The Oklahoma City Thunder will miss James Harden come playoff time, don't expect them not to.
With the majority of the regular season in the books, NBA fans should have a solid idea about the immediate future of their favorite teams. The problem is, that isn't the reality.
Fans across the country are disillusioned with false hope, which will only make a playoff defeat more difficult to swallow.
The upcoming playoffs have the potential to be very exciting, although the competition in the Eastern Conference may be underwhelming. In order to increase the hype, the future prospects of many teams are being overblown.
Delaying the inevitable by believing mistruths is an option during the regular season, but reality cannot be ignored once the postseason gets underway.
Winning in the playoffs requires a team to perform well on both ends of the court. While high-octane offensive attacks are exciting to watch, the play on the defensive end is just as important once the postseason gets underway.
All statistics and records accurate as of March 27th, 2013.
The Pacers' frontcourt is their only chance to challenge Miami.
Lie: The Indiana Pacers have a legitimate chance to knock off the Miami Heat.
During the 2012 postseason, the Indiana Pacers held a 2-1 lead over Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals before the Heat rattled off three straight victories. Simply put, the Pacers did not have an answer for the dominant performances of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
With this season's postseason on the horizon, the NBA universe is prepping for another Heat and Pacers series. Due to the presence of Roy Hibbert and David West in the frontcourt, the Pacers are viewed as the biggest threat to the Heat in the Eastern Conference.
By allowing just 89.6 points per contest, the Pacers lead the league in scoring defense. With Hibbert protecting the rim and Paul George on the wing, Indiana has the defensive playmakers to slow down Miami's attack.
Unfortunately for Indiana, Danny Granger has struggled with injuries all season, and it remains to be seen if he will be able to play at a high level in the postseason. While George took a major step forward this season, the Pacers need he and Granger to be playing at their peaks in order to shock the Heat.
If the Heat and Pacers faced off in the postseason, it would definitely be an entertaining series loaded with competitive games.
That being said, Miami would take over in crunch time. The Pacers won't be able to slow down both LeBron and Wade with the game on the line.
The road to the Finals in the Eastern Conference goes through Miami, and the road will prove to be too treacherous for Frank Vogel's team.
Will the Thunder match the success they had last year without Harden?
Lie: The Oklahoma City Thunder will not miss James Harden in the playoffs.
While an argument could be made that Sam Presti made the best decision for the future of the Oklahoma City Thunder by trading James Harden before the regular season started, the move also broke up one of the best young cores the NBA has seen in years.
The foursome of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka would have kept the Thunder in the championship discussion for the next decade, but apparently the small-market team was not willing to come in so far over the luxury tax.
While the Thunder have performed well during the regular season and are second in league scoring offense sans Harden, the true test will come in the postseason.
Three of the league's top 10 defenses are employed by Western Conference playoff teams, which means the Thunder will have to execute well on offense in order to reach the Finals for the second straight year.
In terms of offensive production, the numbers suggest that the Thunder don't really miss Harden. In fact, Oklahoma City scoring production is up 3.1 points from last season.
So why will Harden's absence hurt the Thunder if the offense is actually more productive without him?
The answer to that question is Harden's extraordinary playmaking ability.
In Harden, the Thunder had one of the most dynamic scorers in the NBA. Whether the Arizona State product was coming off screens or driving to the rim, Harden made OKC's offense even more difficult to slow down.
Harden has a knack for getting to the rim, has a great jumper and is an excellent facilitator. Once the playoffs commence, Scott Brooks' team will miss the quality possessions that Harden created during last year's postseason run.
The Thunder were able to rely on Harden at various points throughout the game, which took pressure off Westbrook. Westbrook has hurt the Thunder in the past by dominating the ball too much.
When Harden was on the roster and creating offense, OKC could go away from Westbrook when his play became erratic.
That isn't an option anymore.
One thing cannot be disputed: This year's Thunder team would have been better with Harden on the roster.
The Miami Heat are poised to repeat as NBA champions.
Lie: The Miami Heat will be challenged before the Finals
The Miami Heat are the best team in the NBA, evidenced by the remarkable winning streak that took the basketball world by storm. As the season has progressed, the Heat have only grown as a team and are the favorites to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy for the second straight year.
Looking at the situation logically, the Heat are the overwhelming favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals. If any other team won the Eastern Conference, it would be considered a monumental upset.
However, predicting the Heat to roll through the east is boring. Instead, it's a lot more exciting to build up Miami's biggest rivals, the Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.
While the NBA universe would easily prefer to see the Heat pushed in at least one competitive series, that may not happen.
The Indiana Pacers have the size and play the type of defense that could give the Heat trouble, but they don't have the star power to overcome the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
While the Knicks have beaten the Heat twice this season, those victories came when the season was still young. Since then, the Knicks have been ravaged by injuries and will not be entering the postseason at full strength.
The Nets may present the biggest challenge to Miami but would still be massive underdogs if they met in the playoffs.
The stage is set for an absolutely dominant playoff run by the Heat, with no serious challengers in the picture at the moment.
The Nuggets possess one of the league's biggest home-court advantages.
Lie: The Denver Nuggets' explosive offensive will make up for their porous defense.
The Denver Nuggets rank third in scoring and 24th in scoring defense. Their up-tempo attack creates a lot of possessions for both themselves and their opponents. Amongst potential playoff teams, only the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks allow more points on a nightly basis.
Denver's fast-paced attack is well-suited for the regular season, when opponents have a limited amount of time to prepare.
