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.
Apr 17, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT
This both has been expected and is mutual, according to the buzz around the league.
Apr 17, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
Hill previously reported to be a candidate for a job
Apr 17, 2014, 10:44 AM EDT
Pistons forward: ‘I’ve censored myself’
Apr 17, 2014, 10:11 AM EDT
Get ready for an intense playoff series
Apr 17, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT
Irving talks as if he wants to stay in Cleveland
Apr 17, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
Clear out your calendar.
Apr 17, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Tight 1-2 race
Apr 17, 2014, 2:10 AM EDT
On the season Kevin Durant averaged 32 points, seven rebounds and five assists a game. Not too shabby.
Apr 17, 2014, 12:07 AM EDT
Apr 16, 2014, 11:31 PM EDT
Kevin Durant was simply unstoppable with the game on the line against the Pistons.
Apr 16, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
The West is loaded with great series: Thunder vs. Grizzlies, Clippers vs. Warriors, Rockets vs. Blazers.
Apr 16, 2014, 10:31 PM EDT
Vegas nailed the lines for season win totals for four NBA teams almost exactly.
Apr 16, 2014, 9:14 PM EDT
The matchups aren’t all set, but this gives us an idea of who plays when as the playoffs open this weekend.
Apr 16, 2014, 7:48 PM EDT
Knicks make it official and announce they’ve signed Lamar Odom for the remainder of the season.
Apr 16, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT
Durant and LeBron at the top of the MVP ballot is easy, it’s filling out spots 3-5 that is the challenge.
Apr 16, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Kohl is going to pitch in $100 million to get a new arena built in Milwaukee.
Apr 16, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
Teams will like his speed, but he’s destined for a second round pick.
Apr 16, 2014, 4:29 PM EDT
While the Lakers end their dreary season Kobe Bryant is already on vacation.
Apr 16, 2014, 3:46 PM EDT
Clippers forward: ‘It doesn’t really affect me, but so many guys would probably benefit’
Apr 16, 2014, 2:49 PM EDT
The Spurs have crushed the Grizzlies and Mavericks this season, so those teams are motivated to avoid a trip to the Riverwalk to start the postseason.
- Report: Rick Adelman will not return as Timberwolves coach 0
- Kyrie Irving would be ‘excited’ if Cavaliers offer max contract extension 7
- 2014 PBT Awards: Defensive Player of the Year 14
- Wednesday NBA grades: Kevin Durant ends season exactly like you think he would 12
- Finally the NBA playoff match ups are set 41