By Mark Rubel
Go Big or Go Home. 16 teams, 1 trophy. That’s what the NBA playoffs are all about. From Cinderella stories to powerhouses, the NBA playoffs has it all.
This year’s favorites seem to be none other than the 2012 defending champions, Miami Heat. They’re riding on a 26-game winning streak, and it seems they are peaking at the right time with the playoffs starting in mid-April.
The biggest threat to the Heat seems to be the New York Knicks, as Carmelo Anthony is one of the biggest threats offensively in the game today. Not only can Carmelo shoot the mid-range jumper, he can be a threat in the post, and he’s one of the most clutch players in the game.
However, the Knicks will be missing their marquee big-man Amare Stoudemire as he keeps having recurring knee problems. The Brooklyn Nets can also challenge the Heat as their trio of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez can’t be underestimated. With P.J. Carlesimo as their new coach, they have revitalized their energy and can cause some drama in the playoffs.
Don’t forget the Boston Celtics, even though all-star point guard Rajon Rondo is out with an ACL injury. They’re coached by Doc Rivers and they have championship DNA in their veins. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry have the veteran leadership that will make their first round opponent cringe when they see this matchup.
Lastly, the Bulls are still in the postseason, but the question is if Derrick Rose will be making an appearance. On his status, Rose said, “Only God knows when I’ll return.” As each day passes, the chances of Rose coming back become slimmer and slimmer. It seems like the only team in the East that is fully healthy to compete for a championship is the Miami Heat. They’re integral big three of Bosh, LeBron and Wade have played hall-of-fame caliber basketball. The Indiana Pacers have been missing Danny Granger all year, and they seem too young and inexperienced especially as they try to integrate him back to the offense when he comes back. The Miami Heat are definitely the favorites to win the East if they
In the Western Conference it’s almost impossible to pick a sole favorite. The San Antonio Spurs have been playing the best team basketball, but the question is if they can overcome age and the athleticism of other teams.
The defending Western Conference champs are the Oklahoma City Thunder, but they are missing their 6th man in James Harden. The Denver Nuggets may not have a superstar, but they seem to be a threat with their athletic lineup of Kenneth Faried, Andre Iguodala, Javale McGee, and Ty Lawson.
The Memphis Grizzlies may have traded their best player in Rudy Gay, but as a result they are playing better team basketball by playing through their bigs Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
Lob City aka the Los Angeles Clippers may be the most entertaining team in the league, but they have been hot and cold throughout the season. If they can get home-court advantage and get a favorable matchup they may make it to the West finals.
The Lakers seem like a train-wreck, but never count out Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol. The Rockets seem to be a nightmare for the West as new acquisitions James Harden, Omer Asik, and Jeremy Lin have meshed well under Kevin McHale’s system.
In the end, the playoffs come down to home-court advantage and matchups. The Lakers might be able to beat the Spurs in the first round since they are both aging teams, but if they faced the Thunder they could be ousted in 4 or 5 games.
The Grizzlies are the dark horse in this year’s playoffs, as they can beat anybody with their roster. Tayshaun Prince is a defensive specialist who can even limit Kevin Durant. The Nuggets seem like a wildcard team as well, but if they can get home-court advantage they might be able to have a deep season.
The Spurs just need to stay healthy, and avoid the Thunder until the Western finals. If they can do that, the Spurs just seem to have too much depth for the Thunder. They’re extremely balanced and with James Harden out of the rotation in OKC the Western Conference title is in the Spurs’ hands. In the NBA finals, it would be the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, and deciding the winner is like flipping a coin, but I’ll go with the Spurs as they seemed too poised and determined to win it this year.