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 14, 2014, 3:16 AM EDT
Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while applying for maybe the best journalism job out there…. Mike Dunleavy, Chicago Bulls. Don’t make Mike Dunleavy angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. Dunleavy had no points in the first half before Chandler Parsons caught Dunleavy just above the eye with an…
Mar 14, 2014, 12:55 AM EDT
The rest of this game went pretty much like this play. This steal and slam was the first two of Russell Westbrook‘s 11 first quarter points as the Thunder raced out to a 14 point first quarter lead. Then they really opened it up in the third quarter, making it a 24-point lead and it…
Mar 13, 2014, 10:36 PM EDT
The Rockets came into Thursday night’s contest in Chicago with the league’s best record since Jan. 1, a 23-7 mark that included a record of 15-3 over the team’s last 18 games. But it’s difficult to bring the necessary energy on a nightly basis, and especially against a fiery Bulls team playing at home, not…
Mar 13, 2014, 9:31 PM EDT
Midway through the second quarter of Thursday night’s contest between the Rockets and the Bulls, Mike Dunleavy set up to try and take a charge against Houston’s Chandler Parsons. It turned out to be not the greatest of ideas, as Parsons inadvertently caught Dunleavy with an elbow above the eye that caused a whole lot…
Mar 13, 2014, 8:23 PM EDT
Andrew Bynum looked strong in his Pacers debut on Tuesday, scoring eight points and grabbing 10 rebounds in just 15 minutes of action against an undersized Celtics front line. Even with three days off before his team’s next game, however, Bynum is going to be held out on Friday — a game that’ll be played…
Mar 13, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT
The Rockets are in Chicago to face the Bulls in a nationally televised contest on Thursday, and Houston head coach Kevin McHale paid the highest of compliments to the best active player on the opposing team, Joakim Noah. That part wasn’t unusual, as head coaches will often times dole out honest and well-deserved praise to…
Mar 13, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT
“I didn’t touch him. All he did was scream. The ref gave him calls all night because he was screaming.” That was from John Wall talking about Kemba Walker after the Bobcats beat the Wizards Wednesday night. The league is not fond of people questioning their officials’ integrity (regardless of cause) and on Thursday came down…
Mar 13, 2014, 4:09 PM EDT
Coaches are micromanagers almost by nature. They want control, they want to set things up. So in crunch time, when their team needs a bucket, they almost inevitably call a timeout to set up a play. Of course, that also lets the defense make substitutions and set themselves up as well, but coaches want that…
Mar 13, 2014, 2:46 PM EDT
LaMarcus Aldridge is out at least a couple games after a nasty fall, but it looked a lot worse.
Mar 13, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
Steve Nash is honest — yes, he wanted that last year and $9 million. Nash also says the obvious — every one of the people commenting on this site or calling talk shows saying he should not have played 10 games this season (too many to get a medial retirement), that Nash should have walked…
Mar 13, 2014, 1:31 PM EDT
Portland has lost four in a row and is 7-9 in their last 16 games. In a tight Western Conference, that is trouble — gone is home court advantage in the first round as the hot Clippers and Rockets shot past them. Portland is now the five seed with Golden State just 1.5 games back.…
Mar 13, 2014, 12:52 PM EDT
J.J. Redick has missed more than a month and counting with a bulging disc in his back. He’s a strong shooter and underrated defender – the type of role player the Clippers surely want for their playoff run. Or not? The Orange County Register (hat tip: Matt Moore of Eye on Basketball): The team will…
Mar 13, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
Underrated moment at the the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference: Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck and Kings owner Vivek Ranadive were on a panel together, and Ranadive basically accused Boston of tanking. “And what are you doing?” Grousbeck jabbed back. Tanking doesn’t exist (says Adam Silver), but if it did (it does), Grousbeck is having a…
Mar 13, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
With the Bobcats clinging to a three-point lead over the Wizards midway through the fourth quarter Wednesday, Kemba Walker rose for a corner 3-pointer. John Wall appeared to contest the shot cleanly, but the refs called a foul. Why? Wall, via J. Michael of CSN Washington: “I didn’t touch him. All he did was scream,”…
Mar 13, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
Evan Turner played his way out of the NBA cellar before the trade deadline. Apparently, the only question was which championship contender he’d join. The Pacers traded for Turner, but reportedly he could have been a Spur. Marc Stein of ESPN: It emerged shortly after trade deadline that San Antonio tried hard to make deadline-day…
Mar 13, 2014, 10:44 AM EDT
A month and a half ago, Magic Johnson pledged to stop complaining about the Lakers. He’s almost kind of sort of barely maybe trying to live up to that. Magic: I love Jim & Jeanie Buss, but we need Phil Jackson to be the face of our great organization, the Los Angeles Lakers.— Earvin Magic…
Mar 13, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
The Warriors and Clippers don’t like each other, but it seems the Warriors particularly dislike Blake Griffin. Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut went after Griffin in December, and they successfully got the Clippers star ejected. Bogut even made a point not to apologize. Add Jermaine O’Neal to the list of Warriors who’ve feuded with Griffin.…
Mar 13, 2014, 9:44 AM EDT
No word on when Aldridge will return.
Mar 13, 2014, 9:13 AM EDT
To quote Cartman: Respect my authoritah. Blake Griffin basically said that with this dunk. He has broadened his game this season, adding a far more consistent jump shot to go with handles and improved defense (which he showed off all night on the pick-and-roll against Stephen Curry), but the man can still dunk. With authoritah. As…
- Thursday NBA grades: Don’t make Mike Dunleavy angry 0
- Rockets don’t bring the energy, so Bulls bring the pain in securing a 24-point blowout victory 5
- Interesting stat: Teams score better in crunch time when they don’t call timeout 12
- Blake Griffin with as powerful a putback dunk as you’ll see (VIDEO) 12
- PBT Podcast: What is with the slumps of Miami, Indiana? Plus of course Phil Jackson talk. 5