The Miami Heat and New York Knicks seem to have solidified their frontrunner statuses in the Eastern Conference. Opposite them, the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder have virtually locked up the Western Conference. LeBron James is expected to earn his fourth NBA MVP award, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony will duke it out for the league’s scoring title and Coach Greg Popovich and Tim Duncan’s Spurs will earn a playoff seed for the 15th time under Popovich’s tenure, owning the current streak for consecutive playoff appearances.
The aforementioned top seeded teams seem too good to be upset. Yet teams like the 2011 Dallas Mavericks proved even the “Big Three” could be upset.
With the no. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers are a team to fear. A 90-80 loss to the Knicks on Sunday gave the no. 2 seed to the Knicks. The Pacer’s committed 26 turnovers. Being heavily overlooked, the Pacers split their four-game series with the Knicks and are 2-1 against Miami.
Rebounding is the Pacers biggest strength. Star center Roy Hibbert leads the best rebounding team with 8.5 per game. Hibbert is fourth in blocks, averaging two per game. Hibbert epitomizes the essence of a scrappy rebounding and test-every-shot type of team. The Heat is 30th in rebounding, the Knicks 25th. Such an advantage must be exploited for Indiana to have success.
Team leading-scorer Paul George will be expected to shoot consistently. But for a team that struggled to score (22nd in points scored) George cannot be the only hot hand. With the second best defense in the league (90.5 points allowed per game) a weak offense will need to be supported by rebounding and defense.
Additional dark horses seem unlikely. Injuries to Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose basically wrote the Celtics and Bulls out. Milwaukee is too inexperienced and Atlanta’s leading-scorer Josh Smith was almost traded a month ago.
As for the Nets, like Jay-Z, I’m selling Brooklyn. Deron Williams is unproven in the playoffs. While in Utah, Williams turned the ball over more in the postseason than regular season. Posting a career-low 7.8 assists per game, a Nets run is unlikely.
In the West, look out for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol anchoring a Rudy Gay-less Memphis Grizzlies team. Randolph averages a double double this season, 15.3 points per game and 11.2 rebounds per game. Memphis lead the league with 89.4 points allowed per game.
Memphis’s road is tough. The Clippers are their first obstacle, and Chris Paul is arguably the second best player this season. Paul averages 9.6 assists a game. Gasol and Randolph must lockdown the paint and deny Paul from getting it to Blake Griffin or Andre Jordan.
This last longshot is no. 7 in the West. The Golden State Warriors may prove that youth is essential. Golden State will take on an injury-ridden San Antonio team. Tony Parker has a sore knee and Tim Duncan is aging.
Stephen Curry leads the team in scoring and assists, 22.8 points and 6.9 assists. Five players score 10 points a game. David Lee is boasting a double double, team-leading 11.2 rebounds and 18.5 points. Lee is crucial, as rebounding is one of Golden State’s strengths. The Warriors are the second best rebounding team. Despite a low seed, the Warriors could exceed expectations.
By Michael Scruff