NBA Playoffs 2012: The Road to the NBA Finals Just Got a Little Smoother

Shel HillContributor IIIApril 29, 2012

LeBron has his eyes focused on winning his first title.
LeBron has his eyes focused on winning his first title.Marc Serota/Getty Images

It seems inevitable that this year will be another MVP season for LeBron James. He has had a remarkable regular season, posting career highs in shooting percentage (53 percent), three-point shooting percentage (36 percent) and rebounds (7.9, also in 2007-08).

The knock on James has of course been that he hasn't captured the NBA title yet. People forget that he is only 27 and this may be that year.

The road to the finals in the east goes through Chicago and is said to be an ultimate battle between the Chicago Bulls, who have the best record in the East, and LeBron's Miami Heat, with the second-best record.

This means that home-court advantage belongs to the Bulls should they meet in the Eastern Conference finals. Teams fight all season long to gain that advantage, but there is one thing that could make that accomplishment seem irrelevant: an injury.

The Bulls have suffered a major blow to their 2012 championship hopes. The reigning league MVP Derrick Rose tore his ACL in Game 1 of the Chicago's series-opening win versus the Philadelphia 76ers. Although the Bulls were able to hold off the Heat in the regular season for the best record while Rose missed 40 percent of the season with multiple injuries, the Bulls were 32-7 with Rose in the lineup, and 18-9 without him.

The Bulls were only .500 versus top teams in the NBA though during that time, so their dominance was against the bottom half of the league, teams they will not face the further they go in the playoffs. The Heat defeated the Bulls in five games in the Eastern Conference championship last season, and that was with Rose playing at the top of his game. Now, simply making it back to the conference finals will now be a tougher task than previously thought for Tom Thibodeau and Co.

Rose's torn ACL makes the path that much wider for the Heat and James.
Rose's torn ACL makes the path that much wider for the Heat and James.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In the Heat's current series versus the New York Knicks, another torn ACL just made that match more in the Heat's favor than it was 24 hours ago. The Heat are without a doubt favored to win the series. Most have the Heat about a 9-to-5 odds to win in five games. The torn ACL suffered by Iman Shumpert—the Knicks' best perimeter defender and most athletic guard—will now most likely put the odds in favor of a Heat sweep.

Although Shumpert is a rookie from Georgia Tech and was the 17th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, he had become an integral part of the Knicks rotation. He has had a history of knee problems. He had his meniscus surgically repaired in his freshman year of college and missed the 2012 NBA Slam Dunk Contest because of knee problems

The Knicks are already playing short-handed in the backcourt because of the injury to their starting point guard Jeremy Lin. Shumpert helped with backing up Baron Davis at the spot. Now they will have to use Mike Bibby—who has had a great career, but is past his prime—and will also have to use J.R. Smith, a natural shooting guard. Neither of the two are capable of successfully dealing with the Heat pressure.

Nothing is guaranteed, but obstacles can become minor problems when a team is firing on all cylinders as the Heat are.