NBA playoffs: No longer LeBron's league, young stars shine

You see it when Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant are bantering back and forth on a challenged call, or when Ja Morant lands awkwardly but pops up like a toddler numb to danger.

You see it when Luka Doncic waves to a road crowd after knowing his individual performances are matched by a bona fide team effort to lift Dallas to the second round.

You see it when Giannis Antetokounmpo pulls a Tracy McGrady in a hostile environment, throwing a pass to himself off the backboard.

And unfortunately, you see it when James Harden can’t rev it up like he used to, like an old boxer who looks the part on the outside but can’t dodge a jab in his later years.

The changing of the guard is upon the basketball world, and everyone’s battling for open real estate — land that wasn’t available when LeBron James ruled every basketball conversation on the floor and off, when his on-court excellence determined the course of the playoffs.

It’s not that the NBA couldn’t use James or an extended playoff run from Durant here. He’s compelling and bankable, and Durant is still very close to, if not at, his peak.

But the game moves on, and has to move forward to evolve. If the league relies solely on James, like it did with Michael Jordan, it’ll find itself in a world of trouble when the day comes where Father Time finally taps James on the back to say, “Come on home.”

Some have been reluctant to acknowledge Antetokounmpo’s occupation atop the mountain, even some in this space, even after watching his journey and ascension to clutch champion last summer.