With the playoffs mere days away, the NBA community is aflutter with excitement, sadness, and more angst toward one another than ever before. Easily the best part of the basketball season, playoff time is what the regular season is all about. Barring the All-Star game, every shot, every block, every fast break, every win streak, and every loss goes into what is now before us. Naturally, the talk has already started, and while it is getting me excite for what is to come, there are some common misconceptions and pieces of bad information floating around I feel the need to eliminate.
“Boston doesn’t even have a chance this year.”
If there is one thing every NBA fan should know by now, its to never underestimate the heart of a champion. If you don’t ask me, go ask the good folks in Dallas, or San Antonio, or Los Angeles. The same rules apply to the Boston Celtics. As a Celtics fan, I am quite familiar with the ideology of “nothing matters until the playoffs.” I happen to subscribe to that thinking 100%. Look at the Chicago Bulls last season. Heralded as the only team that could possibly manage to beat the Miami Heat, the Bulls didn’t survive past the first round by falling to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, who then scared the living heck out the Celtics, only to lose in 7 games. A top seeded team with a great season leaving in the first round? An iffy team with a mediocre season almost making it to the Eastern Conference Finals? Welcome to the playoffs. My point is simple: Even though Boston has had a pretty uninspiring regular season, this is a team built with the express purpose of making playoff noise. With grizzled veterans like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry running the floor combined with the energized youth of Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, and even newcomer turned cult hero Shavlik Randolph, the Celtics have at least a punchers chance at making a run. Aside from name dropping, there are real numbers to back up the Celtics with the second best defense guarding the three ball, a skill that will prove invaluable as the majority of contenders in the east have a habit of going trey-crazy. They also have the 7th highest defensive efficiency rating overall, no small feat considering their depleted and scrappy roster. Add in their knack for mysteriously inspired play during the postseason and the coaching wizard that is Doc Rivers, and this is a Celtics team that really could go all the way.
“Clippers are going to the WCF. Book it.”
We’ll start with the Clippers. I will never understand for sure where this idea of the Clippers being the Dream Team incarnate comes from. For whatever reason, it is grotesquely prevalent amongst the NBA community. Maybe all the Clippers fans hit their heads jumping from the Lakers bandwagon to this one. Maybe all the analysts sustained brain damage from watching all of those Blake Griffin dunks. I don’t know. Regardless, the Clippers are a great basketball team. 4th place in a stacked Western Conference is not too shabby. Chris Paul has enough clutch to keep them alive in combination with the scoring machine of Blake Griffin. Suggesting this team is a sweep waiting to happen is preposterous, and so is the notion that they can’t hang around with elite teams. While I’m not suggesting that the Clippers can’t make it to the WCF, I don’t think they will. Just take a look at the way they start things out. Round One is a series with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have proved themselves to be an elite team, and an all around scrappy group of individuals. Although time is running out in the season, Memphis may very well pass the Clips in the standings, giving themselves home court advantage in the series that is most likely to happen for the high flying ballclub. Say things don’t work out for Memphis, and the Clippers do go through, the next round is against the First place in the West, and dominantly second place overall San Antonio Spurs. While the Clippers and Spurs split their regular season meetings 2-2, let us not forget the Spurs sweeping of LA last season or how the most recent games against San Antonio were the ones the Clippers lost. Essentially, the Clippers are going to have to go through San Antonio os they are going to make it out of the West, or even the WCF. This San Antonio team is too much for the Clippers to handle in a 7 game series. The Spurs are just too good and too savvy to lose to a team like the Clippers.
“Alright, but you have to admit the Thunder are a lock for the WCF.”
