NBA Playoff Picture

Steve O Speak

By Fanspeak Contributing Writer Geoff Nelowet

If the NBA regular season ended today, the playoff seeding would look like this:

Eastern Conference

1. Cleveland

2. Orlando

3. Atlanta

4. Boston

5. Milwaukee

6. Miami

7. Charlotte

8. Toronto

The 5-7 seeds could change in order in the next two games, and Toronto and Chicago are both vying for the 8 seed with the same record (38-41). It looks like Cleveland will have a cakewalk to the Eastern Conference Finals. If they face Toronto in the first round, they will easily win in four games. If they face Chicago the series may extend to five games – maybe six at the most. In the next round they will face either Boston or Milwaukee. Again, they look like huge favorites over either opponent. Speaking of the Boston Celtics, they are probably favorites over the Milwaukee Bucks now that Andrew Bogut is out for the season, but Boston has not looked like a team that can go deep in the playoffs. They simply look too old and worn out. If Boston makes it to the next round, they will likely lose to Cleveland in less than seven games.

On the other side of the Eastern Conference Bracket, Orlando also looks like a strong favorite to make the Eastern Conference Finals, but they have a tougher road than Cleveland. Their first round series against Charlotte looks to last about five games. Charlotte may have been able to do some damage in the playoffs, but Orlando is not a good match up for them. Both teams have strengths at the same positions, but Orlando is better in each aspect, so it will be difficult for Charlotte to find an exploitable mismatch. Vince Carter will match Stephen Jackson’s scoring output, and Dwight Howard will outdo Tyson Chandler’s rebounding and defensive efforts. The Charlotte Bobcats are a defensive-minded team, but Orlando is a better defensive-minded team. Orlando is also 3-0 against Charlotte this season (winning twice on the road), which may not be the best indicator of playoff success, but it still points to Orlando having a solid edge over Charlotte.

Atlanta, the three seed, will face Miami in the opening round, and that could be an interesting match up. Dwyane Wade may carry Miami through a six game series, but it is hard to see Miami pulling the upset. They are the most incomplete team in the playoffs without any real depth, and they lack consistency at every position except Wade’s. Atlanta will face Orlando in the next round, which will be one of the best match ups of the Eastern Conference playoffs. It could go to seven games, but I see Orlando winning in six close ones.

That leaves the Eastern Conferences Finals as a rematch between Cleveland and Orlando. Cleveland looks like the better team, but they did last year as well. I’ll give the edge to Cleveland in seven with the additions of Shaquille O’Neal (assuming he returns healthy) and Antawn Jamison paying dividends.

Western Conference

1. LA Lakers

2. Dallas

3. Denver

4. Utah

5. Phoenix

6. Oklahoma City

7. Portland

8. San Antonio

The Western Conference is a complete logjam. Seeds 2-8 could look entirely different after the next two games with only the LA Lakers having locked up their position. The Lakers, though, do not look as favored as they did a few weeks ago, as they have been 5-5 over their last ten games, and teams such as Dallas, Phoenix, Utah, Oklahoma City and San Antonio – or in other words, half the playoff field – have steadily improved over the course of the season.

The Lakers must be dreading a first round match up against the San Antonio Spurs. Even without Tony Parker, the Spurs look like a very solid and deep team that plays tough defense. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are two players that no one wants to see in the playoffs – not even the number one overall seed. I’m sure the Lakers would much rather face Oklahoma City or Portland in the first round.

The Portland Trailblazers look like the team that will most likely go down in the first round assuming they maintain the seven seed. They are a good team, and they have had a record of 16-5 since late February, but I don’t see them taking down any of the potential two seeds. If they face Dallas or Denver, it will likely be less than a seven game series. I could see them hanging around with Utah or Phoenix, but I think they would ultimately lose. Marcus Camby has been a good addition for the Trail Blazers, but I’m not sure he will be enough to push them to the next round of the playoffs. The core of Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Andre Miller is simply not quite as good as the other playoff teams’ core players.

The biggest wild card in the playoffs would have to be the Dallas Mavericks. They are a much different team since the trade deadline, and we have yet to see this team perform in the playoffs. They have been significantly better since acquiring Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler, but I’m not sure they have enough to take down the Lakers. They have a good chance of making the conference finals, though.

I think the Lakers will make it to the NBA finals, but they may have to do so through multiple tightly contested, seven-game series. It is also not hard to imagine LA – or whoever wins the Western Conference – losing to Cleveland or Orlando in the finals because of the effort it took to get there. The Western Conference is rugged this year, and it will be a long road for the eventual Western Conference Champion.

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