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 25, 2014, 1:11 PM EDT
Bulls also must make room for Nikola Mirotic in frontcourt
Jul 25, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Dirk Nowitzki presents a big strike zone.
Jul 25, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT
Former Bull and Piston sat out last season
Jul 25, 2014, 11:11 AM EDT
New TV deal expected to drastically increase revenue
Jul 25, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT
Not a Cleveland Cavaliers beat reporter. A LeBron James beat reporter.
Jul 25, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT
Rookie big man has been mentioned in Kevin Love trade rumors
Jul 25, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT
Timberwolves reportedly come to their senses, prefer Andrew Wiggins to Klay Thompson
Jul 25, 2014, 8:46 AM EDT
Francisco Garcia opted out of a veteran minimum deal, he will re-sign for a veteran minimum deal.
Chris Paul on boycott if Sterling is still owner: “That’s something me and Doc are both talking about”
Jul 25, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
It benefits CP3, the president of the players’ union, to talk tough on this issue.
Jul 25, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Bonner is one of a few Spurs teammates taking the trophy on tour this summer.
Jul 24, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
Sixers continue their plan of seeking out delayed gratification.
Agency that reps Ray Allen says reports he intends to play for Cavaliers are ‘unfounded,’ no decision has been made
Jul 24, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Despite reports that Allen was on the verge of signing with Cleveland, nothing has been decided just yet.
Jul 24, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
Blake Griffin joins Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge as players who are passing on Team USA this summer.
Jul 24, 2014, 7:18 PM EDT
Team USA is bringing Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Derrick Rose and John Wall to camp. And that’s just at the point guard spot.
Jul 24, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
The NBPA is up to something here
It’s official: Jameer Nelson signs with Mavericks, says: “I’m just preparing myself to make open shots.”
Jul 24, 2014, 5:49 PM EDT
Another solid signing for a Mavs team that has had a good offseason.
Jul 24, 2014, 5:02 PM EDT
It’s the largest single-year contract in NBA history.
Jul 24, 2014, 4:19 PM EDT
It’s another 30 days Minnesota can try to leverage a better deal out of Chicago, Golden State and anyone else who wants Kevin Love.
Jul 24, 2014, 3:33 PM EDT
His new nickname could be PG-13.
- Report: Cavaliers leading Kevin Love-trade sweepstakes 29
- Chris Paul on boycott if Sterling is still owner: “That’s something me and Doc are both talking about” 19
- Players union approves of Thunder’s Josh Huestis arrangement 14
- Cavaliers officially sign Andrew Wiggins, putting 30-day hold on him being traded 52
- Lakers deny rumor they are waiting around for Doc Rivers to be coach 61
- James Harden: “Dwight and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players.” 91
- Mavericks signing Al-Farouq Aminu to two-year, minimum salary contract 12
- Report: Ballmer’s $2 billion Clippers offer nearly double what Bank of America valued team at 20