It seemed like the NBA regular season just began yesterday, but it's now time to turn the page and look forward to the second season, the 2013 NBA Playoffs. With the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz still battling for the final spot in the Western Conference, today we will preview the LeBron James Conference... *cough*... I mean the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Contenders: Miami Heat
Like I said in the title of this post, and eluded to in the previous paragraph, the NBA's Eastern Conference has been dominated by LeBron James and the defending champion Miami Heat. The Heat finished atop the standings by a dominating 12 games, finishing 65-16, which included a 27-game winning streak. LeBron James has been by far the best basketball player on the planet and will undoubtedly win his fourth NBA Most Valuable Player Award. It's hard to imagine this Heat team, which many feel is better than last year's championship team, not going back to the NBA Finals to defend their crown.
Challengers: New York Knicks, Boston Celtics
I almost put the Knicks in the contender category due to their recent play, but I don't see how they could possibly beat the Heat. For even a glimmer of a shot, it would take a monster effort from Carmelo Anthony, who will be matched up with LeBron. The X-factor for the Knicks is their three-point shooting; during the regular season, the Knicks took and made more three pointers than any other team in the league. When they catch fire they are tough to beat.
Another reason I did not put the Knicks on the contender line is that there are legitimate doubts on whether they will even get out of their first round match-up with my other potential challenger, the Boston Celtics. The C's have had an overall disappointing season, but have almost been playing just to get into the playoffs, resting their older stars and others along the way. Boston was counted out last season, and took the Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. I'm not willing to count them out quite yet.
Sleepers: Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers
Since the Nets fired Avery Johnson as their head coach early in the season, they have been playing much better basketball under new coach P.J. Carlesimo. Brooklyn has some very talented players on their roster including point guard Deron Williams, who was finally playing up to expectations this past month. If he plays well going forward, along with solid play from Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, the Nets could make a surprising run.
The Central Division champion Pacers have been playing well all season long, but for the most part people don't look at them as a legit playoff threat. However, Indiana has a three big difference makers who take the floor every night despite not having all-star Danny Granger for the postseason. Roy Hibbert is one of the last true centers in the league and will be mismatched no matter who he plays; David West has given the team a veteran leader; and Paul George has exploded this season and is now widely considered one of the best forwards in the game. I would not be surprised to see them in the Eastern Conference Finals in a few weeks.
Better Luck Next Year: Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks
Sorry guys, I don't see any of you getting out of the first round. Especially the Bucks, who will be dismantled by Miami in the first round.
But, hey, what do I know? This is sports and anything can happen; that's why we watch.