Dec 29, 2010, 4:36 PM EST
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 3, 2015, 5:50 PM EST
The list for him is much longer than just two teams. Much longer.
Mar 3, 2015, 5:08 PM EST
What kind of team are they trying to build.
Mar 3, 2015, 4:04 PM EST
The Kings retired his No. 21 jersey.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:55 PM EST
Irving has missed two straight games with a shoulder strain.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:10 PM EST
Shaw was an assistant coach in Indiana before landing the head coaching spot in Denver.
Mar 3, 2015, 1:25 PM EST
Good news for OKC.
Mar 3, 2015, 12:38 PM EST
Nuggets are 20-39 this season.
Mar 3, 2015, 12:30 PM EST
Barnes isn’t wrong that the punishment for him doing something like this would have been much more severe.
Mar 3, 2015, 11:50 AM EST
Clippers have a reputation with the referees, which likely was why Redick was tossed for seemingly innocuous comments.
Mar 3, 2015, 11:10 AM EST
Mar 3, 2015, 10:30 AM EST
KG played for Doc Rivers on the Celtics’ 2008 title team, but wasn’t willing to take any grief from his son.
Mar 3, 2015, 9:50 AM EST
Warriors had plenty of fans show up in Brooklyn.
Mar 3, 2015, 9:10 AM EST
Suns-Heat was all kinds of physical.
Mar 3, 2015, 8:30 AM EST
That had 10 times the punches of an NBA “fight.”
Mar 3, 2015, 8:00 AM EST
Ricky Rubio got the triple-double, CP3 will take the win.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:55 AM EST
Goran Dragic would have sat out with back pain against anyone else, but he dropped 21 on the Suns.
Mar 3, 2015, 1:14 AM EST
Zach LaVine can get up. But you already knew that.
Mar 3, 2015, 12:01 AM EST
The Warriors fell to 46-12.
Mar 2, 2015, 11:15 PM EST
Griffin has missed the Clippers’ last 10 games.
Mar 2, 2015, 10:30 PM EST
Whiteside grabbed Len by the legs.
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