Believe it or not, the youth based squad is a lesser team than it was last season once gaiving up James Harden. And while the pure talent of Russell Westbrook and of course Kevin Durant can make for a great run and plenty of close wins, that doesn’t guarantee them anything. While unlikely, if any major piece of the Thunder was to go down for any reason, they’d be in trouble. While sporting one of the league’s grittiest benches, I am of the opinion they have one of the most overrated. Aside from the copout reasoning of what-ifs, the Thunder face the same issue the Clippers do, one nasty playoff road. Assuming either: a. The Houston Rockets fall to 8th place or b. The Thunder fall to 2nd, a first round battle with the ever-tricky Houston Rockets and old friend James Harden could be enough to throw them off track. Houston has proved to be able to win games when they matter and adapt, and even thrive off of such an odd roster with so many seemingly non-coherent pieces. They are underrated and dangerous at every position, and have more clutch genes floating around in the locker room than Paul Pierce’s family reunion. Even if Houston doesn’t beat them in a 7 game series, they will wear the living heck out them. Despite competing with a run and gun team like Houston, OKC should be able to survive with their overwhelming amounts of youth. The next round will be an even bigger challenge. As mentioned early, the Grizzlies and Clippers are enough to give any playoff team a headache. The Thunder match up tragically bad with Memphis in the frontcourt, and could be taken off guard by one of the few teams that can keep up with them shooting-wise in the Clippers. Essentially, the Thunder could be in danger for the same reason the Clippers are. In the eastern conference, teams are weak and many will likely roll over. Out west, if you are in the playoffs and not the Lakers, you are a Championship contending team.
“Miami is coming out of the East. There’s no question.”
The Miami Heat currently have the best record in the NBA. They are home to two superstars and Chris Bosh, and after winning a the second banner in the franchise’s history, they are predicted to get number 3. In fact, the idea they are going to the finals is all but a foregone conclusion in the minds of most fans and broadcasting personalities. Just the same, I think we may be giving Miami a little too much credit. Let’s be clear, Miami has the best record in the NBA for a reason, but come playoff time, that record isn’t going to mean a darn thing. The only known weakness that Miami seems to have is in the rebounding department. In fact, they hold the title of the league’s worst rebounding team. While this is by design on the part of Head Coach Erik Spoelstra so his squad can back on defense, it only takes 4 games for a team to exploit that weakness. Take a team like the Knicks or the Pacers who can grab boards all night. While they may lack the star power found in the south beach locker room, big guys such as Tyson Chandler and Roy Hibbert can be a massive problem for the NBA title’s most likely winner. To put it simply, if a team can outrebound Miami, they can theoretically beat them. And if anyone can do that, it’s the two teams Miami is moist likely to deal with, the Knicks and Pacers. Add that in with a scrappy Celtics team somewhere along the line, plus Chris Bosh’s incredibly unlucky and sporadic attacks from injuries, and things might not be so easy after all.
“The Nets’ season has been a fluke. They’re a walking first round exit.”
If Michael Jordan came out of retirement tomorrow and joined the Brooklyn Nets, no one would take them seriously. If Phil Jackson had taken up the Brooklyn coaching job he was rumored to, no one would take them seriously. If David Stern descended from a cloud and handed the Larry O’Brien trophy to Deron Williams on a silver platter, no one would take them seriously. It boggles my mind that no one is talking about the nearly 50-win, top 4 seed Brooklyn Nets, especially after the ongoing omen of doom that was the first two months of their season. In a previous article, I pointed the finger at Deron Williams for having his coach fired and didn’t expect much from them at all, much less a post-season run. Yet here we are, a week before the playoffs, with a Nets team fully entertaining the thought of making plenty of noise past the regular season. They way things are going; it is likely Brooklyn will play the #5 seeded Atlanta Hawks in the first round. It is undeniable the 4th vs. the 5th seed battles are the closet and most unpredictable clashes in the postseason, and this is illustrated perfectly by the teams splitting their meetings this season 2-2. However, Brooklyn matches up surprisingly well against Atlanta. Deron Williams should be able to keep up with the normally speedy Jeff Teague, and Brooke Lopez/Kris Humphries will have a fairly easy time outrebounding Josh Smith and Al Horford. The clutch gene deep inside of Joe Johnson along with their clear-cut roles of each player, paired with the generally injury-free season should make for one heck of a scary team. Nets fans, just because ESPN isn’t ranting about your team, does not mean they are irrelevant. If things work out the way logic tells us they should, it could be a long season in Brooklyn.