Roundball Daily 2012 NBA Playoffs Preview

By: Kels Dayton

There’s only one result that could make this year’s NBA Playoffs suck. And we all know what it is. If LeBron James and the Miami Heat end up winning the championship, we’re going to look back on these playoffs as a disappointing end to a wildly entertaining 2012 season.

Think about what just happened in the NBA in 2012. Chris Paul to the Clippers…Linsanity…the emergence of the Thunder….the Jamie Moyer-like quality of the Spurs….

It would be a little anticlimactic if the Heat ended up winning the title.

Still, we all need to face the fact that at some point, it is going to happen. Miami is going to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy as world champions sometime in the next five years, and we’re all going to turn the television set off in disgust, thinking about how basketball’s Evil Empire bought a ring in the most cheapened championship since 2002. But it doesn’t have to be this year. With the Heat cooling down the stretch and the Bulls, Thunder, and Spurs looking like championship contenders, there is a possibility that America may be able to breathe a huge of relief–at least one more time–at the end of the summer.

Barring an annoying Heat run to the title, here are some great subplots that could make this year’s playoffs one of the best in recent memory. And as you have come to expect from Roundball Daily, they are in question form. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Derrick Rose is dead-freakin-serious about what happens on the basketball court. (Photo: ESPN)

Q: How competitive is Derrick Rose?

Kels: Derrick Rose is a competitive freak. He’s like Michael Jordan Lite, which is probably the greatest compliment he’ll ever receive. Like Jordan, Rose will take any perceived slight–real or not–and work it up into a personal challenge to his worth as a human being. He will then embark on an unrelenting, bloodthirsty mission that does not stop until he rights what he deems to have been wrong. It is a rare quality in professional athletes, but a redeeming one, and certainly one that Bulls fans have seen many times over the past quarter-century.

Rose may not have reached Jordan’s level of competitive insanity just yet, but he is putting together a solid resume. Just this year, Rose has become upset with the refs because they don’t give him the reverence other stars get. He’s upset with defenders tackling him in mid-air every time he drives to the basket. He’s furious with the Indiana Pacers after they celebrated a January win a little too hard (the most Jordan-like of this list if you ask me). And of course, Rose despises the Miami Heat, mostly because LeBron refused to answer his phone calls in the summer of 2010, when Rose was trying to persuade him to come to Chicago. (As ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote, Rose went on a personal mission to improve last season because he wanted to stick it to LeBron. “You want a decision? I’ll show you a bleeping decision,” Simmons wrote.)

What does all this mean? It’s going to be one heck of a playoff series if Chicago and Miami both find their way back to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Q: Can the Spurs really make a run at a championship?

Tony Parker has put up MVP-caliber numbers this season. (AP Photo)

Kels: It has been one of the most quiet stories of the past two seasons in the NBA, but incredibly, San Antonio currently sits atop the Western Conference standings for the second straight year. The Spurs are the NBA’s version of Jamie Moyer, and every time you think they can’t possibly have anything left in the tank, they’ve got Digger Phelps cheering like crazy from the grandstands. Making things even more ridiculous is the fact that Gregg Popovich has guided the Spurs to an obscene 44-16 record, and even left Ginobili, Parker and Duncan at home in San Antonio while the rest of the team went out to Utah for a one-game road trip. It’s like he’s doing all of this just to rub it in. Amazing.

The Spurs are like that group of 40-old guys with white hair, bald spots and beer bellies who beat up on twenty-something year olds in charity games just because they know how to play. 

The real story this season for the Spurs has been Tony Parker, who is having an all-world season. Parker is averaging 18.6 points and 7.7 assists per game, and has been blowing past defenders with the finest French moves ever witnessed.  He’s been slicing and dicing, killing defenders with a laundromat spin-move, an Allen Iverson-type crossover and other just absurd moves. The wily guard has been absolutely abusing defenders all season long, and is the major reason why San Antonio has shocked the basketball world by remaining in the conversation for a championship. The Spurs’ last title came in 2007, and they haven’t really been close since, losing to the Memphis Grizzlies last season as the No. 1 seed in the West. In fact, the Spurs have lost 3 of their last 4 playoff series, and have only won more than one game once during that span. Still, they’re back again, like that fly you can’t swat or that bad case of athlete’s foot you can’t get rid of no matter how much Tough Actin’ Tinactin you pour onto it. And that segues perfectly to our next question…


Q: Is anyone aware that the Phoenix Suns would qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today?

Marcin Gortat has emerged as a key player for the suddenly-surging Suns. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Kels: I follow this stuff for a living, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was shocked–SHOCKED–when I saw Phoenix sitting in the eighth spot when I checked the standings the other day. The Suns are 7-3 in their last ten games and have defeated playoff contenders Portland, Utah, Minnesota and Houston all in that span. How is this possible? Well, Phoenix is 20-10 since hitting the low-water mark of 12-19 on February 17, and even though their roster can basically be described as Steve Nash and 11 other guys, they have somehow remained competitive in the tough Western Conference.

The Suns rank 7th in the league in points per game (98.4), 6th in assists (22.7) and 20th in points allowed (98.0). Marcin Gortat–MARCIN GORTAT–leads them in scoring and rebounding (15.8, 9.8), and Steve Nash is proving once again that if you don’t think he’s a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, you’re an idiot. The 38-year old still runs this team like Bobby Flay runs his kitchen, putting the ball in the right place at the right time, every time. It would be very interesting to see Phoenix match up with its old, hated rival San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs, although don’t expect a Grizzlies-like upset if it does happen. Memphis beat the Spurs last year by using their athleticism and youth, and Phoenix is one of the few teams in the league that has less of that than the Spurs do.


