The NBA Playoffs are finally here: Can anybody beat the Miami Heat in the East? Are the Thunder or the Spurs the best of the West? Can Celtics channel spirit of Boston to beat NY Knicks?
LAS ANGELES - Apparently the Basketball Gods don’t appreciate being mocked. After a month or so where it’s looked like nearly everything in the NBA Playoffs was almost settled, it took until the last game of the last night of the regular season before the NBA postseason picture came into final focus.
This feels like karmic punishment for this writer’s decision to belabor the point that not much was left to determine these last few weeks.
This was mainly true, as 15 of the 16 postseason participants had already basically been settled for something close to a month now, with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz fighting over the last spot.
Until Wednesday night, however, only four of those teams (Miami, Milwaukee, New York, Boston) knew for certain who and where they would be playing when the playoffs begun.
Miami Heat (1) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (8)
One of the few matchups set before Wednesday night’s games was that the Miami Heat were going to face the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. This, honestly, will be the easiest series to predict this entire postseason.
LeBron James is coming off the greatest season a player has had since Michael Jordan, and the Miami Heat uncorked a 27 game winning streak.
The Milwaukee Bucks are only in the playoffs because there had to be eight teams to come out of the Eastern Conference and the team in ninth place traded their best player for a crazy haired guy that missed the entire season with injuries.
The Bucks don’t exactly have no shot in this series. Monta Ellis could have the series of his life and establish a new playoff scoring record and Larry Sanders could block every single LeBron James layup. If those two things happen, maybe the Bucks could push this to six games. Maybe.
The Miami Heat aren’t going to look past the Bucks, but there’s a part of head coach Erik Spoelstra that has to be itching to have interviews like this:
New York Knicks (2) vs. Boston Celtics (7)
My original prediction had newly crowned scoring title champion Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks beating their Rajon Rondo-less Boston Celtics in six games.
Despite serious injury concerns - they will face Boston without Amar’e Stoudemire and the re-retired Rasheed Wallace - the Knicks have come together under Anthony’s leadership.
It’s been such a good year for New York that J.R. Smith is probably going to win Sixth Man of the Year and Mike Woodson will be considered a serious candidate for Coach of the Year.
Since these two facts would have been punchlines at the start of the season, it’s almost stunning how the Knicks have turned themselves into a serious threat in the East, they even survived this season’s inevitable injury explosion.
Indiana Pacers (3) vs. Atlanta Hawks (6)
Once it became obvious that the Miami Heat had wrapped up first place, so, roughly early December, the battle in the Eastern Conference became a fight for second place.
After the All-Star break it looked like the Indiana Pacers were the best bet at winning the second seed and the right to avoid the Heat for as long as possible.
Instead, the Pacers lost Danny Granger, right around the same time that the New York Knicks got healthy, and fell into the third seed.
Oddly enough, the Pacers might have fallen into a matchup which works out better for them, as the sixth-seeded Atlanta Hawks don’t seem to be as dangerous as the Boston Celtics.
San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (7)
This San Antonio Spurs team have one of the best players of all time in Tim Duncan and one of the best coaches of all time in Gregg Popovich.
Had Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili missed less time with injuries, the Spurs most likely would have clinched the top seed in the Western Conference.
There is really no reason why the Spurs couldn’t make it to the Western Conference Finals once again and no reason to think that any team, even the Los Angeles Lakers, would have a shot of upsetting them in the first round of the playoffs.