This weekend, watch the NFL draft during commercials. Watch the NHL playoff highlights on Sportscenter. Because it’s NBA playoff time.
The NBA hasn’t been this full of talent in more than 20 years, when teams like Jordan’s Bulls, Magic’s Lakers and Isaiah’s Pistons lined up for the national anthem with the sole intent of battling, fighting and scrapping their way toward the title. In today’s game, we’ve lost a lot of that physical nature.
Luckily, we still have Metta World Peace.
It’s the unique range of talent that makes these playoffs the most interesting in years. Everyone from the young guys to the old vets, even the bench players on many teams, are capable of having a huge impact on the outcome of a squad’s success.
Kevin Durant, seemingly without gaining any weight since his Texas days, has been able to lead the Thunder to a No. 2 seed in the West, the team’s highest ever. OKC is also the youngest team in the playoffs this year, with an average player age of just over 25 years, yet is easily a championship-caliber team going into the postseason.
The Miami Monstars missed their chance to make history last year, yet with the same core of returning players, have the ability to get back to the championship. Derrick Rose is healthy, Danny Granger is leading a quietly threatening Pacer team, and the Hawks’ Joe Johnson and Josh Smith have formed a dangerous tandem in the East.
Plus, this will be the first year Shaquille “The Big Broadcaster” O’Neal will be giving insight after games, which is much more Shaqtastic than any playoffs or draft.
Get ready, basketball fans. It should be a good one.
Led by the Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, the Spurs have once again defied their old age, earning the number one seed in the West. With Parker averaging 7.7 assist per game and a healthy Ginobli coming off the bench, San Antonio has turned into the second highest scoring offense in the NBA, averaging 103.2 points per game. Coupled with a veteran supporting cast that many other contenders lack, the Spurs seem poised to make a title run. However, fatigue and front court issues still remain major question marks for this aging team. —Mark Salay
Oklahoma City has one of the best scoring duos in the league with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. If James Harden can come back to the playoffs without any consequences from his concussion from Metta World Peace, the Thunder have a chance to finally prove they are the top team in the West. OKC needs Westbrook and Durant to be efficient in their shot selections, but may struggle against teams with talented big men. The Thunder’s matchup against Dallas will rely on Serge Ibaka’s ability to slow down Dirk Nowitzki. —Paul-Michael Ochoa
The Lake Show features a prominent Big Three of their own in Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Everyone knows those three will show up; what will decide the Lakers fate will be the bench and point guard play. Without Metta World Peace, LA will rely on Matt Barnes to provide stiff perimeter defense and add some scoring off the bench. Ramon Sessions will have his hands full with Ty Lawson, but if he can consistently provide 14 points and six assists a night, the Lakers should have no trouble dispatching Denver.
Ever since Boston GM Danny Ainge sent an early Christmas present to the Thunder in the form of Kendrick Perkins, OKC has gone an impressive 13-3 in games that Perkins has played. Memphis was the biggest shock of last year’s playoffs, knocking off top seed San Antonio and taking Oklahoma City to seven games, and they did it without one of their leading scorers, Rudy Gay. This year they are much better defensively and, with Tony Allen leading the way, Memphis tops the league in steals and are number six in points allowed. With Zach Randolph back in the lineup and one of the best benches in the NBA, they are primed to make a deep playoff run. —Brett Debbold
Only time will tell if the Clipper’s decision to rest Chris Paul against the Knicks in their last regular season game rather than try for home court against the Grizzlies will pay off. Due to the Clipper’s meager 16-17 road record, home court would have been nice but a rested Chris Paul is much more valuable. Unlike in New Orleans, Paul finally has the players around him to make a deep playoff push. One of those players is the emerging superstar Blake Griffin, who is averaging 28.6 PPG and 11 RPG in his last three games. If Griffin and Paul play like they have all season, I believe the Clippers take the series in seven games.
No Melo, no problem. The Nuggets are the highest-scoring team in the league for the second straight year. However, they also have the second-worst defense, which is, uh, not good. Unless Timofey Mozgov averages a triple double in the first round (minutes played, touches, television appearances), Denver doesn’t have much chance to get past the L.A. Lakers. Except for the fact Metta “War and Peace” won’t be playing. There’s always a chance. Peace out.
