NBA Playoff Preview: Top 16 teams prepare for unprecedented playoff season
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 30, 2012 19:04
After a two-month long lockout drama, devastating injuries and a condensed 66-game season, the seemingly impossible has happened. The NBA playoffs have finally begun.
The Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls and the reeling No.8 Philadelphia 76ers kicked off the playoff season with a bang last Saturday, but for the wrong reasons. Even with point guard Derrick Rose side-lined and a roster further decimated by injuries, the Bulls managed to finish the season with the best record in the NBA. They face a feisty 76ers team that, with a season-ending injury to center Spencer Hawes, slid to the point of almost missing the playoffs. Even though Chicago lost Rose to a torn ACL in Game 1, the Bulls should take this series easily.
The most drama-filled series of the first round rests in a pivotal matchup between the Knicks and the Heat. With the Big 3 of the Heat on one side and forwards Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony on the other, the key to the series will be the performance of the role players. If the Heat excel like in Game 1, though, the Knicks should not pose a problem.
The Indiana Pacers, the sweethearts of the Eastern Conference, locked up the third seed and will face an Orlando Magic squad without center Dwight Howard. The Pacers signed big man David West and traded for combo guard George Hill over the off-season, making Indiana a legitimate contender. They should have an easy time with the Magic, who will be missing their all-world center.
The final Eastern Conference game may turn out to be the closest matchup of the first round. The Boston Celtics started the season slowly, but coalesced late in the season after the return of the Big 3 from injury. Rajon Rondo and his crew aspire to make one last run toward the NBA championships. The Hawks, on the other hand, have made it to the second round the last three years and look to do so again this year, even without all-star forward Al Horford.
While the East promises a slew of exciting matchups, one can not simply write off the intensity of the Western Conference matchups this year. Locking up the top seed for the second year in a row, the San Antonio Spurs look to cruisen to the second round against the surprising Utah Jazz. However, if the Jazz can dominate inside, Utah has a chance to send the Spurs packing for the second consecutive year.
The second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, however, look to take their success one step further. After losing to the eventual NBA-champion Dallas Mavericks in the conference finals last year, Most Valuable Player candidate and forward Kevin Durant, Sixth Man of the Year guard James Harden and point guard Russell Westbrook look to make some noise in the playoffs. They are seeking revenge against a notably depleted Dallas squad, especially with the struggles of Dirk Nowitzki.
After barely holding onto the third seed, the Los Angeles Lakers will face the explosive Denver Nuggets. While guard Kobe Bryant has been the catalyst for the Lakers’ continued success, defying the odds with another fantastic season, Los Angeles will be without Metta World Peace for the first six games of the playoffs. The Denver Nuggets may be able to sneak away with the upset, especially if their bench holds up and their outside shots fall consistently.
Finally, the Los Angeles Clippers, in the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and for just the fourth time in franchise history, will face off against an imposing Memphis Grizzlies squad. The Clippers boast an intimidating duo in guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin. However, the Grizzlies are deep at every position, and if the fifth-seeded Clippers want to pull off the upset, they will need their role players, such as center DeAndre Jordan and guard Randy Foye to knock down their outside shots.
In November, no one could have seen this coming. The NBA playoffs are here to stay—let the games begin.