Apr 19, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
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.
Dec 6, 2013, 2:38 AM EST
Our nightly grades from around the NBA, or what you missed while singing Doe, a deer, a female deer… Ray, a drop of golden sun… Mike Woodson, coach New York Knicks. For a night, the Knicks looked pretty good and so Woodson can sleep without the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head. The core…
Dec 6, 2013, 2:11 AM EST
This is the Chicago Bulls that are hard to beat, Derrick Rose or no Derrick Rose. Since Rose went down with a torn meniscus the Bulls have struggled at both ends of the floor — they had been giving up 13 more points per 100 possessions defensively than they had with Rose. That was just…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:21 PM EST
NEW YORK – In a game that was supposed to be a lively and competitive rivalry contest between two teams who share a city and began the year sharing aspirations of contending for a title, the end result was to fans what the entire season has been for both the Knicks and the Nets —…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:38 PM EST
NEW YORK – The Knicks ended their nine-game losing streak with a blowout win over the Nets in Brooklyn, and early in the fourth with the game already decided Kevin Garnett and Andrea Bargnani got into a brief scuffle that resulted in both players being assessed technical fouls. Garnett is normally the one to blame…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:53 PM EST
Otto Porter could make his Washington Wizards debut this weekend. He has been out since before training camp with a hip flexor injury, but the No. 3 pick overall could get some NBA action soon. And teammate Marcin Gortat is worried about him. Jokingly. But Porter’s slight frame (6’9, 198 pounds) became a joke, as…
Dec 5, 2013, 8:51 PM EST
Dwyane Wade missed the Heat shootaround on Thursday, he was back at the hotel with what the team called “flu like symptoms.” That will now keep him out of the Heat’s game Thursday night against the Bulls, reports Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel. Wade has missed several games this season to rest his knees,…
Dec 5, 2013, 7:24 PM EST
Michael Carter-Williams is becoming must-see NBA TV — 17.7 points a game plus 7.3 assists a game playing at the fastest pace in the league. And don’t forget the 3.1 steals a game. But this weekend the early leader in the Rookie of the Year race will be sitting out with a sore knee. He…
Dec 5, 2013, 5:52 PM EST
Nelson Mandela, the iconic former president of South Africa who helped lead his nation out of the apartheid era to one of more equality, has passed away at the age of 95. The loss is humanity’s, but the world is better off for his full and purposeful life. NBA Commissioner Stern issued this statement on…
Dec 5, 2013, 5:19 PM EST
We know Kobe Bryant will not play Friday against Sacramento — he said as much and he’s not even traveling with the team to beautiful central California. So what about Sunday in Staples Center against the Raptors? Maybe. That’s as good as it’s going to get right now. Kobe spoke with reporters after his third…
Dec 5, 2013, 4:37 PM EST
The Boston Celtics may be on top of the Atlantic Division — at 8-12, but still on top of it — that doesn’t mean Rajon Rondo is rushing back to the court following ACL surgery. In his weekly radio interview with Toucher and Rich on 98.5 The Sports Hub Ainge talked about weeks not days,…
Dec 5, 2013, 4:12 PM EST
The Clippers lost to the Hawks because of their defense on Wednesday night — the Hawks shot 51 percent as a team overall, hit 12-of-23 from three, were able to get more than a third of their shots inside 8 feet and shot 64.3 percent on them. The Clippers starting five had a horrible defensive…
Dec 5, 2013, 3:15 PM EST
An NBA fan was handed this at an NBA game Wednesday (and his friend posted the photo on Reddit, where I saw it). It’s a “red card” warning for what is deemed abusive language or behavior to someone — a player, a coach, the referees or another fan. The warning is clear: keep it up…
Dec 5, 2013, 2:15 PM EST
The Houston Rockets’ offense has been one of the best in the NBA this season. James Harden on the outside, Dwight Howard inside and a good combination of role players has worked well. But not Wednesday night. Against the Suns the Rockets shot 35.2 percent as a team and 29 percent from three. It was…
Dec 5, 2013, 1:33 PM EST
The Knicks and Nets as engaged in a thrilling competition: Which team is the biggest laughingstocks in the NBA? Both can lay claim. They have oversized payrolls, cartoonish owners, coaches on the hot seat and underwhelming stars. The Knicks have seen Metta World Peace and Kenyon Martin feud, and the Nets have matched with Jason…
Dec 5, 2013, 1:22 PM EST
“I’m not done.” That quote sums up what Derrick Rose said in about 25 different ways during his first press conference since tearing his meniscus, an injury that required surgery and is expected to sideline him for the season. The press conference was streamed on CSNChicago.com. Rose was asked what he would say to those…
Dec 5, 2013, 12:43 PM EST
Anybody who tells you they know what Carmelo Anthony is going to do this summer is selling you something. And it’s something that doesn’t smell good. But we are going to be inundated with this stuff between now and July 1, when Anthony likely will become a free agent. The latest was ESPN personality Stephen…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:40 AM EST
Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert posted this before the Pacers game Wednesday night. I’d say he should get that looked at, but my guess is the Pacers’ trainer Josh Corbeil is not blind. If this were anything serious Hibbert wouldn’t be out there. And Hibbert said it didn’t hurt — he shot 6-of-9 from the…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:09 AM EST
Kevin Durant did it in a movie nobody really saw (Thunderstruck). Michael Jordan did it with cartoon characters (Space Jam). Shaquille O’Neal did it… poorly (Kazam). Now LeBron James is about to be the latest NBA superstar to head to the big screen and star in a movie. Well, we don’t know how big his…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:36 AM EST
With the Nets off to a 5-13 start in the East, there is a lot of finger pointing going on. Losing does that. That includes fingers at first-year coach Jason Kidd, who recently demoted lead assistant Lawrence Frank to be basically the highest paid video coordinator in the NBA. The Nets offense has been isolation…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:28 AM EST
Nike held an event at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles to unveil its latest signature shoe for Kobe Bryant, the Kobe 9 Elite. And it’s a huge change from what we’ve seen out of Bryant’s line over the past several seasons. From the official release: “Designed with Kobe’s tech insights and…
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