In a seven-game series, coaching staffs will be able to concoct a game plan to slow down the pace of action. This will put more pressure on Denver's half-court offense, which isn't nearly as efficient as their fast-break attack.
In the postseason, defense becomes far more important, especially in crunch time. In short, Denver's postseason success will be directly linked to their play on defense, as they won't be able to simply outscore elite competition on a nightly basis.
The Nuggets are a league-best 32-3 at home this season, which will give them a major advantage in the postseason. In the thin Denver air, the Nuggets' high-octane attack is at its best. They tend to run the opposition out of the gym.
But they may not be able to in the playoffs.
The Knicks have fallen off since the beginning of the season.
Lie: The New York Knicks will be just fine come playoff time.
The New York Knicks were all the rage during the first third of the season, as they won 18 of their first 23 games. Since then, the Knicks have compiled a record of 26-21, which is not indicative of a serious title threat.
So far this season, the Knicks are ranked ninth in scoring defense and 11th in scoring, both of which are respectable
The Knicks have been ravaged by injuries this season, with virtually everyone on their roster missing time. Amar'e Stoudemire has only appeared in 29 games, with all of those appearances coming off the bench.
Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler have both missed time recently, which has thrown off the Knicks rhythm. Considering that the playoffs are less than a month away, the Knicks need to quickly recover their early season form.
It doesn't help that the Knicks are oldest team in the history of the NBA, as they employ Jason Kidd (40), Marcus Camby (39) and Kurt Thomas (40). Why GM Glen Grunwald thought investing in players likely to break down before the playoffs is puzzling, as the team's success will be judged upon their playoff run.
Anything can happen once the postseason commences, but the odds are not in their favor.
Stephen Curry and David Lee have been excellent this season, but the Golden State Warriors have struggled in the second half of the season .
Lie: The Golden State Warriors will pull it together just in time for the playoffs.
Similar to the New York Knicks, the Golden State Warriors were more successful during the first half of the season. Since starting the season 20-10, the Warriors have posted a 21-22 record, which doesn't bode well for their future prospects.
The Warriors currently occupy the sixth spot in the Western Conference, although they are just one game ahead of the Houston Rockets. If the playoffs started tomorrow, Golden State would face off with the No. 3 seed Denver Nuggets.
According to 82Games.com, the Warriors have been getting below-average play at the shooting guard and small forward positions. Their deficiency on the wing has caught up to them as the season has progressed.
Golden State is the most efficient three-point shooting team in the NBA, which makes them a serious wild card. When hitting their shots, the Warriors have the capability to score with any foe.
Living by the three-ball is dangerous, as even the best shooters in the history of the game have off nights.
Stephen Curry has performed extremely well and has avoided injuries. He is averaging 22.5 points and 6.7 assists per games. The team's starting power forward, David Lee, has complemented Curry well, averaging 18.6 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.
While Lee and Curry have been superb, there is a significant drop off in efficiency after them. Outside of Lee and Curry, only Carl Landry and Jarret Jack have posted PER's above the league average.
It takes a strong overall team to succeed in the playoffs, as the opposition will certainly look to crowd Curry on the three-point line.
Golden State was a great story in the season's first half, as it's always nice to see franchises that have perennially struggled find success.
But the progress that the Warriors have made will likely be halted in the first round, as the playoffs will separate the title contenders from the pretenders.
Can Kobe Bryant drag the Lakers past the first round of the playoffs?
Lie: The Los Angeles Lakers will be relevant come playoff time.
This year's Los Angeles Lakers team has been polarizing. The Lakers have been under the microscope since the minute they acquired Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic. While most experts expected the Lakers to dominate, that has not been the case.
So far this season, the Lakers have compiled a 37-35 record, which puts them in eighth place in the Western Conference. While Mike D'Antoni's team is currently in playoff position, they still have to hold off the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks.
The Lakers have been forced to deal with numerous injuries. Pau Gasol and Steve Nash both missed a significant portion of time due to various ailments. Unfortunately for Laker Nation, the team is still struggling to stay healthy.
According to ESPN.com, Metta World Peace will have to undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Due to the talent the Lakers front office assembled, the hype surrounding the team was immeasurable. Prior to the season's tip-off, the NBA blogosphere was looking forward to a Lakers versus Oklahoma City Thunder Western Conference Finals matchup.
At this point, the Lakers would be fortunate to qualify for the postseason, which was a plot twist that few anticipated.
Hopefully this situation teaches the sports community that titles are determined on the field of play rather than during the offseason.
Through the Lakers' struggles, most expected them to get it together and reach their immense potential. It's time to give up on that hope. The Lakers are still struggling to keep their record above .500 and the playoffs are in sight.
Even if the Lakers do qualify for the postseason, they would likely draw either the San Antonio Spurs or Thunder in the first round. So far this season, the Lakers are a combined 1-5 against the top two teams in the Western Conference.
In those six contests, the Lakers only held the Spurs/Thunder under 100 points once. There is no reason to expect that trend to change in the first round of the playoffs, and the defensive woes will apply even more pressure on LA's offense.
The Lakers have struggled to contain explosive point guards, which would make facing Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook a nightmare.
Both Westbrook and Parker have the quickness to run circles around Steve Nash, which will force Nash's teammates to help out in keeping opposing point guards from gaining easy penetration into the paint.
A matchup with either team would be a tough draw for LA, which means their relevancy in the postseason will be minimal.