With 82 games played, the NBA now enters into its second marathon session, the playoffs. The obvious fact that 82 games aren’t needed to determine playoff teams, nor are 16 teams needed to weed out a champion notwithstanding, the NBA playoffs mark the beginning of some very good basketball. The world’s greatest players now step onto the main stage. Some of the opening matchups may produce some blowouts, but overall, this season’s playoffs are as intriguing as any in recent years.
In the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs earned the top seed, but go into the playoffs with an iffy Manu Ginobli who injured his elbow in the season’s final game in Phoenix. He’s listed as doubtful for their playoff opener against Memphis and no one is quite sure how his injury will impact his effectiveness throughout the post season. Still, the Spurs bring a jewelry store’s collection of rings to the table with Tony Parker, Richard Jefferson, and some guy named Tim Duncan. They should get by the Grizzlies even without Ginobli at 100 per cent. In the semis, I see them matching up against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. This matchup is a bit tougher for the Spurs, especially if Ginobli remains out, but I still see them advancing to the conference finals in a 7-game series.
On the other side, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are a two-seed, but are still the reigning champions. Losing Andrew Bynum late in the season will hurt, but how much? Not against the Hornets or Mavs, I’m guessing. Neither possesses the inside game to hurt the Lakers and Paol Gasol is still among the best post players in the game. The Lakers have enough long, athletic players in Lamar Odom and Ron Artest and depth down low to make their run.
In the Western Conference Finals, all hinges on how healthy Ginobli is. I’m guessing he won’t be 100 per cent and I see the Spurs getting challenged in the quarters and semis much more so than the Lakers. It’s the Lakers coming out of the Western Conference in 6 games over the Spurs.
In the East, it’s the young Chicago Bulls with the number one seed. Chicago has the Indiana Pacers, who enter the playoffs with a losing record, in the first round. While the Pacers have the nucleus for a strong future in Danny Granger, Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough, and Roy Hibbert, the Bulls have too much firepower. Derrick Rose is coming off an MVP-type season and Carlos Boozer is a player for whom the Pacers have no answer. If the young Pacers can take a game in this series, it will give them something to build on. The Bulls will then take on Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the semis. After a tough 7 game series with the Hawks, the Magic will go down in 6 against the Bulls.
The Miami Heat, wearing the target on their backs the entire season, enter the playoffs in the two slot. Everyone’s attention will be on them as this is the occasion for which Lebron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwayne Wade. King James has been to the Finals with the Cavs. Ostensibly, he came to South Beach to win a title. The experience of being the “hunted” during the season will pay off for the Heat in the playoffs. They will dispatch the 76’ers fairly easily and move on to the semis to take on the Boston Celtics…maybe. The Celtics have been perplexing this season. Certainly, with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo, they possess the talent to match up with Lebron and company. The question is whether they will have the legs and the depth. Will trading away Kendrick Perkins along with Shaq’s gimpy calf be too much for them to overcome. The Knicks will give them a run for their money, and if Rondo isn’t at the top of his game, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups certainly have the wherewithal to lead them to an upset. Whoever wins that series, however, will have a difficult time taking down the Heat and their stars in crunch time.
So the Heat and the Bulls will battle in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bulls may have the better team, but talent still wins the day in the NBA. In a classic 7-game series, the Heat defeat the Bulls and move on to face the Lakers.
The NBA will have their premiere matchup: Kobe v. Lebron. Here the Laker depth, particularly down low, will be too much for the Heat. Gasol will get the better of Bosh while Kobe and Lamar Odom duel to a draw with Lebron and Dwayne Wade. Phil Jackson will retire with yet another ring and ride off into the sunset awaiting his enshrinement in Springfield.