NBA Playoffs Preview


A trio of longtime heavyweights will be watching this year’s NBA playoffs from the couch—the L.A. Lakers, Boston Celtics and New York Knicks.

This is the first time in the history of the NBA that these three teams have missed the playoffs in the same season. In their place are a handful of teams that haven’t made the playoffs in a while.

The Charlotte Bobcats last made the playoffs in 2010. Now, just two years after winning only seven games in the 2011-2012 season, they’re back in the postseason, playing the Miami Heat as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.

The third-seeded Toronto Raptors haven’t played a playoff game since 2008, and they haven’t advanced past the first round since 2001. They play the sixth-seeded Washington Wizards, who also made their last playoff appearance in 2008.

But don’t get caught up in the aura of unbridled enthusiasm surrounding these new teams and their “just happy to be here” attitude. The Raptors and Wizards are too young and inexperienced to be considered true contenders, and the Bobcats lost all four of their regular season matchups against the Heat.

In the East, the Heat and the top-seeded Indiana Pacers are the clear cream of the crop. There’s little doubt that one of these two teams will emerge as Eastern Conference champions. That’s a given. Which team will make it, however, is up for debate.

The Heat boast the Big Three—LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade—although lately it’s become more of a Big One, with LeBron leading the show and Bosh and Wade providing supporting roles. They’ve also won the championship in each of the last two seasons.

The Pacers boast the league’s toughest team, led by Paul George, triple-double machine Lance Stephenson, and the anti-LeBron, Roy Hibbert.

The seven-foot Hibbert’s post presence provides a well-documented deterrent to James’ driving ability—but, in four games against Indiana this season, James still averaged 28.8 points on 52 percent shooting.

If James can keep finding ways over, under and around Hibbert to score, the Heat should hold off the Pacers and their home court advantage to advance to the finals.

In the Western Conference, the seemingly ageless San Antonio Spurs are the top seed. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili weigh in, on average, at 35-years old. The Spurs have won enough games this season (62) to start receiving Social Security benefits.

Everyone thought 2013’s finals appearance was San Antonio’s last hurrah—but, thanks to Coach of the Year candidate Gregg Popovich, they’re once again in prime position to win a championship. The Spurs’ retirement tour is approaching Cher-like length. Expect it to continue into at least June.

Chasing the Spurs are some younger, less established teams that are certainly capable of surpassing San Antonio.

Second-seeded Oklahoma City has, for a few years now, been as talented as any team in the NBA. Kevin Durant is seeking his first championship, which would lock down his legacy as one of the best players of our generation.

Led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the third-seeded Los Angeles Clippers have taken over the city of angels, leaving the Lakers in the dust. Their high-flying offense is bolstered by a deep bench, headlined by Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford, who can light it up on any given night. It’s time to consider the Clippers legitimate contenders.

Well-balanced teams like the Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors are also capable of making a run to the finals, and Dirk Nowitzki makes the Dallas Mavericks a serious threat.

Whichever talented team emerges from the West will likely have to face the Miami Heat in the finals, and the Heat are in a class all by themselves.

Follow the rule of thirds. Behind LeBron and the rest of the Big Three, the Miami Heat will win their third-straight championship.

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