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.
Mar 28, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Cuban went off after the Mavericks were blown out by the Spurs.
Mar 28, 2015, 9:45 AM EDT
Warriors keep rolling, while the Grizzlies are starting to feel like a first round loss.
Mar 28, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
Highlight-reel play came near the end of a loss to the Nets.
Mar 27, 2015, 11:44 PM EDT
LeBron refused to be dismissive of a seemingly harmless regular season loss.
Mar 27, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
O’Neal made the remarks while being inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame.
Mar 27, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
The injuries continue to pile up for the Rockets.
Mar 27, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
The battle between Green and Doc Rivers continues in the funniest of ways.
Mar 27, 2015, 7:25 PM EDT
Blatt knows James is unlikely to get the league-wide award this season.
Mar 27, 2015, 6:12 PM EDT
The Thunder defense has become a mess, which is bad for the playoffs.
Mar 27, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT
What is in James Harden’s beard?
Mar 27, 2015, 4:32 PM EDT
He is likely a middle second round pick if he comes out.
Mar 27, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
It’s pretty spot on. And cold-blooded.
Mar 27, 2015, 3:09 PM EDT
He should be back next season, the final one of this contract with Oklahoma City.
Mar 27, 2015, 2:16 PM EDT
Drake and Lou Williams are tight.
Mar 27, 2015, 1:32 PM EDT
Cousey said not Shaq, not Ewing, nobody reminded him of Russell like Whiteside.
Mar 27, 2015, 12:42 PM EDT
You do not see this every day.
Mar 27, 2015, 11:55 AM EDT
As everyone braces for 2016 spike, another big bump could follow
Mar 27, 2015, 10:55 AM EDT
LeBron James and a lot of stature are gone, but with the more-modest goal of just making the playoffs, Miami’s new point guard embracing the challenge
Mar 27, 2015, 10:19 AM EDT
Pelicans star missed eight free throws in setback to Houston
Mar 27, 2015, 9:44 AM EDT
Hornets’ playoff chances looking dim
- Mark Cuban rips officials, NBA: ‘It’s criminal’ how Monta Ellis doesn’t get calls 0
- Shaquille O’Neal says he regrets leaving Magic for Lakers 25
- Cavaliers coach David Blatt: ‘LeBron James is our MVP’ 20
- No Durant, what does that mean for Thunder in these playoffs? Trouble. 15
- Kevin Durant to have third foot surgery; is done for season, playoffs 38
- Goran Dragic leading feisty Heat’s playoff push 28
- NBA Draft prospect matchups to watch in NCAA Tourament this weekend 2
- Report: LeBron James frustrated with Kevin Love for not fitting in 85