This season has been a whirlwind, from wondering if there will be a season to having a shortened schedule. Due to the factors that come with a lock-out, there were many unfortunate things, like injuries, that hurt teams. There were also some trades that did, or didn't work out, which greatly affected the landscape of the NBA. Then, there were Cinderella stories gone awry.
There are so many "what ifs" that a person can have about their team and the playoffs, but some are bigger than others. These are the "what ifs" that completely changed the NBA playoffs.
Before the season even began, there was a blockbuster trade organized among the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Hornets to bring point guard Chris Paul to Los Angeles. This was all but done until commissioner David Stern revoked it for "basketball reasons." Paul then wound up on the other L.A. team, the Clippers.
If you take a look at the Lakers, they really lack skill at the point guard position. The pick-up of Ramon Sessions helped a lot at first, but the young guard has slowly faded into the background. If the Lakers had Paul, there's no doubt that they would be a much more serious title contender than they are right now. He brings the skill and experience needed to win a championship.
Basketball fans everywhere cringed when Derrick Rose went down in Game 1 with an ACL tear. You never want to see that happen to a guy, especially in the playoffs when he is essential to his team. The Chicago Bulls went on to play with the most heart that has been seen in this playoff season so far (although there have been a lot of close games). The former MVP is a key component to the Bulls team, and his injury changed the playoffs.
Before Rose went down, there was speculation that the Bulls would be able to take it all the way to the NBA Finals. It wouldn't be easy, but they definitely had a chance. The team was able to play fairly well without Rose during the regular season, so they definitely had a chance to win, but without Rose it was significantly slimmer.
As if the Bulls weren't dealt a big enough blow in Game 1 with Rose out, their young center Joakim Noah was also injured. In Game 3, Noah turned his ankle and was unable to return during the rest of the series. Noah was big for the Bulls both on offense and defense. He was averaging 15 points in the playoffs and 9.3 rebounds.
This was another obstacle that the Bulls could overcome, but it was unlikely, especially with Rose injured as well. If Noah was in, the series with the Philadelphia 76ers is much longer, and while they still might not win, it is certainly more of a battle.
If former New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni doesn't resign, there is an excellent chance they don't make the playoffs at all. At the time of his resignation, D'Antoni had led the Knicks to an 18-24 record, and they were looking like they wouldn't make the playoffs. Enter new head coach Mike Woodson.
Woodson took over the position and coached the Knicks to an 18-6 record, and they made the playoffs. Granted, the team lost in the first round, and it wasn't much of a battle, but at least they made it. Also, if it weren't for D'Antoni resigning, Amar'e Stoudemire would never have been able to take on a fire extinguisher and give us joke fodder for the next year or two.
The Los Angeles Clippers lost veteran guard Chauncey Billups early in the season to an Achilles injury. Billups signed with the team in the offseason and seemed to be finding a groove. He rarely had an off night, averaging 14.9 points in the regular season.
Billups may not be fast, but he's a highly skilled shooter, which the Clippers could really use right now. He's also an experienced veteran who would be very useful in playoff minutes. There's very little doubt that with a healthy Billups, the Clippers have a much better chance at making it into the Western Conference finals. They may have even been seeded higher in the brackets.
Rajon Rondo is one of the best young guards in basketball right now. While young, he still has playoff, and championship experience. There were talks, with the trade deadline approaching that the Celtics were looking to deal Rondo. While these rumors were reported, then consequently rescinded, there's no denying that a Rondo trade could have meant a big difference in these playoffs.
Rondo has gone for 16 points, 6.6 rebounds and 12.9 assists a game. This double-double average is something the Celtics would miss dearly. While he doesn't bring much by way of attitude, Rondo more than makes up for this out on the court. He could have given any team a big edge.
Jose "J.J." Barea was a huge part of the Mavericks' championship run last year. Barea is known for being a pest. He's small, fast and can irritate teams to no end. He's an X-factor that is hard for opponents to prepare for.
In the offseason, the Mavericks did not re-sign Barea, and he was picked up by the Minnesota Timberwolves. While the Wolves didn't make the playoffs, that's not to say Barea isn't an essential player. If he were still on the Mavericks, they at least have a much better chance at being a title contender. Barea averaged 11.3 points in the regular season and was a 40 percent shooter. In some games, the Mavericks could not buy a shot, and Barea would have been very helpful on both offense and defense.
In this season's version of "The Decision," Orlando Magic Center Dwight Howard had to decide whether he wanted to stay in Orlando or take his talents elsewhere. Ultimately he made an odd decision, staying in Orlando for significantly less money than he could have signed for.
Howard was also injured in the regular season, which means he sat out in the offseason. So, the "what ifs" for Howard are two-fold: what if he left Orlando and what if he was healthy.
If he left Orlando, there's an excellent chance that they do not make the playoffs. He's a crucial part of this team's ability to win, both offensively and defensively. This also means if he were healthy, the Magic had a chance to be a contender for the championship. Without him they were swiftly knocked out of the playoffs.
The Knicks superstar guard, Jeremy Lin, was such a huge part of the Knicks' success this year. While the team was still with Coach Mike D'Antoni, Lin found a way to win. The "linsane" time in basketball will be something that is remembered because it was so shocking and exciting to watch and be a part of. This electrifying player rode the pine for years, looking for an NBA home. Well, he found one.
Then Lin went down with a meniscus tear. He had surgery performed, but unfortunately it meant he was out for at least the first round of the playoffs. While Lin wasn't as exciting once Carmelo returned to the Knicks' active roster, Lin still continued to be a solid presence. His absence was undeniably felt in the playoffs.
Looking at the Lakers' current series with the Thunder, it is painfully obvious how important rest is during the playoffs. In the regular season, Metta World Peace threw his elbow into the face of James Harden, which resulted in a seven-game suspension, six of which took place during the playoffs.
In the Lakers' first series against the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers were unable to really close games. They nearly completely lacked defense as well. World Peace is the Lakers' best defender, and his absence is a big reason the series went to seven games.
The Thunder were able to sweep the current champion Dallas Mavericks and get nine valuable days of rest, while the much older Lakers were engaged in a seven-game battle. If World Peace plays, the series with the Nuggets is much shorter, and the Lakers are fresher against the Thunder, rather than looking exhausted. While they may not beat the Thunder, they certainly would have had a better chance.