Top Storylines Heading into Playoffs
1. Race for the Top Seeds
East: For now, the Bulls have a big lead over the Heat, but it is impossible to count out Miami. Both teams are phenomenal at home and therefore, earning the top seed will be of great importance for their inevitable Eastern Conference Finals match up. The Bulls main concern is getting Derrick Rose and Richard Hamilton completely healthy and they will not play them unless they are 100%, which may give the Heat a chance to catch up. The Heat have been awful on the road as of late, so expect the Bulls to take the top seed.
West: The Spurs and Thunder are neck and neck, however each team has a completely different view on home court advantage. The Spurs have been near the top of the conference for almost a decade and are used to the rigors of the playoffs and playing on the road. Their main concern is getting completely healthy and giving their aging players enough rest for the long road to the NBA finals. The Thunder are a young and inexperienced team, who are most comfortable at home, so earning the top seed is of much importance, as they struggle on the road. Expect the Thunder to go full speed until the end of the season and for the Spurs to ease off the gas.
As was expected in such a compressed schedule, injuries have taken a toll on many teams and have affected numerous playoff contenders. It will be very interesting to see who will play and who will sit down the stretch and in the playoffs and how affective they can be if they decide to tough it out. Health could very well ruin championship dreams this season and eliminate great teams early.
3. Who Will Take the Final Seeds?
East: The first seven spots are all but set, as the Bulls, Heat, Pacers, Celtics, Hawks, Magic and 76ers have all but clinched a playoff birth, but the last seed will come down to the Knicks and Bucks. Both teams have played well as of late, but the Knicks have been without Stoudemire for weeks and will be without Jeremy Lin for the rest of the season and probably the playoffs. They have also been struggling with chemistry all year long and still do not seem cohesive. However, they have been much improved since Mike Woodson took over for Mike D’Antoni last month, but they will have to hold off the surging Bucks. Milwaukee traded an injured Andrew Bogut for a healthy Monte Ellis and Ekpe Udoh at the trade deadline and in turn, improved their chances at a playoff run. Ellis and Brandon Jennings have created one of the most explosive backcourts in the league, but the team has struggled on defense and have little quality size. It will be a great race to the finish, but neither team has much of a chance to beat the Heat or Bulls in the playoffs.
West: Unlike with the East, the Western Conference is all over the place. Only five teams seem to be guaranteed a playoff birth; the Thunder, Spurs, Lakers, Clippers and Grizzlies, but the last three spots will be decided in the final week. The Mavericks, Rockets, Nuggets, Suns and Jazz are all within two games of each other, which will make for an exciting final ten games of the season.
4. Fatigue Factor
- Like injuries, fatigue has been a major factor this season and teams that clinch playoff spots early, would be wise to give as much rest to players as possible. The Spurs have already started resting Duncan, Parker and Ginobili and other teams would be smart to do the same, especially the older ones. It will be fascinating to see which teams look tired towards the end of the season and if it will effect them come playoff time.
5. Can The Older Teams Make a Run?
- Every year the Lakers, Spurs and Celtics keep hearing that their window has closed and once again, each of these teams are near the top of their respective conferences. All three could conceivably win the title, but it will be interesting to see if they have the legs to make it through the playoffs, after this shortened and condensed season.
6. Cinderella Story
- Each year, the public likes to guess at which team will become the Cinderella of the playoffs. Last year, the Grizzlies played the role well and came within a game of making the Western Conference finals. The world loves an underdog and it will be interesting to see who gets crowned as this season’s possible Cinderella team.
7. Jeremy Lin
- Despite the fact that Lin has been all but ruled out of play until at least the second round of the playoffs, people will want constant updates on his health and availability. It would become a wonderful story if he somehow plays in the first round and leads the Knicks to an upset, however it is doubtful that Lin will play again this season, as he is coming off a serious injury. Once again, it must be noted that the Knicks may not even make the playoffs, so the Jeremy Lin story could simply become moot.
- Having depth in the regular seasons can help a team win games, but it is well known that depth becomes much less of a factor in the playoffs, as coaches play their starters as much as they can handle. Because of the aforementioned short season and probable fatigue, it will be interesting to see if benches become more important than usual in the playoffs. If so, it will give a major advantage to the Bulls and Spurs, who would not be fighting for the top seed in their conferences, without it. Other playoff contenders with great depth; the 76ers, Nuggets, Rockets, Grizzlies and Pacers.
9. The Los Angeles Rivalry
- The Clippers are looking to end the Lakers’ long running dominance of the Pacific Division and are fighting for their first Pacific title ever. It is currently a very close race and should go down to the final days. There is also a very good chance that the two teams could meet in the first round of the playoffs, which would create one of the most intriguing first round series in years.
10. Can the Heat Make it Over the Hump?
- What is bound to be the hot topic around playoff time is whether or not the Heat can win the title. Because of the hype and the dramatic actions that formed the team, as well as the national spotlight, every year they lose, they will be called failures. Fair or not, this is the reality that the Heat will face and every game, play and mistake will be heavily discussed. If they lose, they will endure another year of torment and questions about if they have what it takes to actually win the trophy.