If the NBA Playoffs started today, hoops fans would be happy campers! Why? A first-round Heat vs. Knicks match-up alone would be enough to send ratings through the roof and keep the many TV talking heads yapping from here to eternity.
Can you imagine? The Heatles versus Linsanity? Then again, it would be somewhat of a letdown if the most exciting series of the playoffs came in the first round. Either way, it’s a win-win situation, right?
If the NBA playoffs started today, we’d have a familiar cast of characters out East:
8. New York
…and an eclectic and somewhat surprising group in the West:
1. Oklahoma City
2. San Antonio
3. LA Clippers
5. LA Lakers
The teams in playoff contention (at the moment) in the Western Conference aren’t that shocking in and of themselves, it’s their seeding that brings the element of surprise.
Before the Chris Paul trade (umm, the second trade… to LA’s “other” team), who would’ve guessed the “Clippers” and “playoffs” would be words spoken in the same sentence? Sure, the Clippers had potential with a young nucleus of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Gordon and a veteran in Chris Kaman, but still… Donald Sterling’s team would be the type of squad to evoke a statement like “I’ll believe it when I see it” in conversation.
Instead, Chris Paul and the Clippers are only 3.5 games behind the first place Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that has risen to power the old fashioned way; through hard work and experience. This could be the year we finally see ThunderUp in the NBA Finals. Perhaps the youth of the Thunder’s roster gives them an advantage in this shortened season as OKC trails only the Heat and Bulls with a 23-7 record. Could an older, more experienced team catch up to them in the playoffs when everyone has a few days rest between each game? Sure, but Kevin Durant and Co. look pretty good halfway through the season and have been fascinating to watch in the playoffs in the last two years.
Sandwiched between the Thunder and Clippers are the aging San Antonio Spurs who could earn Greg Popovich a second Coach of the Year award (he also won the award in 2003). The Spurs have managed to stay atop the Western Conference without their star guard, Manu Ginobili who has missed 22 of the Spurs’ 31 games with an injury. What the Spurs have done is quite impressive, and as usual, until the playoffs, San Antonio will be largely ignored by many in the mainstream media. The Spurs have never been a flashy team full of typical stars or large personalities, but come playoff time, you’d better hope your favorite team doesn’t have to play them.
The Dallas Mavericks are basically back on track after an ugly start to the season and if they can stay healthy, I think they have a great shot at returning to the NBA finals. The Lakers, Grizzlies, Rockets and Nuggets are all in the hunt, each within two games of the 4-seed Mavs. All of these teams have a legitimate shot at making the post season, but it wouldn’t shock me if Portland, Utah or even Minnesota finds a way to sneak in, knocking a current contender out of the race. With young players like Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams sharing the court, the Timberwolves are easily the most entertaining team to watch on any given night. They remind me of the Thunder a few years ago: they are one or two pieces short of putting the puzzle together. If they can make a personnel move or two, these guys will be ready to shine after another year or so of learning how to play together.
If I had to predict today, who we’ll see in the NBA Finals, I’m going with a rematch (or three-match) of Heat vs. Mavericks, with the possibility of Heat vs. Thunder at a close second.
The Miami Heat are ON FIRE right now. So what if they lose a few games here and there, that doesn’t matter too much. We’ve watched them win with only two of their Big 3 healthy and playing, so barring a catastrophic injury, the Heat can easily survive the wear-and-tear of a typical NBA regular season. Miami leads the league in scoring, field goal percentage and three-point field goal percentage. The Heat are third in free throw attempts and somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to defense and rebounding. I think the Heat will roll right through the regular season and will once again have a chance to prove their worth in the NBA Finals. Of course, all the focus will be on LeBron James and whether or not he has the mental fortitude to win it all. From taking the last shot to making bizarre comments in the press, it will once again be the LeBrown Show should the Heat make it back to the Finals. In the words of Bart Scott, CANTWAIT!
