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 4, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
McRae was the 58th overall pick in the 2014 draft, and is a member of Philadelphia’s Summer League squad.
Jul 4, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
Nice addition by Orlando.
Jul 4, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
He would have to take a paycut, but Dallas needs help at the point.
Jul 4, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
The Spurs are going to just keep going on, being the San Antonio Spurs
Jul 4, 2015, 5:01 PM EDT
Jul 4, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Bargain for Toronto — as long as the Raptors aren’t expecting any offense.
Jul 4, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
The LaMarcus Aldridge Effect
Jul 4, 2015, 12:21 PM EDT
Biggest name left in free agency will make San Antonio a powerhouse.
Jul 4, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Cuban believes Jordan can average 20 points, 20 rebounds per game.
Jul 4, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Fits with West’s desire to play for a contender, but he’d have to take very little money to sign there.
Jul 4, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
The Clippers went small the final five minutes of Game 7 against the Spurs, and it worked.
Jul 4, 2015, 12:33 AM EDT
At this price, it’s a fair pickup for New Yor, giving hem another role player.
Jul 3, 2015, 11:03 PM EDT
Hopefully Scott Skiles will play Harris this time.
Jul 3, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Curry is just that good.
Jul 3, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
A big reason Jordan left L.A. to sign with the Mavericks.
Jul 3, 2015, 7:37 PM EDT
Beverley’s defense provides a perfect complement to James Harden.
Jul 3, 2015, 7:34 PM EDT
Rondo is not exactly going to space the floor for Cousins.
Jul 3, 2015, 7:10 PM EDT
They would make solid backups at a fair price.
Jul 3, 2015, 6:27 PM EDT
He is a good fit in the Rockets’ up-tempo system.
Jul 3, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
She’s a San Antonio assistant coach
- Spurs reset franchise for post Tim Duncan life in one impressive week 8
- Report: Lakers ‘actively discussing’ trade for Roy Hibbert with Pacers 34
- LaMarcus Aldridge has chosen to sign with Spurs 82
- Who should Clippers get to replace DeAndre Jordan? How about Blake Griffin. 42
- Report: Tobias Harris reaches four-year, $64 million extension to stay with Orlando 25
- Report: Rajon Rondo agrees to one-year, $9.5 million deal with Sacramento Kings 48
- Report: DeAndre Jordan agrees to four-year, $80 million deal to join Dallas Mavericks 57
- Report: Kings signing Marco Belinelli to three-year, $19 million contract 19