 2018-19 NBA season, Antetokounmpo admitted that he didn't think that the Bucks will be able to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. When LeBron James left, most Eastern Conference teams became more aggressive in upgrading their roster, hoping that they will be the one replacing the Cavaliers as the new conference champions. However, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks showed that they aren't a team that could be underestimated.
From being a mediocre team, the Bucks turned themselves into a legitimate title contender in the Eastern Conference. On Wednesday night, the Bucks drew first blood against the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals 2019. Antetokounmpo had another impressive performance on both ends of the floor, finishing the game with 24 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, three blocks, and two steals on 43.8 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
"We're happy," Antetokounmpo said. "But at the end of the day, our job is not done. We gotta protect our home; we gotta be able to get Game 2."
As of now, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks want to take things one step at a time and keep their focus on achieving their main goal. Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Bucks and the Raptors will be on Friday night at Fiserv Forum.