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.
May 4, 2015, 8:11 PM EDT
Doc Rivers says Paul will not play.
May 4, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Curry thanked basically everyone. I mean everyone.
May 4, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT
Nobody thinks Gasol is leaving Memphis anyway.
May 4, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT
Curry is different from most MVP winners.
May 4, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
This is the battle we’ve been waiting for since training camp.
May 4, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Nor should he
May 4, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT
Look for LeBron to try and post Butler up to draw help.
May 4, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Neither of these guys is used to being matched up on a big as athletic as they are.
May 4, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT
Spurs coach echoes Doc Rivers. Can they get the rule changed?
May 4, 2015, 2:22 PM EDT
…after singing Paul’s praises
May 4, 2015, 1:44 PM EDT
What would that rule be?
May 4, 2015, 1:09 PM EDT
Finally! I’d been on the edge of my seat
May 4, 2015, 12:33 PM EDT
Pick and John Wall’s pass led to Otto Porter’s crunch-time layup
May 4, 2015, 11:58 AM EDT
Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com casts unintended vote for Russell Westbrook, places Anthony Davis higher than planned
Stephen Curry wins MVP with 100 of 130 first-place votes, but James Harden closest second place in four years
May 4, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT
LeBron James finishes third
May 4, 2015, 10:28 AM EDT
Warriors seemed to enjoy Game 1 win over Grizzlies
May 4, 2015, 9:53 AM EDT
San Antonio players went out in Los Angeles after losing to Clippers
One NBA MVP voter switched from James Harden to Stephen Curry after hearing Warriors’ phone campaign
May 4, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT
Curry will win the award. How much credit does he owe Golden State’s P.R. staff?
May 4, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
It all starts with the answer to this question: How healthy is Chris Paul?
May 4, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
The drop off from Chris Paul to Austin Rivers should scare Clippers fans.
- Chris Paul out for Game 1 of Clippers-Rockets series 0
- PBT Extra: Stephen Curry is the MVP for a modern NBA 11
- PBT Second-Round Playoff Previews: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls 4
- PBT Extra: Can Jimmy Butler have success slowing LeBron James? 3
- PBT Extra: Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan matchup key part of Clippers vs. Rockets 2
- Stephen Curry wins MVP with 100 of 130 first-place votes, but James Harden closest second place in four years 20
- PBT Second Round Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Houston Rockets 10
- Ginobili, Duncan, Popovich dance around questions about Spurs’ future 12