The National Basketball Association is coming to the end of it’s 82 game regular season, and overall 2012-2013 will go down as a year of surprises. At the start of the season, would you have bet that the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks would both fail to make the playoffs? Would you have laid out money that the NY Knicks and Boston Celtics would battle in a 2 seed vs 7 seed playoff 1st round matchup, with the Celtics the 7th seed and Knicks a 2?
When all is said and done, the playoffs will start this year and the Miami Heat will be favored to win it all for a second year in a row.
The Knicks rode a late hot streak into the #2 overall seed, despite having a season where they never really got to play with a complete team as superstar Amare Stoudemire came off the bench when he did play. He hardly played alongside Carmelo Anthony. A strong finish sees them head into the playoffs with some momentum, but will likely fall short. Many are predicting a first round ouster at the hands of the veteran Celtics in the opening round.
The 3 seed Indiana Pacers are perhaps the most dangerous team to the Heat, as they overcame the loss of their bestplayer Danny Granger for most of the season. With Granger back, they appeared to be out of psynch however, and they are not enterin the playoffs on a high note. No one else in the East has a chance to beat the Heat.
Out West, you can probably scratch the Golden Stat Warriors and Houston Rockets as serious contenders. Both teams have been re-tooling in recent years, and with LA and Dallas faltering, are the new entries into the playoff picture. Anything beyond a first round ouster for either team would be considered a tremendous end to a solid season.
Now, Dwight Howard could suddenly become the gutsy leader we know he is not, and the Lakers could still squeeze into the playoffs in the fina week. If they do get in, count the Lakers with the Warriors and Rockets as teams that made too many changes in the offseason (and during the season) to be a real title contender.
The Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies are similar in that neither team is going to be a tough out for anyone. Should one of them break thru and take out the Spurs or Thunder and make the finals, it will be a very interesting development, as both present match up problems for the Heat.
The Spurs and Thunder remain esconsed at the top of the West, with a Heat-Thunder finals rematch being the most likely scenario.
The safe pick to win it all remains Miami. I picked the Grizzles as an underdog pick at the 30 game mark or so, and I am going to stick with them. They spent time during the season as a popular pick, but faded a bit in the eyes of the fans when they traded Rudy Gay. The fact is they played better without him down the stretch, and the Zach Randolph/Mark Gasol frontline is a nightmare for the Heat.
Let’s see how the first round of the playoffs fall into place over the next week….