NBA Playoffs 2013: Contenders, Pretenders, and the Omega
Well, the NBA season is almost over. We’ve hit the point of the year when fan interest slowly wanes and player interest drops off a cliff. Guys are either resting themselves for the postseason or resting themselves for their nine o’ clock tee time the moment the season ends. This is the time of the year when fans anxiously watch their rookie/second year players to see if they will give them something to look forward to next year.
But for 16 lucky teams, the second and more important season will begin when the regular season ends on April 18th. Most of the playoff seeding is completed (barring a few factors), so let’s break down each playoff team and deliberate their chances of hoisting the Larry O’ Brien Trophy this year.
The (L)Eastern Conference
The East has long been the Western Conference’s annoying, less successful, younger brother. While the West is speeding past in intriguing and dynamic Ferraris, the East is piddling along in a Kia. The 9th and 10th best teams in the West would have a playoff spot locked up if they were in the East, so let’s start here. We’ll be starting from the bottom seed and working our way to the top.
8. Milwaukee Bucks
Congratulations, Milwaukee, for making the playoffs! I hope you enjoy your extra week of basketball before you get sent home in four games by the Heat.
While some of their additions at the trade deadline made them a better team, the Bucks are still light-years behind the top teams of the East, and have sadly found themselves on the mediocrity treadmill that is the 8th seed in the NBA: good enough to make the playoffs, not good enough to do anything in them.
They could steal a game off of the Heat, but that’s it. For Milwaukee, this is a time for change. The Brandon Jennings experiment is over. After an explosive rookie season, Jennings hasn’t shown anything that screams “franchise player” and should be cut loose now that Monta Ellis has come into his own in Milwaukee.
7. Boston Celtics
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. After looking like they could survive life without Rajon Rondo, the Celtics have promptly fallen off, losing 11 of their last 17 games and raising questions about if this team can even make it out of the first round. But I view the Celtics as an old guy in a kung-fu movie; yeah, they may not be as bad-ass as they once were, but they have years of experience behind them and can completely catch you off guard if you let them.
Remember: this Celtics team took the Heat to seven games last year. Yes, they’re without Rondo, but they’ve gotten great contributions from Jeff Green this season and will look to grind out some victories. While it may look like a straight sweep by the New York Knicks, I wouldn’t be surprised if this match-up goes a surprise seven games with the NYK needing a super game from Melo to finally beat back the Green Machine.
6. Chicago Bulls
A team that was crushed by bad luck at the end of last season, the Bulls have tried to soldier on with the hopes that Derrick Rose would join them in the playoffs for a triumphant return.
“Yeahhhh, D Rose!” Chicagoans cried. ”Oh, wait. What? He’s not coming back? Well that sucks. Thank goodness we didn’t make an entire ad campaign centered around his return!
Despite a lack of Rose, Chicago still has gutted out wins thanks to their defense and ridiculous amount of depth. The Bulls are not as nearly as deadly as they would be with Rose, but much like the Celtics, they will force you to play some ugly basketball and beat their defense. Recently, Chicago has become known as the streak busters after ending both the Heat’s and the Knicks’ winning streaks–27 and 13, respectively.
Will that continue in the postseason? Tough to say with their current first round match-up against the Indiana Pacers, which is great news for everyone that loves when basketball games end 75-72.
5. Atlanta Hawks
Probably the blandest team in the postseason by far, the Hawks have surprised many by performing this well after an off-season of trading away guard Joe Johnson in an attempt to shed their middle-of-the-pack image and mentality. Now they find themselves…smack in the middle of the conference. Huh.
The Hawks are the best example of the mediocrity treadmill; for years they have been second round exits, unable to attract a big name free agent or get a high draft pick. The Hawks find themselves stuck in a bog of meh, incapable of escape. Look for a first round flameout.
4. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets have not gotten a ton buzz since the start of the season and have slipped under the radar a bit. Though not the top of the heap, I still look for the Nets to come out and surprise someone during the playoffs. They may have a surprise Eastern Conference Finals run in them if everything goes right, especially now that Deron Williams has seemingly recovered his old form since the all-star break. Since then, he’s been averaging 23 points and 8 assists while shooting a blistering 48% from the floor and 42% from three-point range.
The Nets still have some threatening pieces, including surprise rebound monster Reggie Evans (11 RPG) and board deflector Brook Lopez (7 RPG but averaging 19 PPG). If Deron Williams continues his torrid play into the Postseason, the Nets could shock some people, and finally in a good way.
3. Indiana Pacers
Here’s where we start getting interesting in the East. The Pacers may not be the sexiest pick, but they’ve got the defense and presence inside to give teams fits. After losing Danny Granger for the year, many thought that the Pacers just didn’t have the offense to compete with the league’s East, but with the ascendance of Paul George (17.5 PPG) and Roy Hibbert continuing to be a monster, the Pacers are in an interesting position in the conference. They won’t win it, but the road to the ECF will definitely go through Indiana.
The Pacers have a bunch of good depth and solid pieces. Rounding out the frontcourt with Hibbert is David West, who continues to be one of the best offensive big men in the league and whose pick and pop game is still deadly from 17ft. Along with legit-crazy-person Lance Stephenson, the Pacers may not be able to outscore you, but they will make you work for every single possession and rebound.
2. New York Knicks
Welp, looks like Carmelo Anthony finally got pissed off after everyone kept calling him the 3rd best player out of the 2003 draft. Carmelo has been on a beastly tear since the all-star break and is really showing how elite a scorer he really is. Accompanying him are a cast of guys who should’ve been out of the league two years ago but have become surprisingly frisky when hooked up to the rejuvenation machine that is Melo. Shockingly, the Knicks also seemingly have the sixth man of the year in J.R Smith, he of the “No, No, No. Why are you taking that shot?!” School of Basketball.
The Knicks have rattled off some impressive victories lately and really do look like the only team to offensively threaten the Heat. This did not seem likely after they lost Amare to knee surgery, but they will look to outscore you with Melo and a barrage of three pointers. Realistically, the ECF should be a knock down drag out between the Knicks and the Heat, but I’m still not 100% sure of the mental makeup of this team when confronted with an elite defense for seven games. As earlier noted, they could be upset by the tenacious Celtics. If they handle the elite defenses of the Celtics and Pacers, the Knicks could be your ECF champions.
Well, at least in their dreams if they end up against…
1. Miami Heat
All Glory to the Omega Team.
I will be amazed if the Heat do not win this conference. Shocked, even.
LeBron James is playing at an other worldly level and he only has 2 of the 10 best players in the NBA backing him up in Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Oh, and they’ve also got an eventual hall-of-fame marksman coming off the bench in Ray Allen and one of the game’s best defensive minds in Shane Battier in the starting lineup. They can almost beat you in any way, and they are almost a flawless basketball team.
The title would (and probably has) already have their name on it, except for one small flaw: the Heat cannot stop interior scoring. They’re biggest flaw is that they are a small team. Even though it makes their offense roar like a tiger, the Heat have been beaten when opposing teams pack the paint with imposing big men. Although calling that a flaw is like saying that a tiger has hangnail–it’ll still kill you without even noticing it. I wouldn’t be awed if the Heat get taken to seven games a couple times during the ECF playoffs, but make no mistake: The Heat are winning the East. And, unless it’s the Spurs coming from the West, they will win their second straight title.
As a Cavs’ fan, excuse me while I light myself on fire.
Editors Note: Ben will write about the Western Conference as soon as he’s healed up.