1.) Chicago Bulls (48-16, LW#1) The Bulls will likely face the young 76ers in the 1st round. Regardless of how they look against them, the future of the Bulls rests upon the ginger shoulders of Derrick Rose. Coach of the Year (candidate) Tom Thibodeau’s system and his scrappy teammates can likely get them past Philly. Beaten up throughout the year, will Rose be healthy enough to lead this team on a title run? Same question for weeks, but just as relevant.
2.) San Antonio Spurs (47-16, LW#2) Responded to an embarrassing home loss at the hands of the Lakers (last week) with two resounding victories over them. Ended all doubt of whether they would be the “underdog” in potential series with LAL. They’ve won another seven-straight, and have essentially locked up the 1-seed out West. Series with Utah (current match-up) would be a snoozefest for everyone outside of the River Walk and Salt Lake.
3.) Oklahoma City (46-18, LW#3) Worst part of Sunday’s loss to the Lakers is the fact that Sixth Man of the Year (candidate) James Harden’s status is unknown with the playoffs looming. In case you didn’t see it, he was on the receiving end of Artest’s “People’s Elbow”…Harden is day-to-day with a concussion, and OKC can hardly afford to lose their third scoring option and best play-maker. Also, lost during the game in which they once held an 18-point lead, any realistic shot they had at taking the 1st-seed back from San Antonio. Likely 1st-round opponent: Dallas.
4.) Miami Heat (46-18, LW#5) A soft patch in the schedule came at just the right time for Miami to get things together heading into the playoffs. Question is, will Dwyane Wade’s dislocated finger prevent them from being at full-strength against a team like the New York Knicks (current match-up)? LeBron James may have to indeed be the MVP in order to lift the Heat to a title if Wade’s finger issue lingers.
5.) Los Angeles Lakers (41-24, LW#4) Lost in the shuffle of Metta’s elbow and Bynum’s second benching, the Lakers roared back from an 18-point deficit and may have recently solved their bench-productivity concerns out of simple necessity. Vast improvements from Barnes, Blake, and even (recently) Jordan Hill have been the difference. Chemistry and Andrew Bynum’s level of seriousness will determine how far these Lakers advance. Bryant can be the closer in any series, and Gasol has been great (of late), but Bynum’s intensity/focus will be the ultimate determining factor. Trouble is, like King Joffrey on HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’, the young man may be drunken with power.
6.) Indiana Pacers (41-23, LW#8) The NBA’s ‘best-kept’ secret, the Pacers are the Eastern Conference’s version of the Memphis Grizzlies. They have length, size, speed to match up with most teams, and have enough weapons to truly scare teams like the Heat and Bulls. They’ve won 11 of the last 13, and looked primed fora deep run into the playoffs. Unless Orlando loses the rest of their remaining games, the Pacers are likely to face a Magic squad without Dwight Howard.
7.) Los Angeles Clippers (40-24, LW#6) The Clippers, while the butt of plenty of warranted jokes for decades, are still in contention for the Pacific Division. After losing Chauncey Billups (ruptured achilles) and suffering that dreadful mid-season swoon (5-9 over 3 weeks), the Clippers have been truly impressive over the last month of the season (14-3). Rumors had Coach Vinny Del Negro fired at season’s end, but his Clippers have played so well, they will probably be considered the favorite in the match-up with oft-mentioned Memphis.
8.) Memphis Grizzlies (39-25, LW#9) Even with the hot finish, the Grizzlies are likely to remain in the 5th-seed and eventually face the Clippersin the 1st-round. While Memphis scares most teams due to their length, size, and speed, they’d be far more formidable had they been able to leapfrog the Lakers or Clippers in order to secure home court advantage for at least a round. Either way, Memphis is going to be a tough team to beat.
9.) Boston Celtics (37-27, LW#7) Sputtering a bit, down the stretch, the Celtics are fighting to maintain the one-game lead they currently hold over the Hawks. The difference would mean home-court advantage for either team in their eventual 1st-round match-up. Boston holds the tie-breaker over Atlanta, so a win in either of their last two games (Miami/Milwaukee) would lock them in the 4th-seed.
10.) Denver Nuggets (36-28, N/A) Denver Nuggets fans are likely chanting “be careful what you wish for”, as so many other fan-bases have been openly calling for a more favorable pairing with Denver. Although under the radar for much of the season, the Nuggets are still one of the deeper teams in the league. Interior size will ultimately be their pitfall, but the Nuggets are always a danger to get collectively hot and steal a playoff series or two.
Jabari A. Davis
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