NBA Bracketology Part II
“The Playoffs: where Amazing happens.” Well, in this case its, “The regular season: where nothing happens.” Last week’s First Step highlighted some of the playoff matches that can come out of the Western Conference based on a particular team’s remaining schedule, injuries, and record with respect to how many games behind the number one Lakers they were. However, every Western Conference team in Playoff contention when Part I (March 20) was written was in the exact same spot they were in seven days later (March 27). Queue in LeBron James singing horribly. â™ª…Time after time…â™ª And scene. The seedings have changed ever so slightly out west, but the big surprise is that the Spurs have stayed in second place, battling though all of their injuries.
For those of you out there who love to speculate, don’t worry. No team has fewer than 7 games to play and only 3.5 games separate the second place San Antonio Spurs from the seventh place New Orleans Hornets. And the Suns are still in the race as well chasing Dallas, a team that sits firmly in the eighth spot. A lot can happen.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
The Eastern Conference is shaping up quite nicely. If the Playoffs were to begin right now, we would have a Atlanta Hawks v. Miami Heat series and LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers would have the opportunity to redeem themselves against the Detroit Pistons, both in the first round. It is a unique race out east and with a championship team like the Celtics in third place only playing Kevin Garnett 16 or so minutes per night to make sure he is healthy and ready to go for the Playoffs, it is clear that quite a few teams think they can win the title.
The mini-races are what pull me in. You can learn a lot about a team’s ability to succeed into June and July when teams begin to jockey with one another for Playoff positioning. With the Cleveland Cavaliers atop the conference five games ahead of the Orlando Magic, the team that gets the eighth spot will face a monster in the first round. Everyone wants to make it into the Playoffs, but no one wants to see LeBron in the first round.
One of the more interesting mini-races out east is the race for the seventh spot. The Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons are two teams trying to avoid being number 8. Both teams—with nearly identical records that have them seeded 24 games out of first place—would be out-matched by the Cavaliers and would likely fall in a series.
The Pistons are on an excused three-game losing streak with Rasheed Wallace and Richard Hamilton currently listed as day-to-day and Allen Iverson out for another few games. That’s a combined 48 points per game that the Pistons are missing—substantial. The Bulls, on the other hand, are on the three-game winning streak without Luol Deng. The Bulls will likely win this race and earn the coveted seventh seed. With Rip, Iverson, and Wallace returning though, the Pistons might even put up a fight in the first round. Its doubtful, though. They are talented but the Pistons have not played very well together as a unit.
Another mini-race worthy of note is the race for the fifth spot between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat. The victor here will likely be given the chance to play the Atlanta Hawks in the first round instead of the Magic or the Celtics. This is no slight on the Hawks, though. Games against them are usually 48-minute sprints—their opponent will be exhausted beyond the help of rest by game 3 of the first round. But they don’t have Kevin Garnett or Dwight Howard in their line-up.
Philadelphia currently has the edge on Miami and is on a three-game winning streak. However, Dwyane Wade is an NBA Finals MVP and is a serious contender for this season’s regular season honors. He can pull the Heat through this and make it look easy. His averages are 30 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists per game—he is in my fave-5.
Game to Watch
-Utah v. Portland (Wednesday, March 25 at 10 pm)— These are the 6th and 7th teams in the Western Conference and the are separated by a half of a game. Both teams need this win to ensure that they will not have to play the Lakers in the first round of the Playoffs. This is no to say that teams should be afraid of the Lakers, but the other teams in Playoff contention in the Western Conference are all on a similar level whereas the Lakers are the best team in the west, far and away.