NBA questions: Can the Heat go all the way?

The NBA playoffs are in full swing and already there have been

some surprises.

Who would have thought the Bulls could lose a first-round

series, or that the Knicks would win a game against the Miami

Heat?

As the first round winds down, some questions about the

postseason so far and a few predictions:

– CAN METTA WORLD PEACE SAVE THE LAKERS? Asking the former Ron

Artest to provide stability might seem strange, particularly as he

returns from his latest trouble with the NBA, a seven-game

suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City’s James Harden in the head.

But the Lakers need someone to provide some defense and a couple of

3-pointers as they head to Game 7 against Denver, making this the

perfect time for World Peace to remind us that there is some good

to go with his bad.

– THE PACERS. REALLY? Yes, really. Indiana is 16-4 since the

start of April, and clobbered Miami by 15 points a week before

that. With 7-foot-2 All-Star Roy Hibbert at center, two solid point

guards and a quality bench, the Pacers have strength at the spot of

the Heat’s biggest weaknesses. If that isn’t enough to persuade you

to give them a chance against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the

Heat, consider the words of their coach. ”We are not the underdog

here,” Frank Vogel said. Tough talk, tough team, just not good

enough. The Heat will march on.

– WHAT ABOUT THOSE CRAZY 8s? The Philadelphia 76ers became the

fifth No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 when they knocked off Chicago, and

they handled second-round opponent Boston easily in both

regular-season games in Philadelphia. Don’t forget: The New York

Knicks were a No. 8 when they went all the way to the finals in

1999, the only other season shortened by a lockout, but there’s no

repeating that now. The Celtics, in likely the last hurrah for this

group, will end this Philadelphia story.

– ARE THERE MORE INJURIES TO COME? There’s a lot of hoops left

to play, but let’s hope not. Injuries (Does Kobe Bryant’s stomach

bug count?) already did in the Bulls, Magic and Knicks, and are

even playing havoc with the U.S. Olympic team. But if you believe

the schedule is to blame, keep your eye on the next round: Some

teams may have to play on back-to-back days in the postseason, the

last remaining obstacle from the compressed schedule.

CAN THE WEST FINALS BE AN L.A. STORY? A Lakers-Clippers matchup

with an NBA finals spot at stake would be a hit in Hollywood.

Staples Center tenant vs. Staples Center tenant; the team that

thought it had acquired Chris Paul against the one that actually

got him. Sorry, this script is flimsy. Both teams are just trying

to hold on after squandering 3-1 leads in their first-round series,

and even if they do, neither will get out of the second round.

– WHO WILL BE THE MVP OF THE PLAYOFFS? There is no such award,

but if there were, how about the same guy who would have won it two

years ago? Rajon Rondo will never get the attention of Boston’s Big

Three, but the Celtics would never get anywhere without him. Once

Derrick Rose went out, the Celtics’ do-everything point guard might

have become the only player who can stop a championship parade in

Miami.

– AFTER AN EXCITING SEASON, WOULD THE NBA SHORTEN THE SEASON

PERMANENTLY? Not unless they could figure out how to make 82 games

worth of money in 66 games. Commissioner David Stern left the door

slightly open this week when he said during a radio show the issue

would be raised with owners, but Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver,

who will likely run this league in a couple of years, already shot

down the idea and figure owners would do the same.

– WHO WILL WIN THE NBA CHAMPIONSHIP? Miami will roll into the

finals as the favorite, but that didn’t matter last year when it

ran into a veteran team from Texas. Well, same state, same result,

different city: The Larry O’Brien trophy goes from Dallas to San

Antonio, the Spurs denying the Heat and winning their second title

in a lockout season and fifth overall.

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