Apr 19, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
After weeks of trying to predict seedings and matchups while watching teams rest their perfectly healthy superstars, the playoffs are finally upon us.
In no particular order, here are the story lines we’ll be watching when the postseason tournament opens on Saturday.
How much damage can the Lakers do without Kobe Bryant?
L.A. opened the season as the favorites (on paper) to challenge the Heat in the Finals, thanks to the acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash during the offseason. An early season coaching change, followed by an insane rash of injuries derailed the Lakers’ chances all season long, and Kobe Bryant became the final casualty of the seemingly lost season once he went down with a torn Achilles injury just as the team was making a run at that final playoff spot in the West.
The Lakers managed to keep it together without Bryant long enough to beat the Spurs and the Rockets to seal a playoff berth, and enter the postseason winning eight of their last nine games. But how this team fares without Bryant while they try to combat the efficiency of the Spurs machine in a series will be extremely interesting to watch, though undoubtedly nerve-wracking for Lakers fans at the same time.
How far can the Clippers go, and what will that mean for Vinny Del Negro’s future?
Vinny Del Negro is legitimately on the hot seat in Los Angeles, for a variety of reasons. How far the Clippers do or do not advance in the postseason is likely to determine his fate, but just how far does L.A. have to get for him to be safe?
The Clippers have a tough but favorable first round matchup against the Grizzlies, who they beat in the first round of the playoffs a season ago in seven games. Last year, the Clippers were swept by the Spurs in the second round, so getting there again this year probably won’t be enough by itself to bring Del Negro back next season.
A trip to the Conference finals might be enough improvement to retain Del Negro’s services, but honestly, it’s going to be Chris Paul‘s decision as much as it will be anyone’s inside the organization. Paul is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and will have all the say in the world regarding whether or not Del Negro is brought back next season.
Will the Thunder return to the Finals without James Harden?
Thanks to Oklahoma City largely returning the same roster from a season ago that got them to the NBA Finals, the Thunder are once again poised to make a deep postseason run. But the elephant in the room is the fact that they traded James Harden away to Houston, and the reality is that if they don’t make it back to the Finals, this season will be a wild disappointment, and the front office will be scrutinized for choosing dollars over a legitimate championship chance.
Can the Knicks win a playoff series for the first time in 13 years?
It seems like a silly question, given the success New York has put together this year while being lead by the league’s leading scorer in Carmelo Anthony, and a likely Sixth Man of the Year candidate in J.R. Smith. But nothing is guaranteed for the Knicks despite holding the two seed in the East, and a first round matchup against the Celtics could be terrifying given the history between the teams this season, along with the intensity that veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will bring to a seven-game series.
How much noise can the Warriors make?
The Warriors are in the playoffs for just the second time in the last 19 years, and with one of the best fan bases in the league there to support them, it’s an exciting time in the Bay Area for a basketball resurgence to be taking place. Mark Jackson has been successful in installing a winning culture in just his second season as head coach, but he and the team have said all along that simply making the playoffs was not the ultimate goal this season. We don’t know what the team believes it’s capable of internally, but a first round matchup with an injury-depleted Nuggets team could prove favorable if Golden State can play flawless basketball during the road games of this series.
Will the Spurs finally live up to their potential?
San Antonio has always been one of the more well-coached regular season teams. Gregg Popovich has his system installed, and has the players on the roster to execute it to perfection, no matter the injuries that may take place over the course of the season.
But despite the regular season success, the Spurs haven’t been to the Finals since winning it all in 2007, and have lost to teams they were favored to beat in the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. We know the system allows for regular season success, but at some point the Spurs are going to run out of chances with their core of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili to get back to the Finals. Another early exit this season would be a major disappointment, and might signify the end of an era in San Antonio.
Will the Heat repeat as champions?
This is the question we all want answered. Miami ran roughshod over the rest of the league during the regular season, and just about everyone fully expects them to continue the trend throughout the playoffs. The Heat have the best player in the game in LeBron James, and All-Star complimentary pieces in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that are a wealth of riches when compared to the rosters of other teams Miami might face on the way to a title.
The Heat aren’t just the favorites to repeat as champions; they’ve become the expectation. The way they finished the regular season by winning 37 of their final 39 games is absolutely absurd, and they did so even while resting their best players at times along the way.
It’s gotten to the point where we’d all be surprised if Miami didn’t win the title again this season. But that won’t make the journey any less exciting to watch.
Report: Mavericks and Pacers will discuss Monta Ellis/Roy Hibbert sign-and-trade if Mavs don’t get DeAndre Jordan
Jul 2, 2015, 5:24 PM EDT
The Pacers have been shopping Hibbert for a while.
Jul 2, 2015, 4:38 PM EDT
Aldridge doesn’t want to play center.
Jul 2, 2015, 4:37 PM EDT
It would take an unlikely sign-and-trade to make it happen.
Jul 2, 2015, 4:26 PM EDT
They want to “get it right.”
Jul 2, 2015, 4:25 PM EDT
Also, who got overpaid so far?
Jul 2, 2015, 3:49 PM EDT
Phoenix is clearing cap space to land LaMarcus Aldridge.
Jul 2, 2015, 3:11 PM EDT
Thompson and Cleveland were reportedly nearing $80 million-plus deal yesterday
Jul 2, 2015, 2:49 PM EDT
More writing on the wall of LaMarcus Aldridge’s exit
Jul 2, 2015, 2:06 PM EDT
Now, can the Spurs get LaMarcus Aldridge to complement him?
Jul 2, 2015, 1:45 PM EDT
Baynes will reportedly get three-year deal with player option
Jul 2, 2015, 1:23 PM EDT
Indiana shouldn’t feel good about this, even if it was their best option at this point
Jul 2, 2015, 12:29 PM EDT
Monroe agreed to a three-year max contract with Bucks
Jul 2, 2015, 11:51 AM EDT
Atlanta drafted Tavares in 2014
Jul 2, 2015, 11:16 AM EDT
Good deal for Milwaukee and Monroe
Jul 2, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Former Pacers forward said he opted out to win a title
Jul 2, 2015, 10:22 AM EDT
The Kings are going to have to overpay to get players to come to the Kings right now.
Jul 2, 2015, 9:44 AM EDT
Free agents want more than off-the-court opportunities, they want to see a path to winning. Fast.
Jul 2, 2015, 9:06 AM EDT
Kim Hughes: ‘I’m sure he won’t come back’
Jul 2, 2015, 8:34 AM EDT
There are still some very good players on the board
Jul 2, 2015, 8:02 AM EDT
This is a good deal for both sides.
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- Report: Pacers agree to four-year, $44 million contract with Monta Ellis 23
- Report: Greg Monroe signing a maximum contract with Bucks 56
- Lakers, Knicks struggle on hectic first day of free agency 63
- Trail Blazers assistant coach: ‘We didn’t publicize it, but we lost LaMarcus Aldridge’ 9
- Who is left on the board after wild first day of NBA free agency? 30
- Report: Warriors, Draymond Green agree to five-year, $85 million deal 20
- 76ers get Nik Stauskas, first-rounder in salary-dump trade with Kings 61