Believe it or not, the NBA regular season is just three weeks from concluding. You know what that means? For the next twenty one days it’s going to be a feverish race to the finish line for players (playing for statistical accolades, awards and new contracts), coaches (doing their absolute best to save their own jobs—did you know that Mo Cheeks is the only head coach to be fired so far; you know that Mo’s at screaming obscenities and flipping the bird towards his television every time he sees Mike Woodson or Mike D’Antoni) crappy teams (shutting players down with “injuries”, playing three point guards or four forwards at one time, and all the other stuff that comes with the most legal version of shaving points we have in sports) and good teams (making late season surges to attempt to get Uncle Mo on their side). Everyone has something at stake. For us, the fans, it’s the teams that we’ll be watching in April, May and June that have the most at stake.
Whether you want to knock the length of the NBA Playoffs or not—I personally don’t think they’re too long; in fact, I’m all about having a 70 game regular season and keeping the Playoffs how they are now—we can at least agree that it’s a two month stretch of the highest quality basketball being played at its highest level of intensity. You really can’t ask for anything more than that. But allow me to be greedy, and indulge with you what the ideal Playoff matchups would be if everything breaks the right way over the next three weeks. Of course, these selections are my opinions and as a fan of any of the respective teams, I understand that you’re rooting interests might be slightly different than mine. Just keep in mind, I’m always making suggestions that are the best for the NBA and the most diehard NBA fans. As you’ll see, I’m not asking for all that much to change.
1: Indiana vs. 8: New York
Why it will happen- Because Atlanta is currently in 8th place and they’re playing with something that is the opposite of swagger. They’ve lost 17 of their last 23 games and don’t look all that ready to make a late surge towards solidifying their playoff position. Meanwhile, the New York Knicks have been playing with a little extra fire ever since the rumors of Phil Jackson’s employment in the front office began circulating a few weeks ago. Maybe he’s been busy pulling some Zen Master voodoo and the Knicks players are under the impression that they’re playing for him and not Mike Woodson. Regardless, the Knicks are my selection to grab the final spot in the Eastern Conference, even if the odds aren’t in their favor.
Why we should want it to happen– Because a Knicks/Pacers series would be way more interesting than a Hawks/Pacers series. Even if Indiana blew the Knicks out in four games, that still means we’d get four games of Paul George vs. Carmelo Anthony (quietly having his best all-around season) and two games at the Garden—which unfortunately means Spike Lee once again enters my life. As far as I can tell, this is the only downside to the Knicks making the Playoffs. Ultimately, I decided that it was a sacrifice that needed to be made for the sake of entertaining basketball. Additionally, if Atlanta misses out on the postseason that might mean that the Stink of Joe Johnson’s Irrelevancy might be finally gone. A happy day for all 9,000 Hawks fans out there.
4: Chicago vs. 5: Brooklyn
Why it will happen– Because Toronto is playing just good enough to fend off Chicago or Brooklyn from stealing that #3 seed. Really, the numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6 seeds are all up for grabs with Chicago, Brooklyn, Toronto and Washington all in the mix. In the interest of fairness, I decided to go with what the standings were currently telling me.
Why we should want it to happen– Brooklyn and Chicago faced each other in the 1st round last year and it went seven games even though Brooklyn was showing as much heart as a mannequin would have in the same situation. It would be more interesting now than then, even with Pierce and Garnett on their last legs. They’d at least give a shit. A rematch gives the Nets a chance to avenge last season’s embarrassing Game 7 home loss and move closer to reaching the high expectations that were in place before the season started and before Jason Kidd acted like a sloppy drunk. Plus, it sets up a potential Bulls/Pacers slugfest in Round 2 if Chicago were to defeat Brooklyn once again. For what it’s worth, neither Miami nor Indiana would want to see either of these teams in Round 2.
3: Toronto vs. 6: Washington
Why it will happen– It’s the same kind of scenario that I just detailed with Chicago and Brooklyn. Those four middle seeds are all up for grabs right now. If I were a one man selection committee, similar to that of the NCAA Tournament, and I had to give the Raptors, Wizards, Bulls and Nets their playoff seeds based on their body of work throughout the season I’d give Chicago the #3 seed, Toronto #4, Brooklyn #5, and Washington #6 . But again, I’m more concerned with the Playoff matchups that would be worth watching.
Why we should want it to happen– Their Triple OT game back at the end of February served as a tasty appetizer for what a series featuring the two teams could end up being. Even though this would probably be the 1st round series relegated to NBA TV for two or three games, it would be a fun one to watch with four young and hungry perimeter players looking for their first taste of postseason success.
