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.
Mar 12, 2014, 1:00 AM EDT
Nothing is final until the ink dries on the contract, but Jackson to the Knicks as team president seems done. It will end poorly but should be an interesting ride.
Mar 12, 2014, 12:32 AM EDT
To be fair Omer Asik was wide open, he just was on the bench at the time when Dwight Howard hit him with a pass.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:21 PM EDT
Kevin Durant led the Thunder to victory with his 42 points, but not before there were plenty of fireworks between the two teams.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:36 PM EDT
Kobe Bryant’s recovery has been slower than expected, and the Lakers are reportedly ready to officially shut him down for the season.
Patrick Beverley goes at Russell Westbrook just as he did on the play that caused injury in 2013 playoffs (VIDEO)
Mar 11, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
Patrick Beverley gives Russell Westbrook a not-so-subtle reminder of the play that caused Westbrook’s season-ending knee injury in the 2013 playoffs.
Mar 11, 2014, 8:13 PM EDT
George Karl says that Carmelo Anthony, whom he coached in Denver, isn’t a Phil Jackson type of player. Which means?
Mar 11, 2014, 7:10 PM EDT
You knew this was coming right after the incident Monday night — the Suns Tucker got a game for a forearm to Griffin’s head. As he should have.
Mar 11, 2014, 4:43 PM EDT
It’s been clear for a while that Kobe Bryant was done for the season. The Lakers would not say that publicly for the same reason the Bulls would not say Derrick Rose would not come back last playoffs when we all knew he wouldn’t. They don’t want to anger their star player, and if fans…
Mar 11, 2014, 3:44 PM EDT
If Andrea Bargnani is out the rest of the season, Knicks fans will be good with that.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
Why to the Boston Celtics need a St. Patrick’s Day uniform? Good question. But they have one now, with sleeves.
Mar 11, 2014, 1:56 PM EDT
The last time LeBron went back-to-back games without a trip to the free throw line he was a rookie.
Mar 11, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
To be fair to the ball boy, nobody expects Tyler Hansbrough to make a steal on the perimeter then race out on the fast break by himself.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
Don’t use cotton swabs, kids.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:47 AM EDT
With backup center Ian Mahinmi out for the night, the Andrew Bynum era in Indiana will begin Tuesday against Boston.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:25 AM EDT
Conflicts with yesterday’s prominent report
Mar 11, 2014, 11:11 AM EDT
All the way to playoffs?
Mar 11, 2014, 10:43 AM EDT
Also compares his phone to bell bottoms, which might be pretty ironic, but I’m not a fasion expert.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:03 AM EDT
Yannick Noah would rather do more of the Dikembe Mutombo finger wag
Mar 11, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
This seems like more than a coincidence.
- Report: Knicks, Phil Jackson have deal in principle for him to oversee basketball operations 0
- Kevin Durant scores 42, Thunder win a chippy one over Rockets 5
- Report: Lakers to officially declare Kobe Bryant out for the season 13
- Suns’ P.J. Tucker suspended one game for blow to head of Blake Griffin 9
- Vogel: Andrew Bynum to play for Indiana Pacers Tuesday night 14