Q: Do the Knicks have a chance to compete in the playoffs?

Kels:  There’s no doubt. This has been a crazy season in New York, but the Knicks just happen to be playing their best basketball right now. The injuries to Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin have almost been rejuvenating to Carmelo Anthony, who has eased back into his comfort zone as the lead dog and only major scoring option on the team. Anthony has been pouring on the points, scoring 42, 35 and 33 in his last three games respectively. But the Knicks might want to pull a Gregg Popovich and “rest” Anthony, J.R. Smith, and a few others in the next few games because they have climbed up to the No. 7 seed in the East and have virtually no chance to catch Orlando at No. 6. That means that New York will have to face Miami in the first round of the playoffs, and the Knicks don’t match up well at all with the Heat.

Carmelo Anthony has had to do it all for the Knicks recently, and that's how he likes it. (Getty Images)

It would be ideal if New York could somehow selectively tank their way to the No. 8 seed and a matchup with Chicago, especially with Rose’s status being as uncertain as it has been this season. The Knicks can beat the Bulls in the playoffs; there’s no question about that. They match up inside, with Tyson Chandler guarding Boozer. They also provide a tough on-ball defender in Iman Shumpert, who can guard Rose as well as anyone in the league. And then there’s Anthony, whom the Bulls would have a very tough time trying to stop. It’s all about matchups in the playoffs, and if the Knicks somehow got this one, they could make a run as the No. 8 seed.

Q: Can the Mavericks possibly find it in them to make a run at a repeat?

Kels: It’s been a very strange season in Dallas. First, Dirk Nowitzki publicly admitted that he partied a little too hard in the offseason, and wasn’t ready for the ball to be tipped in late December. He took a few games off just to get back in shape, and by then the Mavs had gotten off to a poor 3-5 start. Then came Lamar Kardashian’s midseason breakdown, which was worthy of a reality television series in itself. Kardashian was never ready to play in Dallas, and doesn’t deserve to have his real last name mentioned in this column after basically peacing out on the team last week. Beyond all that, this is a very old team and just doesn’t appear to be motivated enough to make a serious run at a second championship. Most NBA experts knew that this wasn’t likely to be a repeat winner, but I don’t know that anyone believed the Mavs would mail it in the way they have for most of this borderline-embarrassing season. They’ll need to beat the Lakers in round one just to reclaim some of their lost pride. But going beyond there just doesn’t seem likely considering the unprofessional manner in which this team has conducted its business this season.

Q: Are the Thunder ready to take “The Leap” and become a championship contender?

With this guy suiting up for the top-seeded Spurs, the Thunder have become the prohibitive favorite in the West. (Photo: New York Times)

Kels: There’s plenty of competition in the West, but it’s clear that the door to the Finals has burst wide open for Oklahoma City. Despite all of the stats and regular-season wins we just covered, it’s next to impossible to imagine San Antonio coming out of the West. The Spurs are just too old, and there’s no other way to put it.

So, the onus is on OKC to get it done in the playoffs. All the pieces are in place. Kevin Durant (27.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 3.5 apg, 50% FG pct) is having a superstar’s apex-type season, Russell Westbrook (23.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.4 apg) has produced another elite-level year, and Sixth Man of the Year lock James Harden (16.8 ppg) has emerged as the third scoring option Oklahoma City will need come playoff time. Throw in Serge Ibaka, who provides the type of defense all championship teams need, and veteran point guard Derek Fisher, who is capable of making big-time plays in key moments, and the Thunder are all set for a championship run. Anything less than a trip to the Finals should be considered a disappointment.

Still, the Thunder don’t match up well with the Heat should they meet Miami in the title round, and would probably need Chicago or someone else to come out of the East in order to take home the gold trophy. Speaking of that…

Q: How far can the Pacers go in the East?

Danny Granger and the Pacers have been a great story this season, but they're just not talented enough to come out of the East. (AP Photo)

Kels: The Eastern semis seems to be the ceiling for this club, which consists of a bunch of really good players, but no stars. When’s the last time that formula won in the NBA? Indiana is a nice story this season at 40-22 with wins over Miami, Chicago, Oklahoma City, the Lakers, and New York, but they will struggle to score when it matters most in the playoffs because the Pacers just don’t have the necessary all-world offensive talent needed to make big baskets on a consistent basis. Larry Bird should be proud of his group, because they have maximized every ounce of talent that they have, but they’re just not good enough to take out Miami or Chicago in a seven-game series.

Q: Are the Celtics finished as contenders?

Kels: They’ve surprised us before….but not this time. Yes, it’s over. Next question.

Q: Will the Grizzlies make noise again in the West?

Kels: I’m saying they will. Memphis is currently lined up to be the 5th-seed in the conference, which means that they would meet the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. If the Grizz can get by there, they’d likely be facing a big, juicy rematch with the Spurs that should have Zach Randolph drooling like he’s staring down a 40-oz. steak. Memphis will beat San Antonio again if the two teams match up in the second round, and that would put them in the Western Conference Finals. That’s enough noise to warrant a complaint for disturbing the peace.

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