As the 2012-13 NBA regular season comes to a close, the postseason matchups are falling into place. From 2012 rematches to clashes between division foes, we're preparing to see heated clashes between the league's elite.
The question is, who could be on upset alert?
In a perfect world, the seeds would all advance in the manner in which their hype suggests they should. As we've come to learn, however, seeding is only as valuable as a team's ability to execute when the game is on the line.
In a postseason series, close outings are common—in those instances, the term "better" is not always applicable.
In 2013, there is the potential for upsets to transpire during the first round of the playoffs. Not only could current favorites stumble, but they could fall before their postseason run even begins.
So who is on upset alert? Let's find out.
2013 NBA Playoffs Schedule
Per NBA.com, here are the dates to know for the 2012-13 NBA Playoffs.
April 17: Regular season ends
April 20: 2013 NBA Playoffs begin
May 7: Conference Semifinals begin (possible move-up to May 6)
May 22: Conference Finals begin (possible move-up to May 21)
June 6: The Finals begin (possible move-up to June 4)
No. 1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Lakers
Before we get into the blind hatred of the Los Angeles Lakers, it's important that we remember who we're talking about. Even without Kobe Bryant, the Lakers are an elite team that thrive in the areas the Oklahoma City Thunder have trouble.
For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure a core of Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash is elite for any other franchise.
Assuming Howard and Gasol work it inside, they can slow it down and create easy baskets for their shooters. With Steve Blake catching fire, Nash one of the all-time great shooters and Jodie Meeks finding his stroke, L.A. could keep the pace.
Don't put your money on it, but this is possible.
Howard led the Orlando Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals with a significantly weaker supporting cast than he currently possesses. As long as Nash is able to get healthy, there's no reason he can't do the same in 2013.
Kobe will be missed, but this is not an impossibility—no matter how badly we want to tell ourselves it is.
No. 2 New York Knicks vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics
For those who believe that the New York Knicks are illegitimate NBA championship contenders, stop yourself short. The Knicks are an elite three-point shooting team that has rediscovered their elite defense since the signing of Kenyon Martin.
With that being said, the Knicks drew the worst first-round draw possible when they landed a seven-game series against the Boston Celtics.
The Knicks and Celtics are longtime rivals who always seem to bring the best out of one another. While New York won three of four during the regular season, the postseason is an entirely different animal.
For what it's worth, the Celtics reached the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals while the Knicks haven't made it out of the first round since 2000.
The Celtics may be without Rajon Rondo, but they are still led by former NBA champions Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. With Jeff Green's rise to stardom and the pairing of Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee playing elite defense, the Celtics have the depth and star power to pull off the upset.
Even if the Knicks are rationally favored, don't sleep on Boston.
No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors
Most teams are fortunate enough to get healthy at the perfect time of the season. In the case of the Denver Nuggets, they've seen Danilo Gallinari go down with a torn ACL and Kenneth Faried suffer a sprained ankle during the final month of the season.
That's bad news considering the Nuggets are in line to play another elite offensive team in the Golden State Warriors.
Gallinari's ability to shoot the three-ball will be missed, although it shouldn't be too devastating for the Nuggets. They can compensate for his absence by plugging in spot shooters who are capable in spot-up situations.
Against a Warriors team that's eighth in three-point field goals and first in three-point field goal percentage, however, that may not be enough.
The true absence to be missed, however, is Faried's. Not only is Faried an elite rebounder, but he's preparing to go up against David Lee in this series.
For those unfamiliar, Lee is fourth in rebounding and leads the league with 55 double-doubles.
If Faried is not at 100 percent, Lee will exploit that advantage on both ends of the floor. This will enable the Warriors to create second-chance scoring opportunities and capitalize with the three-ball.
That's more than enough for the Warriors to take down a defensively-inept Nuggets team in four out of seven games.