Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Sports

It's all about Heat in NBA playoffs

Well, apparently the NBA is going ahead with the playoffs.

The simple thing would be just to hand LeBron James and the Heat the championship trophy now and save everyone the trouble. But because the arenas are reserved and Charles Barkley has nothing to do, they might as well play the postseason.

It's possible for someone to upset the Heat. After all, the American kids once beat the mighty Russians in hockey. But we still refer to that as a miracle. This would require a miracle, too. Does some team have a miracle in it? Which team might that be? If the Heat wins, who is playing for second place?

Here's a preview of the NBA playoffs, which start Saturday. Yes, we checked to make sure they are still being played.

The favorite

Only one thing will stop the Heat — a major injury. If it lost LeBron James or Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, that would be an issue. Otherwise, the Heat should have no problem getting to the Finals for the third consecutive season. Remember when James made that prediction of winning "five, six … '' championships? Well, the Heat is on its way. You rarely see a team that has already won a title this motivated to win another. That's because of James. The best player on the planet is playing as well as ever and better than anyone ever aside from Michael Jordan. Yet he still wants to prove himself.

Major contenders in the East

It's hard to imagine a team threatening the Heat. We can look for teams that offer some matchup difficulties such as the Pacers, Celtics and Nets. The Pacers have grit and size. The Nets have an edge at point guard with Deron Williams. And the Celtics just seem to always play the Heat tough. But the Heat should be able to cruise to the Finals, losing no more than five games in the first three rounds.

Major contenders in the West

The West is more balanced than the East and has a couple of teams that could, if the stars aligned just right, beat the Heat. The Thunder has the best record in the West, but the Spurs have an easier path to the conference final. The second-seeded Spurs have to get by the Lakers. That won't necessarily be easy, but the Spurs should advance. Then instead of having to play the Clippers or Grizzlies, both of whom will be tough outs, the Spurs would get the Nuggets in the second round. Denver is really good at home and loves to run. That will show in what should be a high-scoring and very entertaining first-round series against the Warriors. San Antonio, however, will have homecourt advantage and plays excellent defense.

The best in the West

So if the Spurs and Thunder meet in the West final, who advances? It's hard to pick against San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. But the thirtysomethings could wear down as the playoffs drag. In fact, Ginobili's health is already a concern. Plus, I'm not sure the Spurs, as good as they are defensively, can stop OKC's Kevin Durant (above). The teams split the four-game season series, but the Thunder is the safe bet. Plus, it has extra motivation to get another crack at the Heat.

First-round upset alert

I was going to say the Bulls could upset the Nets, but Bulls big man Joakim Noah is not 100 percent. As much as I want to get on board with the Knicks, the No. 2 seed in the East, something tells me they are ripe to be upset by No. 7 Boston. The Celtics will miss injured guard Rajon Rondo (right), but you just get the feeling the Knicks aren't quite ready for prime time despite having the NBA's leading scorer in Carmelo Anthony.

Best first-round series

The Grizzlies-Clippers should be a nasty series between equally matched teams that don't like one another. The Clippers won three of the four games during the season after the Clippers knocked off the Grizzlies in an intense seven-game opening-round series last season. Especially interesting will be the matchup between Los Angeles' Blake Griffin (below) and Memphis' Zach Randolph.

The long shot

The Lakers are the most intriguing team in these playoffs and certainly the most interesting No. 7 seed in history. Losing Kobe Bryant means they should have no shot to upset the Spurs. But Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are playing well together without Bryant, and there's just an indescribable something-something now about the Lakers. I'm not saying they will beat the Spurs. But the longer this series lasts, the more L.A. will start to believe.

Final analysis

Can the Lakers upset the Spurs? Will the Celtics upset the Knicks? Will anyone play defense in the Nuggets-Warriors series? Will the Clippers and Grizzlies brawl? Those are the most interesting questions of these playoffs.

The question that already seems answered: Which team will win it all? For the record: Heat over Thunder.

     
 
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