The NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs has three major story lines.
The most captivating is LeBron’s pursuit of back-to-back chips with Miami, which would solidify his status as an NBA immortal. This season, he’s already wrapped up his fourth MVP without breaking a sweat, so it’s unclear what type of threat motivated playoff opponents will pose.
The return of New York City pro basketball, and the historic rivalry gradually brewing between the Knicks and Nets, also takes center stage.
The Knicks and NBA scoring champ Carmelo Anthony won 54 games and an Atlantic Division title for the first time in 19 years. The Nets find BK to their liking, winning 49 games for the first time since the ’05-’06 season.
NYC hoop heads have never been blessed with a postseason where two local teams finished 1-2 in the Atlantic Division and could potentially advance deep into the playoffs. Any wild, NY playoff-high is sure to come crashing down in the Conference Finals against Miami’s “Big Three,” so the realistic goal for both NY teams is a “go-hard” showing that captivates the city and leads to an offseason of optimism.
And then there’s question of which second-tier squad will earn the honor of getting excommunicated by The King and his men. There’s no clear-cut favorite amongst seeds 2 through 7. Games should be competitive, riveting and we might even get to see some fisticuffs.
What else can you ask for, but must-see “gangsta grillz” playoff TV? With that said, here’s a quick primer on the four conference series.
(1) MIAMI HEAT vs. (8) MILWAUKEE BUCKS
The Bucks are a cute, mandatory prerequisite in the Heat’s march to glory. Vegas’ faith in the Bucks victory is similar to the odds you’d see for a Floyd Mayweather opponent. Keep the brooms and dustpans on deck – early.
Maybe Milwaukee can snatch a game, but Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis would each have to drop 40. That’s a feat Miami’s stifling D makes unlikely.
“LEG DROPS, BODY ROCKS AND O.G. FLOPS”
(2) NEW YORK KNICKS vs. (7) BOSTON CELTICS
This run should be the farewell tour for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. In their relatively short time together, these cats are one of the best tandems to ever do it. They wreaked hardwood-havoc and returned Boston’s Big Green Machine to prominence. The Knicks are banged up, but still healthier than they’ve been in a while. NY has proven it can defeat the Rajon Rondo-less Celtics, and Boston has proven to have the veteran and psychological savvy to disrupt the Knicks’ flow. In the graded chart of rivalries, this is as heated as it gets. The series is sure to be an arm-tangling, trash-talking, nail-biter and will reveal a lot about the Knicks’ chances moving forward. That’s if they move forward…
(4) BROOKLYN NETS vs. (5) CHICAGO BULLS
This series has the potential for every game to come down to the last shot. Brooklyn is officially in the house and P.J. Carlesimo’s “new” troops have their hands full with a veteran Bull’s team that won three of the four regular-season games. These playoffs are sort of like Jay-Z’s farewell, too. He’ll be giving up his ownership stakes to secure mega-contracts for big named clients like Robinson Cano. Wonder if the Nets street credibility suffers any? It surely won’t help them against the Chi-Town clamp down. Dealing with Joakim Noah and Co.’s paint presence is going to be a task for Brook Lopez, who frequently retreats to the perimeter. D-Will and Joe Johnson must exploit the absence of ’12 MVP Derrick Rose. If they catch fire in unison…watch out. Defensively, the Nets can NOT let Nate Robinson get off.
“SHIFTY, LOW DOWN, GRITTY AND GRIMY”
(3) INDIANA PACERS vs. (6) ATLANTA HAWKS
Atlanta’s athleticism (Smith, Jeff Teague, Al Horford) and freestyle perimeter game featuring gunners Kyle Korver, DeShawn Stevenson and emerging marksman John Jenkins against the Pacers hardcore, lockdown, defensive style should make for some ugly basketball.
The Pacers are going to try and thug it out. Will Atlanta push back and turn it up offensively as they are capable of doing, or fold up the tent and head down south ready to get their offseason started early?
Pacers center Roy Hibbert and ATL’s multi-monster Josh Smith are the straw-stirrers and performance X-Factors for each squad. Whichever homie puts it down harder should emerge victorious.