It will come down to the final night of the regular season and when the final buzzer has sounded the outcome of the playoff matchups shall finally be set in stone and the speculation and guess work will be over, in terms of seeding only. Without speculation many writers and analysts would be out of the job. Not much has been determined yet. However, after last night’s round of games two playoff matchups have been decided as well as a few other seeding possibilities being narrowed down.
In the ever wild West the Dallas Mavericks have secured at least the third seed. If they should beat San Antonio in their final game tomorrow night they would be the number two seed in the West and would face San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs. Tonight if Denver wins at Phoenix or Utah loses at Golden State the Mavericks will be the second seed. If the Mavericks enter the post season as the third seed their opponent would be the Portland (Murphy’s Law) Trailblazers. The only two seeds that the Spurs and Blazers can hold are the sixth and seventh. Portland holds the tie breaker over San Antonio having swept them in the three games in which they met this season. (Thanks to dallasbasket.com for this simple break down.) Therefore if Portland wins its final game and the Spurs lose, the Blazers will be sixth and the Spurs the seventh. If the fates of the teams are reversed in their final games so would be their seeding.
The Cambyman fueled the Blazers to victory with 30 point and 13 rebounds, in Brandon Roy’s absence due to a knee injury sustained against the Lakers, last night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. This victory gave the battered Blazers the tie breaker over the Thunder and keeping them out of the final playoff spot in the West. This means that the Thunder will be given the task of playing the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Some have begun speculating that the Lakers deliberately lost to Portland on Sunday so that they would face the young and inexperienced Thunder in the first round. The Zen Master may have miscalculated however. The Blazers, with all their injuries and especially the one just suffered by Roy, would seem to be the “safer” bet as a first round opponent. Oklahoma on the other hand is a complete wild card. They are not playoff experienced and are young. Ron Artest will undoubtedly be tasked with guarding NBA scoring leader, Kevin Durant. Kobe Bryant will probably guard Durant some too as is his preference to guard the other team’s best player in the playoffs but Artest will get the bulk of the duties. To say that the Thunder have no defense for Kobe Bryant would be a foolish and uneducated statement. Thabo Sefolosha is a Kobe killer, always has been. Kobe will have a hand in his face contesting every shot. The Lakers also have no answer for Russell Westbrook. If Derek Fisher is expected to keep the speedy Westbrook in front of him it will be a long series for Fisher. Having Farmar on the court for any extended amount of time to guard Westbrook is just not an option in the playoffs.
This series poses to be a fascinating dichotomy. On one side you have the Lakers, a highly regarded team (by the general media yet not so much here on this site) with a bevy of playoff experience among them. Los Angeles entered the season as heavy favorites to repeat as representatives of the Western Conference in the NBA Finals with much emphasis placed on the notion that they should repeat as champions. They have a former MVP who has won before and a Hall of Fame coach that has ten championships under his belt in twelve trips to the finals. On the other hand you have the upstart Thunder whose average age 25.1 years. Their roster is composed of few players who have even been to the playoffs. Essentially they are a raw and hungry group that have no expectations weighing down their shoulders. It is likely that their fan base will grow exponentially during the first round as the underdog is frequently favored by fans. The outcome should lend itself to a Lakers’ victory, especially if Andrew Bynum does in fact return for the playoffs at a comparable performance level. Oklahoma City should have the ability to make it a six game series as the playoff atmosphere inside the Ford Center will be reminiscent of a Sooner’s football game, which is the closest possible comparison that people in that part of the country can relate to. The Lakers are expected to win but in the West anything is possible.
Although seeding has yet to be fully determined in the East at least one matchup has been set. The Charlotte Bobcats will face the Orlando Magic. The matchup of the Bobcats and Magic has the potential to be the lowest scoring series in the modern playoff era as these teams rank number one and two in team defense and defensive efficiency with Charlotte being first in team defense and Orlando being first in efficiency. Orlando has been the league’s best team since the All Star break and looks to continue this trend into the Playoffs. Maybe the Bobcats have been planning this matchup all season because they five players listed as centers on their roster and that does not even include Tyrus Thomas who is listed as a power forward. Larry Brown will of course have to shrink his roster down for the playoffs but it can be taken for granted that he will have plenty of bodies to throw at Dwight Howard throughout the series. Charlotte’s best matchup would have actually been against the Cavaliers, having won three of the four meetings between them this season, but the ‘Cats are better than the teams jockeying for the eighth seed and therefore seeded seventh.
Yet, this is not as favorable a matchup as it would seem for the Magic. They do not match up well against the likes of Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace. Vince Carter is not a noted defender and will have his hands full with Jackson. It is possible that Matt Barnes, Jackson’s former teammate in Golden State, will be called upon by Stan Van Gundy to guard him but then this likely gives either Carter or Rashard Lewis defensive duties against Wallace. Mickael Pietrus factors to play a large role in the series with his efficiency and the defensive end of the court and his ability to stretch the floor on the offensive end with the three-point shot.
Charlotte comes into the playoffs in much the same way as Oklahoma City. Like the Thunder, the Bobcats face a team that was featured in the NBA Finals last year in the first round. It is also their first time to reach the playoffs in franchise history. Unlike the Thunder, however, the Bobcats have many more players on their roster who have experienced the playoffs. Several have even played in the finals, DeSagana Diop and Jackson, with Jackson having won a championship. The accrued experience of the Bobcats’ players added to the knowledge and experience of their head coach (who has been given permission to seek a coaching job elsewhere when the season ends) could lead this team to play at a level that catches many by surprise. They also bring to the table the consummate champion in their new owner. These combined elements will prove to inspire the team against the reigning Eastern Conference champions. The combined wisdom of Brown and Jordan will serve to punch many holes in Orlando but in the end the Bobcats shall not see the second round.
As the playoffs continue to take shape and matchups are revealed the story of the NBA will begin a new chapter. In the East the top four seeds are the story. It is they who are prone to move forward to the semifinals. In the West, the story is much more prone to chaos and disorder. Parity is universal in the West as the playoff teams have sought to permanently relinquish the hold of the old dogmatic playoff seeding caste system. The playoffs are supposed to be the great equalizer between teams but this myth has only begun to play itself out in the past several years. Yet the NBA’s caste system remains unchanged in its highest form as a mere seven teams since 1985. Parity among teams has yet to be allowed to translate to parity among champions. With the playoffs beginning on anew on Saturday hope itself arises anew. Hope that each team plays at the level above and beyond its own capabilities as only it holds its destiny in its hands. The playoffs are a new season and before the first jump ball each team is equal, each team is connected. It can only be by the cessation of this connectivity that a team can advance. Possibilities are endless today for what June may hold. As of today only two series are set and the future holds only the speculation and unpredictable variables that analysts are paid to gossip and debate upon. What is known is that the teams remaining shall strive on untiringly towards the end goal: the NBA championship.