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.
Jul 29, 2014, 1:32 AM EDT
It wasn’t pretty getting there, but the union has a leader again.
Jul 29, 2014, 12:30 AM EDT
It’s been a good summer to be Kyrie Irving. Really good.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:44 PM EDT
Clippers big man reportedly suffered injury during playoffs
Jul 28, 2014, 10:51 PM EDT
That wasn’t so painful, was it?
Jul 28, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT
Pistons center denies Warriors forward at the rim with relatively late, but incredibly awesome, leap
Jul 28, 2014, 9:14 PM EDT
Tucker also re-signed with Suns for $16.5 million this offseason
Jul 28, 2014, 8:47 PM EDT
National Basketball Players Associate scheduled to vote on Billy Hunter’s replacement today
Jul 28, 2014, 7:59 PM EDT
San Antonio cites guard’s leg injury
Jul 28, 2014, 7:19 PM EDT
Mike Krzyzewski said Derrick Rose looked healthy at Tea USA training camp.
Jul 28, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
Donald Sterling’s right to appeal restricted, a pivotal and unexpected ruling
Jul 28, 2014, 5:39 PM EDT
Williams didn’t get quite the payday he was expecting as an unrestricted free agent.
Jul 28, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
The USA has superior athletes and should use that to their advantage.
Jul 28, 2014, 4:33 PM EDT
Derrick Rose seems to be moving and playing like the Derrick Rose of old.
Jul 28, 2014, 3:44 PM EDT
Thaddeus Young is not Kevin Love but he’d keep the Timberwolves from going into full rebuild mode.
Jul 28, 2014, 3:03 PM EDT
Wade may be looking forward to going up against LeBron, but I don’t think he’s going to like how the game ends.
Jul 28, 2014, 2:27 PM EDT
Ron Artest made a brief appearance on a rec league court in Los Angeles.
Jul 28, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
When the game’s best player makes a uniform change, manufacturers spring into immediate action.
Jul 28, 2014, 12:56 PM EDT
LeBron said when switching to 6 four years ago that no one should wear 23 out of respect to MJ.
Jul 28, 2014, 12:07 PM EDT
Insert your own “he only jumped over Lowry” jokes, we’re not going to do that.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:23 AM EDT
Rose is expected to make the roster, but will need to shake the rust off quickly to show he’s more deserving than the other elite guards in camp.
- Lakers make it official — finally — and hire Byron Scott as head coach 7
- Derrick Rose: “I’ve become a smarter player, but I’m mad it took me seven years to learn it.” 21
- Shelly Sterling beats Donald Sterling in court, clears sale of Clippers to Steve Ballmer 54
- Report: Timberwolves have talked to Sixers about Thaddeus Young as Kevin Love replacement 25
- All eyes on Derrick Rose as USA Basketball mini-camp begins 22
- Klay Thompson doesn’t anticipate being traded, says he expects to play with Warriors next season 8
- PBT Power Rankings: After summer shakeups, Spurs still team to beat 47
- Report: ‘No chance’ Kevin Love stays with Timberwolves 65