2: Miami vs. 7: Charlotte
Why it will happen– Charlotte isn’t going to gain enough ground to catch the #6 seed and the Knicks might be a little too far behind to climb into 7th place. Miami has struggled recently, preventing them from catching the Indiana Pacers, who like the Heat have been missing the eye of the tiger for the last month or so. This might sound like a Heat-fan thing to say, but I’m not totally surprised that Miami hasn’t had the regular season killer instinct this year. They’ve won back to back titles and know that the games they need to be concerned with are in May and June. Indiana on the other hand doesn’t have that same luxury. They should’ve had the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference wrapped up by now but it’s still in question. Two months ago I was a lot more confident in the Pacers than I am now.
Why we should want it to happen– It would be an interesting chess match to see how Miami would try to contain Al Jefferson, who is possibly having the most underrated individual season in the league, while Charlotte would have to try to keep LeBron James from going off for 61 points again. And what would we have to do to get some derisive comments from Michael Jordan directed towards LeBron or the rest of the Heat trio to add some fuel to the fire?
1: San Antonio vs. 8: Dallas
Why it will happen-Forgive me Suns fans, I’m just a little skeptical that y’all can hold on down the stretch. I’m not quite sure I can trust Phoenix more than I can Dallas. Don’t get me wrong, there is a whole lot to love about the way the Suns have played this year. Goran Dragic’s breakout season and Jeff Hornacek throwing his hat in the ring for Coach of the Year… can anyone honestly say that they saw this stuff coming? I had them pegged for 16 wins. They have a chance to triple that total. Imagine my and everyone else’s embarrassment. If the Suns keep the nucleus together and nail a couple of their draft picks (they have three 1st rounders this year in a loaded draft), they’ll be a Playoff team next year. Until they prove me wrong, I’m going with horses I know… Dirk Nowitzki, Rick Carlisle, Mark Cuban and the Mavericks.
Why we should want it to happen– How many more chances are we going to have to see Dirk and Tim Duncan go to battle in the postseason? They’ve met five times before in the Playoffs and Duncan has a 3 to 2 edge. If the two teams were to meet once again the advantage would go to Duncan and the Spurs, who once again sit atop the Western Conference. When will this stop being a surprise? Jim Nantz calls The Masters “a tradition unlike any other.” Watching the Spurs defy the odds and give father time the finger is right up there with The Masters.
4: Houston vs. 5: Portland
Why it will happen- Similar to the Eastern Conference, there is a logjam for the 3, 4, 5 and 6 seeds in the Western Conference. Let’s run back the selection committee idea that I mentioned earlier. If it were up to me, I’d say that the Clippers deserve the #3 seed, Houston #4, Portland #5, and Golden State #6. The Clippers have been the most consistent. The Rockets are the next most dangerous. Even though Portland has been incredibly average since the turn of the New Year they should be rewarded for a fun and super surprising fast start. And the Warriors have been a little too hot and cold for my liking.
Why we should want it to happen– Wouldn’t this be a really fun series? Just look at the matchups all across the board. LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Dwight Howard. The enduringly scrappy Patrick Beverly vs. the sneakily icy Damian Lillard. Capable perimeter defenders Wes Matthews and Nic Batum trying to corral James Harden—an incredibly difficult task considering they won’t be able to get within 18 inches of Harden unless they want him to do his best “I just got hit across the side of the head with a wiffleball bat, where’s the whistle?” routine. Just an awesome series all the way around.
3: Los Angeles Clippers v. 6: Golden State
Why it will happen- Truth be told, I don’t think we’ll end up seeing this series. I’m not even going to lie to you. I’d wager on Golden State ending up ahead of Portland. But if we’re trying to find the best possible 1st Round Playoff matchups, look no further than Los Angeles vs. Golden State.
Why we should want it to happen– Because they hate each other! NBA fans complain about the games being too soft and the players being too friendly… that notion is out the window when the Clips and Warriors hook up. This has a chance to be the best rivalry in the NBA for the next five years if they start getting some playoff meetings under their collective belts. To top off the sundae of hatred, just imagine the cherry that would be Stephen Curry and Chris Paul dueling at the end of close games. We’ve already seen how much fun that could be.
2: Oklahoma City vs. 7: Memphis
Why it will happen- Because as soon as Marc Gasol came back the Grizzlies found another level that the Suns and Mavericks can’t get to. They’re so different compared to any other team in the Western Conference (the points scored and points allowed per game tells the whole story). The same recipe that has made them uniquely effective for the last three years is still working. They play defense and rebound. They play smart. And they pound the crap out of teams in the paint.
Why we should want it to happen– It’s unlikely that Memphis has the firepower to deal with Oklahoma City in a series, but they did upend the Russell Westbrook-less Thunder last year. Oklahoma City got them in a seven game classic back in 2011, so this would be the rubber match. Phoenix vs. Oklahoma City would be a more aesthetically pleasing 1st Round series, but the Suns wouldn’t have a chance of beating the Thunder. At least with Memphis there is history that says otherwise.