The craziness that was the lockout-shortened NBA regular season is over. Now it’s time for the craziness of the NBA playoffs. To help us preview the first round, we invited Henry Abbott of ESPN.com’s TrueHoop blog to the program.
The Spurs secured the top seed in the Western Conference following a stretch where they won 21 of 23 games. However, Abbott said San Antonio isn’t the same team that they were when they last won the championship in 2007.
“There’s been a little bit of a snide reaction to the Spurs through the years, where they’ve gotten credit as the smartest team that drafts the best and makes the best coaching decisions, but their competition would typically say, ‘we would look that smart if we had Tim Duncan, too,'” Abbott said. “The memo with this team, though, is they don’t really have that Tim Duncan [anymore]. They don’t have the legend that just solves every problem, and yet they’re still the best team in the west.”
Another one of the favorites from the west is Oklahoma City, led by scoring champion Kevin Durant. However, they face last year’s champions, the Dallas Mavericks, in the first round.
“Not the same Mavericks team,” said Abbott, however. “They made a calculated risk to let Tyson Chandler go, he was their defensive anchor. So expectations are a little lower in Dallas, but that said, there’s a history of teams that have won championships [after] under-performing in the regular season and then turning it on in the playoffs.”
Philadelphia guard Evan Turner recently made headlines when he said the 76ers would rather play top-seeded Chicago than the Miami Heat, who holds the No. 2 seed. However, Abbott said it doesn’t really make any difference.
“They’re going to lose whether they play Chicago or Miami, by far the two best teams in the east,” he said.
While those two teams have received most of the attention in the eastern conference this season, it won’t be smooth sailing all the way to the Finals for either team. The No. 3 seed, Indiana, will be standing in their way.
“The Pacers have maybe the easiest first-round matchup because they’re playing Orlando, who is without their best player, Dwight Howard. They’ve been very good the last month, and they’ll win the first round series easily.”