Dec 29, 2010, 4:36 PM EDT
No, this is not the NFL, where regular-season dominance translates into a playoff bye.
But this season, there just might be a similar reward forthcoming in the NBA.
With all due respect to the Bulls and Jazz and others teams perhaps outplaying their expectations to this point, each conference appears to have three prime championship contenders.
In the East, there are the Celtics, Heat and Magic.
In the West, the true championship contenders appear to be the Spurs, Mavericks and, yes, still, Lakers.
And that could make a No. 1 seed particularly meaningful this time around, because it would mean avoiding the dreaded inside passage, first a No. 2 vs. No. 3 conference semifinal and then a likely conference final against the No. 1 overall seed.
Does an aging Celtics roster need to engage the Magic before facing the Heat?
Or, turning it around, does a Heat team yet to experience playoff life together, first need the misery of pushing past Dwight Howard before getting to the Celtics?
For the fragile Lakers, might Mavericks followed by Spurs simply be too much for what appears to already be a fatigued roster?
Last season, the Celtics mocked the notion of regular-season barometers, advancing to the Finals as a No. 4 seed. But as we’ve since learned, the Cavaliers were headed for a huge fall and the Magic was on the verge of a significant makeover.
This season, though, there are enough gimmes on the schedule that staying close to the top shouldn’t be problematic, unless, like the Lakers, you wind up losing to the Pacers and Grizzlies and Bucks.
Currently, the Lakers hardly have the look of a team able to get past the Mavericks, let alone the Mavericks and the Spurs. They could use something a bit softer as an appetizer, be it the Jazz or Thunder or Nuggets.
As the calendar turns and the dog days of the NBA season approach, it would be easy to minimize the schedule. But in each conference, first place this season comes with a prize, namely fresher legs headed into the conference finals.
No, there is no first-round bye attached, like with the Falcons and Patriots, but there is an opportunity to buy some time until the latter stages of the playoff. And this season, that could mean plenty.
Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.
Sep 18, 2014, 12:15 AM EDT
No Robert Horry, no Igor Kokoskov
Sep 17, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Milwaukee will likely waive former Temple center before season
Sep 17, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT
Clippers rushed to upgrade from Hollins as backup center, the role Hollins will likely hold in Sacramento
Sep 17, 2014, 9:25 PM EDT
Sanchez played for St. John’s, Dominican Republic national team
Sep 17, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Miami also hires Chris Quinn promotes David Fizdale
Sep 17, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT
Asik and Davis could be one of the NBA’s best defensive front lines.
Sep 17, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
Brooklyn needs someone behind Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee
Sep 17, 2014, 5:55 PM EDT
This is a killer addition.
Sep 17, 2014, 4:59 PM EDT
Sep 17, 2014, 4:12 PM EDT
Five games is the standard marijuana suspension, and you have to test positive three separate times to earn it.
Sep 17, 2014, 3:26 PM EDT
Jennings only shot 52 percent around the rim last year, maybe the muscle helps. Maybe.
Sep 17, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
Chris Bosh is taller than Ellen DeGeneres, which leads to much humor. I guess.
Sep 17, 2014, 1:59 PM EDT
His veteran, playoff-tested presence will be big on this team.
Sep 17, 2014, 1:19 PM EDT
This is all we want to see out of the Timberwolves anyway.
Sep 17, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
No. Just… no.
Sep 17, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
Cousins has won over Team USA’s brain trust.
Sep 17, 2014, 11:44 AM EDT
There’s a lot of room for improvement, let’s just say.
Sep 17, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT
Kyrie is going to have to adjust to a different role on the Cavs, but if he does watch out.
Sep 17, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Rajon Rondo looms over everything – on and off the court
Sep 17, 2014, 9:31 AM EDT
This is long overdue.
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- Tim Duncan to appear in “The Punisher” comic book 6
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- Report: Greg Oden’s drinking an issue during season, alleged domestic assault 31
- Kevin Durant calls Allen Iverson “pound for pound” best ever 29