One NBA team will be the champions
Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 17:04
NBA champion: Miami Heat
With about five games left in the NBA regular season, most experts are projecting the Oklahoma City Thunder will represent the West in the NBA finals, and either the Chicago Bulls or the Miami Heat will represent the Eastern Conference.
What the Bulls have been able to do this year — maintain a hold on the best record in the Eastern Conference despite Derrick Rose being out of the lineup in 23 of their 60 games — is nothing short of remarkable. The potential Eastern Conference finals series between Chicago and Miami may be a better series than the finals matchup that awaits the winner.
To me, there is one fact that makes Miami the favorite in a series against anyone: When the Heat are playing their brand of basketball effectively, no one in the NBA can beat them.
When Miami is forcing turnovers, dominating the transition game, playing lockdown defense and having their stars aggressively taking the ball to the rim, no one in the league can stop them. And in a seven-game series I have to give the edge to a team like that.
If the playoffs started today, the Heat would have to beat the Sixers in a first-round matchup, the Magic/Pacers in a second-round series, and the Bulls in the conference finals. Of course the Bulls will be an immensely difficult hurdle to overcome, but the Pacers/Magic and Sixers matchups are laughers.
Compare that with the road OKC must travel in order to make it to the finals: after a manageable first-round series against the Rockets, the Thunder will likely match up with an explosive Los Angeles Clippers team in round two, followed by a conference finals matchup against either the Lakers or the Spurs. By simply looking at the potential matchups, the Thunder have a much more arduous road to the finals than do the Heat.
While I do think the Thunder matchup will do very well against the Heat, I still think in a seven-game series the size, speed and strength of Miami will be too overwhelming for a still growing Thunder squad. The Thunder score the second most in the NBA while the Heat’s defense ranks sixth overall.
In a playoff series, I will always take good defense over good offense and this case is no different. The Thunder are an outstanding team with depth, size and athleticism, but I have been saying all year that Miami is simply too talented to be tripped up in the playoffs … by anyone.
I can’t say I am going to be happy about it, but this is the year that LeBron James captures that elusive NBA title.
Dark horse: Los Angeles Lakers
Despite all the talk about a changing of the guard in Los Angeles, the Lakers have put together an outstanding season — record of 39-22, good for third place in the West.
The trade for Ramon Sessions was incredibly important for the Lakers’ chances at making a deep playoff run as the Lakers acquired much needed offensive playmaking ability at the pointguard position. Since the trade for Sessions, the Lakers have gone 12-6 despite missing Kobe Bryant for the last five games.
It really looks like Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are peaking at the right time and that means that the Lakers have the best front-court tandem in the NBA.
The injury to Kobe may be a blessing in disguise, as he will have time to rest and rejuvenate before the playoffs begin. And we all know a healthy Kobe Bryant in a postseason situation is an incredible sight.
The Lakers will have to pull off some incredible upsets against the likes of OKC and, potentially, Miami in the finals, but if any player can put a team on its back in this league it is Kobe Bryant.
If Kobe can go off in the playoffs this year and somehow capture an NBA title for the Lakers, it will be his sixth ring, tying him with Michael Jordan for most in the modern era.