All the anticipation of the final week of the season has led up to one of the most dramatic regular-season finishes in recent years. The NBA playoff picture is set, and we’re now focused on the 16 teams that clawed their way into postseason play.
The Eastern Conference race wasn’t as heated as its counterpart, but there was still plenty on the line Wednesday night.
The Chicago Bulls were able to escape their regular-season finale with a 95-92 victory over the Washington Wizards to secure the No. 5 seed, while the New York Knicks played the spoiler role in knocking off the Atlanta Hawks 98-92, relegating Atlanta to the No. 6 seed in the process.
While the eight Eastern Conference playoff squads were already assured of a postseason berth entering Wednesday’s action, the West was a different story.
The Utah Jazz failed to notch a win against the Memphis Grizzlies, missing out on a playoff spot in doing so. With their playoff chances secure, the Los Angeles Lakers took the floor at the Staples Center with a huge sigh of relief.
Wednesday was a dramatic day for the NBA, but the drama has only just begun. The only thing guaranteed in the playoffs is the prospect of exciting matchups and must-watch basketball.
While upsets are prevalent in postseason play, we typically don’t see all that many until the second round of action. With that in mind, let’s break down some likely second-round pairings with massive upset potential.
First Round: Saturday, April 20
Second Round: Tuesday, May 7
Conference Finals: Wednesday, May 22
NBA Finals: Thursday, June 6
Television: ABC, ESPN, TNT, NBA TV, ESPN2
*Full schedule can be found at SportsMediaWatch.com.
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (3) Denver Nuggets
It’s hard to consider a No. 3 seed topping a No. 2 seed an “upset,” but there are a lot more factors in this potential matchup than records and playoff standings.
The San Antonio Spurs seemed to have found the fountain of youth this season, but as was always likely to be the case, age began playing its part. By the final game of the regular season, San Antonio’s injury report was riddled with big names, including Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
If the Spurs can’t find a way to get healthy—and stay healthy—in the postseason, a first-round win will be far from guaranteed.
Still, the Spurs earned the No. 2 seed by playing tremendous basketball this season, and it’s hard to predict Gregg Popovich’s squad making an early-round exit against any opponent. It may be inevitable if San Antonio plays Denver in the second round, though.
The Nuggets have as much depth as any team in the league—at least enough to rebound from the loss of Danilo Gallinari. As long as Kenneth Faried is back to 100 percent in time for the playoffs, the youthful Nuggets have a chance to do big things in the postseason.
George Karl’s squad split the season series with San Antonio (2-2), and should these two teams face off in the second round, we could easily see a seven-game series with a surprising ending.
(1) Miami Heat vs. (5) Chicago Bulls
No one expects the Miami Heat to stumble in the early rounds of the playoffs. After proving to be the best team in the NBA in the regular season, Miami has as good a shot as any to run the table and earn an NBA title.
But that kind of thinking is what leads to upsets. If Miami is forced to play Chicago in the second round, all bets are off.
The Bulls are banged up and without their superstar point guard, but that didn’t keep the No. 5 seed from ending Miami’s 27-game winning streak on March 27. Chicago is a gritty team with nothing to lose, and Miami can expect a dogfight should these two teams match up in the second round.
Miami is an explosive offensive team, but it struggles against teams that play good defense in the paint and rebound well—two things the Bulls have done well all season. With a healthy Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, Chicago presents a difficult matchup the Heat may not be able to overcome.
The difference in this potential matchup could come down to rest. While Miami will have little trouble dispatching the Milwaukee Bucks in quick fashion in the first round, Chicago is left with a series against Brooklyn that could easily go seven games.
It’s far too early to predict an outcome should Miami and Chicago play in the second round, but this much is obvious: Miami shouldn’t expect an easy path to the finals if Chicago advances to the second round.