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.
John Wall kicked off plane in Las Vegas after someone in his group allegedly threatened another passenger
May 29, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
No charges were filed, but …
Bulls GM: Permission would have been granted for other teams to talk to Thibodeau, but ‘nobody called’
May 28, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Maybe because they knew Thibodeau would be available eventually.
May 28, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Tough to see him as a stronger candidate than at least two others. Unless …
May 28, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT
Thompson was throwing up after the game.
May 28, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Players supposedly said they’d avoid team facility this summer if Thibodeau remained the head coach.
May 28, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT
How this was handled raises questions.
May 28, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
Thibodeau was fired as Bulls head coach on Thursday.
May 28, 2015, 6:45 PM EDT
Wade wants a bigger contract when he opts out this summer.
May 28, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
The 2012 first-round pick has played in three NBA games.
May 28, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
Okay Bulls, now find someone better.
Bulls front office on Tom Thibodeau firing: “We probably wouldn’t be sitting here if we won a championship”
May 28, 2015, 4:28 PM EDT
The team believes not beating the Cavaliers was a missed opportunity.
May 28, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
As he should
May 28, 2015, 2:42 PM EDT
American president tweets about LeBron James and J.R. Smith
May 28, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT
Two words: Vivek Ranadivé
May 28, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
Clippers center reportedly interested in signing with Dallas
May 28, 2015, 12:55 PM EDT
Kevin Love might leave the Cavaliers in free agency. Cleveland fans, if history is any indication, wouldn’t treat him well if he does. What would Love’s peers think? Colin Cowherd asked Jared Dudley – whom you might remember from saying players avoid Kobe Bryant Bryant and calling Carmelo Anthony the NBA’s most overrated player –…
May 28, 2015, 12:17 PM EDT
Bulls owner Jerry Reinsforf: ‘There must be free and open interdepartmental discussion and consideration of everyone’s ideas and opinions. These internal discussions must not be considered an invasion of turf, and must remain private.’
May 28, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT
Chicago reportedly plans to resolve standoff by Friday
May 28, 2015, 10:41 AM EDT
Denver reportedly has not interviewed Mike D’Antoni
May 28, 2015, 10:01 AM EDT
That seems… connected
- PBT Extra: Did Chicago make the right move in firing Thibodeau? 22
- Bulls front office on Tom Thibodeau firing: “We probably wouldn’t be sitting here if we won a championship” 11
- Bulls fire Tom Thibodeau 61
- Dwight Howard: “I’m still a champion. And I won’t let anyone tell me anything different.” 71
- Rockets had an excellent season. Are they content with that? 23
- Harden struggles, Warriors role players step up leading team to Finals for first time in 40 years 42
- Dwight Howard hit with suspension-triggering technical foul 7
- PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ improved defense helps them to Finals 8