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.
Bucks president threatens arena financing must be completed in 10 days or team ‘will be gone from the state of Wisconsin,’ backs off
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Bucks can set deadlines, but they lack leverage
Apr 21, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Washington wins Game 2, 117-106, in Toronto
Apr 21, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
LeBron to Love, LeBron from Irving
Apr 21, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
LeBron had 30, Kyrie Irving added 26 to give Cleveland the 2-0 lead in the series.
Apr 21, 2015, 9:41 PM EDT
Devin Harris also out Game 2 for Mavericks
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Apr 21, 2015, 8:45 PM EDT
LeBron says he’s focused on helping the Cavaliers in the playoffs
Apr 21, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
Bulls forward strained knee in scuffle with Zaza Pachulia
Apr 21, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
Expect to see a lot more Kawhi Leonard (and Danny Green) on Paul from the start.
Apr 21, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
He said it was a running joke with a teammate.
Apr 21, 2015, 5:40 PM EDT
Lillard was 5-of-21 in Game 1.
Apr 21, 2015, 4:51 PM EDT
The twins were allegedly part of a group that beat up a man outside a rec league basketball tournament.
Apr 21, 2015, 4:14 PM EDT
Horford is going to have work to do on the defensive end slowing down Brook Lopez.
Apr 21, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Well done, Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Apr 21, 2015, 2:43 PM EDT
Teletovic was originally ruled out for the season on Jan. 23.
Apr 21, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT
Is nothing sacred?
Nets coach Lionel Hollins isn’t focused on stopping Kyle Korver: ‘It’s not like we’re talking Stephen Curry’
Apr 21, 2015, 1:10 PM EDT
Korver led the Hawks with 21 points in Atlanta’s Game 1 win over the Nets.
Apr 21, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
He’ll consider everything.
Apr 21, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Another report has Aldridge at no better than 50-50 to re-sign with the Blazers.
Apr 21, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT
Williams will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Apr 21, 2015, 10:26 AM EDT
Full voting results enclosed.
- LeBron’s 30-point performance leads Cavaliers to hard-fought Game 2 win over Celtics 6
- PBT Extra matchups to watch: Spurs look for ways to contain Chris Paul 5
- PBT Extra matchups to watch: Can Memphis keep Damian Lillard in check? 0
- Report: Suns’ Morris twins charged with aggravated assault 13
- Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer named 2014-15 NBA Coach of the Year 10
- With Anthony Davis and Pelicans drained, Warriors deliver down the stretch 12
- PBT Extra matchup to watch: Can Toronto keep Paul Pierce quiet on the court? 6
- Bulls overcome ugly start to take 2-0 series lead over Bucks 14