The only team I can picture challenging the Heat in the East is Chicago. If Derrick Rose can overcome his back problems in the near future, there is no reason the Bulls shouldn’t make it to the Conference Finals. Chicago is second in the NBA in defense allowing 88.1 points per game (the 76ers and Celtics are tied for first, allowing 87.2 ppg), second in rebounding and ninth in scoring. The Bulls are tied for 15th in free throw attempts (22 per game) which surprises me, and are 25th in terms of free throw makes, capitalizing on only 72 percent of their attempts. The Bulls are a good team, even without the superstar Rose on the court. But can Chicago make it to the Conference Finals without Rose? I don’t think so.
The 76ers, Magic, and Hawks are all within five games of the Heat and Bulls, but none of them excite me all that much. I think Philly is the best of the bunch and would welcome a first round playoff series between them and the Indiana Pacers, which is what we’d get if the playoffs began today.
The Pacers are an interesting team that is flying under most peoples’ radars, including mine. I had forgot that Indiana made the playoffs last season and was reminded of it only when they pulled off an impressive come-from-behind victory over the Lakers at Staples Center back in January. I see the Pacers as a younger, Eastern Conference version of the the Spurs. They won’t razzle-dazzle you, but they’ll find a way to beat your team down for the win. Like last year, I think this group will put up another tough fight in the playoffs with the difference being that I think they’ll pull off a first-round victory this time.
Now we come to the Celtics and the Knicks. The Celtics and Lakers, oddly enough, are in the same boat. Each squad’s Big 3 is no longer good enough on it’s own to propel their teams to victory. It’s sad watching both LA and Boston unable to do what came quite easily over the last few years knowing each team is probably just one player away from being a championship contender this year. For the Lakers, it’s a point guard, for the Celtics, it’s a dominant center. The Celtics are still fun to watch because you never know which team is going to show up each night so there is always an element of mystery when they take the court. As we’ve seen recently, the Celtics seem to take a nose dive after the half-way point in the season when age and health start to take a toll, but come playoff time, the older guys have adequate time to rest between games and get re-energized. As long as Boston makes it into the playoffs, they are in good shape. I’d be shocked if Danny Ainge doesn’t make a move of some sort by the trade deadline so who knows what the Celtics will look like in April.
Because of the NBA lockout, many teams have needed more time than usual to adjust, working out the kinks long into the start of the regular season. This might be the year where the NBA looks more like the NHL, where playoff seeding means virtually nothing as the lower seeds frequently beat the higher seeds in post season play.
The Knicks are a wildcard right now. Jeremy Lin has seemingly taken over the basketball world and we are all in a tizzy over how he has turned the Knicks around overnight. The story is sensational, in both meanings of the word, and hopefully New York can keep the train rolling. When the Knicks are good, it’s good for basketball. Period.
The Knicks are playing well at the moment, but who knows how the chemistry will change once Carmelo Anthony returns. As instrunmental as Lin has been to New York’s success, the addition of JR Smith might prove to be just as important as Smith is already in post season form after playing for several months in China. Plus, it would be helpful for Amare Stoudemire to turn into his old self by upping his shooting percentage.
But back to the “important” stuff… If Mike D’Antoni can figure out a way for Lin and Anthony to coexist, we won’t get a first-round Heat/Knicks match-up because there’s no chance New York will head into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed in the east. If Lin and Anthony can work together, the Knicks will not only make the playoffs for only the second time since 2004, but they could find themselves hosting a first-round series at Madison Square Garden. Wouldn’t that be something?
Ahhh, the life of a celebrity in L.A. Cindy Crawford and Alex Rodriguez were shown chatting courtside at the Lakers game against the Rockets at Staples Center on Tuesday night. Don’t bother starting any rumors as the supermodel’s husband, Rande Gerber was sitting next to his wife, also talking with A-Rod.
It looks like Crawford, Gerber and the Yankees third baseman genuinely enjoy each others’ company as the threesome was spotted vacationing alongside George Clooney and girlfriend Stacy Keibler on the beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico just a few days ago.
I wonder what they were talking about courtside? Probably not the game.
Kobe Bryant Passes To Himself Off The Backboard, Hits The Jumper … Lakers vs. Rockets