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.
Aug 5, 2015, 1:24 AM EDT
At least it’s Tupac, it could have been worse.
Aug 4, 2015, 11:59 PM EDT
Nike’s KD8 Suit goes on sale August 14.
Aug 4, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Aldridge has too many pairs to fill his closet as it is.
Aug 4, 2015, 9:56 PM EDT
Exum suffered the injury in an exhibition game in Slovenia.
Aug 4, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
Bradley Beal also headed to Las Vegas
Aug 4, 2015, 8:01 PM EDT
That would derail a lot of the Jazz’s positive momentum
Aug 4, 2015, 7:02 PM EDT
Aug 4, 2015, 6:02 PM EDT
Everything good now between the Kings franchise player and coach?
Aug 4, 2015, 5:13 PM EDT
This is the real deal
Aug 4, 2015, 4:18 PM EDT
Exum was playing for Australia against Slovenia
Aug 4, 2015, 3:33 PM EDT
Will former Iowa State star make Orlando’s team?
Aug 4, 2015, 2:44 PM EDT
If you don’t get it, ask someone younger
Aug 4, 2015, 1:45 PM EDT
Kobe doesn’t know how he’ll feel next summer. You can’t blame him for that.
Aug 4, 2015, 1:10 PM EDT
No. No they will not.
Aug 4, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
The Serbian national team is expected to protest it.
Aug 4, 2015, 11:57 AM EDT
He will battle Kyle O’Quinn to backup Robin Lopez.
Aug 4, 2015, 10:45 AM EDT
Lawson and Brewer put up impressive offensive numbers together in Denver.
Aug 4, 2015, 10:05 AM EDT
I’m no fashion critic, but they’re not bad.
Aug 4, 2015, 9:14 AM EDT
Somehow I bet he still cashes his paychecks rather than actually playing for free.
Aug 4, 2015, 8:34 AM EDT
Even if he could sign an extension, he wouldn’t.
- Report: Dante Exum diagnosed with torn ACL 7
- Kobe Bryant, can this Laker team make the playoffs? “Of course it can. Absolutely.” 23
- Report: Knicks reach deal with backup center Kevin Seraphin 7
- Raptors officially unveil new uniforms, yes there is a Drake-inspired one 24
- Ray Allen: “I won’t officially retire” 12
- Report: Adidas makes $200 million offer to James Harden 23
- Jahlil Okafor: “Rookie of the Year is one of the goals I set for myself” 16
- Report: Derrick Rose undecided about attending Team USA minicamp 9