The defending champions come into the playoffs with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd running the show for the team. With the No. 19 offense in the league, the Mavs will rely mostly on their consistent defense to make up for their scoring. Dallas has struggled all season long against good teams on the road, going 0-9 away from home against teams with a winning percentage over .600, a formula that will not bring back another Larry O’Brien Trophy to the Lone Star State.
Though many did not think the Utah Jazz would make the playoffs this year because of their youth and inexperience, the Jazz have proved a lot of people wrong and face the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night. Center Al Jefferson is the leading scorer with 19.4 points per game, 9.7 rebounds per game and shoots 49 percent from the field. Utah also has a strong bench that often outscores the starting five. —Katelyn Stefani
Daaaaaa Bulls. Chicago has experienced what it takes to become a championship- caliber team, and after losing to Miami in last year’s divisional finals, they know exactly how to make it back. With Derrick Rose back to full health, teams in the East won’t be able to match up if the series goes to six or seven games. Rose’s 21 ppg and eight apg will only increase during the playoffs, and now that his two big men Luol Deng (15 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Carlos Boozer (15 ppg, 8.5 rpg), have assumed bigger roles on the team, questions surrounding Chicago’s lack of scoring consistency will fade away like Jordan. —Brent Pella
Although everybody and their mothers are dogging the Miami Heat, there is no way to look around the fact that this team is hungry — let me re-phrase that — starving for a championship. Yes, they have had a mediocre month of April, but honestly, the trio of James, Wade and Bosh paired with veterans Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier creates a formidable defensive mismatch against any team in the entire league.Trust me,’Bron- ’Bron may be one of the most hated players in the sport, but he is also one of the most highly talented and competitive athletes on the planet. The Heat will emerge holding the O’Brien Trophy. —Joseph Tapiro
The Pacers will take on the Orlando Magic, sans Dwight Howard, in the first round, so some are already anticipating a potential second round match up with the Miami Heat. To win, Indiana will want to get to the free throw line often, as they are the third-best free throw shooting team in the league. Roy Hibbert is also in the top five in blocks, so he can make his presence felt inside. Most importantly, former Gaucho Brian Shaw is their assistant coach, so there’s no reason to pick against them.
Early on it seemed as if the shortened season would mean certain doom for the playoff hopes of the NBA’s senior citizens’ club. However, the Boston Celtics picked up steam as the season went on and are one of the hottest teams in the league heading in to the playoffs. The way they’re playing, the first round should go very smoothly for the Celtics. That is, unless they’re too full from the early-bird special to run up and down the court. —Joshua Greenberg
The Atlanta Hawks have lost in the second round of the playoffs in each of the last three years. The year before that, they got bounced in the first round by the eventual champs the Boston Celtics. This team is no better and no worse than they have been. This season, Atlanta compiled another solid, yet unspectacular, year. Led by Josh Smith, the Hawks were able to successfully mitigate the absence of all-star center Al Horford using depth and athleticism. Unfortunately for the Hawks, they face a red- hot Celtics team in the first round. Looks like another early exit for Atlanta. —Ryan Porush
The Orlando Magic are without superstar Dwight Howard for the rest of the season, due to a back injury that required surgery. This means Orlando will need some unbelievable play from the rest of the team to see success this postseason. The Magicwillrelyonbignightsfromrole playerslikeJ.J.Redick,whoscoredacareer- high 31 points Wednesday night. Quite a bit of luck will be needed as well as Hedo Türkoğlu looks to return from injury, along with Glen Davis.
Just in the “knick” of time, the New York Knicks have been catching fire as superstar Carmelo Anthony has re-ignited the offense while averaging 29.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in the month of April. Paired with the talented yet often injured Amar’e Stoudemire and defensive anchor Tyson Chandler, the Knicks have enough star power to hang with just about anybody in the East. Look for this team to make some noise in the first round.
Taking that eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the 76ers are looking to complete a big upset. Philly’s duo of guards Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday lead the scoring attack, with small forward Andre Iguodala as the facilitator on the floor.. While the 76ers do a decent job defensively and are ranked third in rebounding in the Eastern Conference, they will need to really crash the boards and step up their “D” against the Chicago Bulls, the best rebounding team in the league.