With most teams having about six remaining games, and with the playoffs only 10 days away, the NBA scene will quickly switch from the regular season to the postseason.
Some NBA fans would argue that the league is relatively weak this year and that there are only a handful of teams that have a legitimate shot at winning the NBA Championship.
It’s hard to compare records from last season with this year because of last season’s lockout, but the teams that will be in the postseason are comparable.
The Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks are the two East teams that were not in the playoffs last season, but are set to make the playoffs this year. There are also two West teams that are likely to make the 2012-13 playoffs that didn’t last year—the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors.
The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most intriguing teams still in the playoff hunt. As a fan, naturally I’m holding out hope for them. All favoritism aside, the Lakers—if they make the playoffs—are one of the teams with the most unanswered questions.
While the Lakers have been plagued by injury—partly because of an average age of 29.1, fourth-oldest in the NBA—they could be almost full strength for the playoffs. Steve Nash should recover from his hip/hamstring injuries before then; Kobe Bryant is recovering from a bone spur and sprained ankle; and Dwight Howard is 100 percent healthy according to head coach Mike D’Antoni, despite Howard saying he’s nowhere near 100 percent.
Imagine a Lakers-San Antonio Spurs or Lakers-Oklahoma City Thunder first round matchup in the playoffs. Everyone knows what Bryant is capable of in the playoffs and how hungry he is for his Michael Jordan-tying sixth championship ring. It’s possible this is Bryant’s second-to-last chance at tying Jordan.
Enough of the Lakers talk, though.
One of the biggest storylines this season, and especially of late, has been the Miami Heat’s season and their run at history, which ended at 27 games on March 27. Anyone could argue the defending NBA champions are stronger this year than last.
In a lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, the Heat won 46 games and had a .697 winning percentage. The Heat have already won 61 games this year, with a .792 winning percentage. Miami could potentially finish with 66 wins—the highest total any team has achieved since James’ 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers won 66 games.
While the Heat seem to be a distinct favorite in the East, it isn’t as clear-cut as everyone thinks. Miami has struggled against the Boston Celtics a few times this season, including recently on March 18, when the Heat earned a two-point victory over a Boston team missing an injured Kevin Garnett.
And what if Derrick Rose returns for the Chicago Bulls? The Bulls are the team that snapped Miami’s win streak, and they are still one of the strongest defensive teams in the NBA this season. They do average the fewest points in the league, but Rose averages 21 points per game in his career; his return will certainly help the offense. How much does the East landscape change if Rose decides to return this year?
The Indiana Pacers are a very strong two-seed and the New York Knicks got off to an incredible start this season, but suffered multiple injuries.
In the West, the Spurs and Thunder may be the favorites, but the Denver Nuggets have an incredibly strong team and have only lost three games at home this season. With home court advantage, the Nuggets could be just as dangerous as any other team. And then there’s the Los Angeles Clippers, who seem to be undervalued this season despite having five scorers that average at least 10 points per game.
The memo is this: Don’t sleep on the NBA playoffs this year. While there may be 4-5 favorites this postseason, that’s what analysts were saying about the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship—and, no, they weren’t predicting Wichita State as being one of those teams.
There are more like 10 teams that have a legitimate chance at winning the NBA title this season, so don’t sleep on that third-seeded team or sixth-seeded underdog. Watch these NBA playoffs as intently as you would any other year.