NBA Bracketology Part I
The playoffs are right around the corner and since no team has more than 15 games left to play, potential first round match-ups are jumping at my face from any NBA standings page I look at. With the anticipation building on a playoff run that could pit Shaq against Kobe in the first round, Cleveland against Boston for a rematch in the Eastern Conference Finals, Dwyane Wade against LeBron in the second round, Kobe against LeBron in the Finals to see who the NBA’s real MVP should be, or a Lakers/ Celtics Championship rematch, it’s almost anti-climactic to see that some of the best teams out there are waiting for guys on their injured lists to heal. But hey, I’m not telling you to call your bookie yet—I just want you to know how all of the jockeying for a spot in the playoffs could turn out.
This week’s focus: The Western Conference
The 1 v. 8
(1) Los Angeles Lakers v. (Currently 9) Phoenix Suns- Currently at the 8th spot in the west, the Dallas Mavericks are 3.5 games ahead of Phoenix. Phoenix is poised to take that spot in what could be one of the major stories of the end of the season. Currently on a 3-game win streak, they have a lighter remaining schedule than the Mavericks who still have to play Cleveland on the road, Miami, and New Orleans twice and face 8 teams with winning records including the Suns themselves on April 5 (2:30pm on ABC). With their closest competition in the Western Conference 8.5 games back, it is highly unlikely that anyone will be able to take the conference away from the Lakers.
The 2 v. 7
(Currently 3) Houston v. (7) Utah- Currently holding the 2nd spot in the west, the San Antonio Spurs are only a game and a half ahead of the Houston Rockets, a team putting an amazing season together even without Tracy McGrady. With Manu Ginobili out for another two weeks with a bad ankle, expect the Spurs to falter just enough for the Rockets to take their spot. In the beginning of the season, the Spurs were able to win with some of their major contributors out, but they are an older team and a season’s worth of fatigue is not on their shoulders. And they do not have much room for error as Denver is only 2 games behind in the standings.
The 3 v. 6
(Currently 4) Denver v. (Currently 5) New Orleans- This is a situation in which Denver could possibly benefit in the standings from Manu Ginobili’s ankle injury only to face Chris Paul and David West in the playoffs. I have New Orleans falling to the 6th spot from their current position (tied for 5th with Portland) because their schedule is nightmarishly tough. They still have games at Miami, Houston, and San Antonio after they get Ginobili back in the line-up.
The 4 v. 5
(Currently 2) San Antonio v. (Currently 6) Portland- Almost as if it were by default, Portland could likely end up at the 5th spot in the west. Their two most important games left in terms of their playoff standing are home games against Utah (March 31) and Denver (April 15 at 7:30pm on ESPN). With Denver only one game ahead of Portland, the Blazers could catch them with just that one game. But with both Lemarcus Aldridge and Rudy Fernandez listed as day-to-day, to the 5th spot might just be as far as they rise.
-Andrew Bynum is scheduled to return to the Lakers in mid April. There is almost no way to tell how he will perform, but he can only make the Lakers better. With Celtic point guard Rajon Rondo’s obvious improvement along with Garnett’s return and their other personnel upgrades, they are better than they were last year. Whoever wins the title this year will be better than last year’s championship team.
-With the standings as of today (March 20), two sub-.500 teams in the east would make the playoffs and one above-.500 team in the west would not. Should the NBA revise its playoff seeding method?
Games to Watch:
-Miami v. Detroit (Sunday, March 22 at 1pm on ABC)— At a half game below .500, we all hope that the Detroit Pistons are better than their record. With Detroit playing hard to keep a playoff spot and Miami trying to catch Atlanta to gain home court advantage in the first round, this game will have playoff-level intensity.
-Boston v. Orlando (Wednesday, March 25 at 8pm on ESPN)— This game will be a poor man’s Eastern Conference Finals. It is likely that these two teams will see each other in the second round of the playoffs. With Garnett hopefully back in the Celtic line-up by then, both teams will treat this like a statement game.