NBA PM: Best Potential First-Round Series
The final month of the 2012-13 NBA season is upon us, which means the playoff picture is starting to take shape in both conferences. If the postseason started today, there would be five playoff series that fans should be particularly excited about. Some feature rich storylines, some feature intense rivalries and some simply feature evenly matched teams that would make for an enthralling seven-game series.
As the playoffs approach, keep your fingers crossed and keep an eye on the standings because these are five potential playoff series that would definitely be worth watching if they live up to the hype.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets – It’s extremely unlikely that the Thunder will lose in the first round. They’re the sexy pick to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. However, there is one first-round series involving Oklahoma City that would be must-see television. If the playoffs started today, the Thunder would be matched up against the Rockets.
That means James Harden would be facing off against his former team just six months after being traded. Harden is still very close with former teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and this series would be loaded with great storylines. Not only would all eyes be on Harden, there would be plenty of attention on Kevin Martin as well since he would have to defeat his former team in order to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in his career. The Thunder lead the season series 2-1 over the Rockets, but Harden put on a show during the third match-up between these teams. He had a career-high 46 points on 14-19 shooting from the field and 7-8 from three-point range, while also chipping in eight rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block. Harden trying to go blow-for-blow against the two-headed monster that is Durant and Westbrook would be incredibly entertaining.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Lakers – If the Lakers are able to secure the eighth seed in the West, they’ll likely face off against the Spurs in the first round, which would be fitting given the history between these teams. These teams have met in the playoffs five times since 1999, and the winner advanced to the Finals every time. While the rivalry has died down in recent years, the Spurs and Lakers still don’t like each other because the franchises are fundamentally different.
Even without the bad blood, this would be one of the most entertaining series of the postseason because of all the great players involved. A preview for this series reads like a Hall of Fame ballot with Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Dwight Howard, Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, Gregg Popovich and Mike D’Antoni. If the Utah Jazz sneak into the postseason, we pretty much know what to expect considering the Spurs swept them in the first round of last year’s postseason. If the Lakers get hot and grab the final seed, they have the talent to make things interesting, especially if Parker is playing at less than 100 percent as he recovers from a serious ankle sprain. This year has been one big soap opera for the Lakers and a match-up against the Spurs could be the drama-filled season finale.
Indiana Pacers vs. Boston Celtics – At first glance, this series doesn’t seem very exciting. The third-seeded Pacers are considered a top-tier team in the Eastern Conference and nobody expects them to be sent home in the first-round. Meanwhile, the sixth-seeded Celtics have struggled for much of the season and they’ll enter the playoffs without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, who is arguably their best player. However, take a closer look and this match-up could be a lot of fun.
Both of these teams have been hot as of late, each stringing together five-game winning streaks since the All-Star break. Indiana would certainly be the favorite in this series since they would have the much better record and home court advantage, but keep in mind that Boston leads the regular season series 2-0, with an average margin of victory of 10.5 points. The Celtics are the more experienced team with a combined 530 postseason games compared to a combined 185 playoff games for the Pacers. These teams would match up very well since they are both extremely physical and both rank in the top five in defensive efficiency. The Pacers seem like a legitimate contender, but it’s always tough to bet against Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers in a seven-game series. This series could be very interesting.
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Denver Nuggets – When discussing the contenders in the Western Conference, most people mention the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers. The fourth-seeded Grizzlies and fifth-seeded Nuggets are often considered one notch below those top-tier teams, and they’re not happy about it. This is would be the battle of the dark horses. Both feel that they have been disrespected and overlooked, so they’ll enter the postseason with something to prove.
This series could be intriguing because these teams are so different. Denver runs a fast-paced, run-and-gun system that makes them one of the highest scoring teams in the league. They rely heavily on their transition scoring, but have one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA. Memphis is the exact opposite, using a halfcourt system and running their offense through their post scorers Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league and have one of the most efficient defenses in the league. The Nuggets lead the season series over the Grizzlies, 2-1, but all three games have been decided by single digits. These teams have been very hot lately, each winning nine of their last 10 games. The winner of this series would likely be whichever team ends up with home court advantage since both teams have been very good in their own arena. Considering only one game separates these teams in the standings, they could still swap places between now and April.
Chicago Bulls vs. Brooklyn Nets – This could be the East equivalent of the Grizzlies-Nuggets series because each of these teams feel that they’ve flown under the radar this season and both teams could contend if they get hot late in the year. If Derrick Rose can return and be effective for the Bulls, the sky is the limit for their team and they could make some noise in the playoffs. If the Nets play up to their full potential, they can be very scary as well. Both of these teams have shown that they’re very difficult to beat when they play their best basketball. The Bulls currently lead the season series against the Nets 2-1, but all three games have been relatively close.
Nash Talks Lakers, Howard’s Return
Steve Nash caught up with HOOPSWORLD prior to tonight’s game against the Orlando Magic. All eyes will be on Dwight Howard as he makes his return to Orlando. We got Nash’s opinion on the environment and talked to him about the Lakers’ improved play as of late. Check out the exclusive interview:
Is Howard Ready to Face Orlando?
For more on Dwight Howard’s return to Orlando to face the Magic, check out this article (which includes video of Howard speaking to the media during today’s shootaround).
Two hundred and fifteen days ago, Dwight Howard was traded from the Orlando Magic to the Los Angeles Lakers. That may seem like a long time ago, but to Magic fans it feels like it was just yesterday.
Emotions are still running high in Orlando, where Howard continues to be ridiculed and criticized. Magic fans despise the 27-year-old center for turning his back on the team, initiating a year-long drama, holding the franchise hostage and forcing a trade in search of greener pastures.
Now, for the first time since the blockbuster four-team trade, Howard will return to Orlando. He’ll play in the Amway Center as a visitor for the first time in his career, and the scene could get ugly. While the people of Orlando have enjoyed watching Howard and the Lakers struggle throughout the course of this season, they’ve still had this day circled on their calendar. Until now, the only way they’ve been able to express their frustration is through 140-character tweets that may or may not have be seen by Howard. Now, they’ll be able to harass and berate Howard in person for several hours.
March Madness is just around the corner and we want your vote on the best dunk in college basketball history. Checkout the dunks, and tweet out your vote.