The Cavaliers’ spot is set. Much of the rest of the NBA Playoff bracket is not. Let’s dive in.
1. Isn’t it nice to wonder about the whole bracket and realistically plan ahead? I’m not encouraging anyone to book hotel rooms in Orlando and L.A. because anything can happen, and last year we Clevelanders learned another valuable lesson in, um, waiting for next year. But Danny Ferry didn’t just wait. He’s significantly upgraded the roster, and a Cavaliers team at full strength is going to be a bear for the next 11 weeks. Orlando is going to be tough. Very tough. The second round won’t be easy, especially if three of the games are in Boston. You know that. The Cavaliers know that. But it sure is fun to think about this being a long ride.
2. First things first. With Chris Bosh out, the Bulls appear to be the team the Cavaliers will play in the first round. It’s not the same Bulls team that pushed the Celtics to the limit in last year’s first round, but it is a semi-dangerous team with Derrick Rose and some inside presence. We’ll see what happens (and who plays tonight), but I think the Bulls would push the Cavaliers. I think that’s a good thing. If the Cavaliers need a half (or a full game) to get Shaq back in the flow and the Bulls steal one, big deal. The important thing is advancing — making free throws and defending the 3-line are big parts of that — and gearing up for the road ahead. I don’t think sweeping four games in eight days does the Cavaliers any good if the series they’re waiting on, Hawks/Celtics vs. D-Wade, goes six or seven.
3. With last night’s major flub by the Hawks in Detroit, Boston and Atlanta are tied for the three seed with four games to go. The Celtics still have a layup with Washington, a home-and-home with Milwaukee and a trip to Chicago which will essentially be a playoff game. The Hawks go like this: Toronto at home, at Washington, at Milwaukee, home vs. the probably LeBron-less Cavaliers on the season’s final night. Advantage, Atlanta, though Boston wins a potential tiebreaker as a division champion. It’s a little ridiculous as the Hawks are 4-0 against the Celtics this year, but as a wise man once told me: Them’s the breaks, bud.
4. Out West, it’s a major log jam. Major. Like, unprecedented. The Lakers are the top seed, but then it’s a three-way tie for second among the Nuggets, Mavericks and the streaking Suns, with Utah just a half-game behind that bunch. There’s another three-way tie for sixth with Portland, Oklahoma City and a San Antonio team nobody wants to play. Oklahoma City has lost back-to-back heartbreakers and now probably needs to win in Portland next Monday to avoid being the eight seed and having to play the Lakers. That’s a dream matchup for TV ratings, but probably not so much for a dangerous but pretty green Thunder team.
5. Will the Lakers win the West? I’ll step out on a limb and say no. It would be awfully tough to bet against them, but I just think there are too many good teams. A lot depends on the bracket as I think the Lakers would cruise by Portland, but anyone else is going to give them a six or seven game series. The Spurs may even give them their walking papers. I think the signifcant gap that existed last year between the Lakers and their playoff opponents has been closed. I don’t consider Utah and Phoenix legitimate contenders to win the West, but I think the Mavs, Spurs and to an extent the Nuggets certainly are. I think it’s going to be a fun month.
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