Key 2013 NBA Playoff Storylines That Every Fan Can't Wait to See
"Now is BIG."
Now isn't big. Now is huge. Monstrous. Gargantuan. Now is what we've been waiting for.
Every season we're left hoping for a streamline of dramatic finishes, and this year certainly didn't fail to live up to the hype. And neither will the playoff matchups.
We're on the cusp of watching James Harden wage battle against his former team. On the precipice of seeing Carmelo Anthony trying to escape his normal disappointing playoff fate. On the verge of witnessing Dwight Howard's attempt to lead the Los Angeles Lakers sans Kobe Bryant.
And so much more.
Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors
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The matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors stands to be about as epic as first-round matchups can get.
Both teams run some of the fastest-paced offensive sets in the league, and both have been considered among the most dangerous of dark horses.
Stephen Curry leads the warriors in their first playoff appearance since 2007, and we all remember what happened when they were an eight seed that year.
Denver has made it to the postseason in each of the last 10 years (including this one), but it has managed to get out of the first round just once.
Offense meets offense in what should be one of the most entertaining battles the NBA has to offer.
New York Knicks and Boston Celtics
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Emotions are always running high when the Celtics and Knicks are on a postseason collision course.
Boston swept Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs in 2011, a thrashing that is still fresh in the minds of everyone in New York.
The tables have somewhat turned, though. 'Melo and the Knicks are 3-1 against the Celtics this season and fresh off their first division title since 1994. Boston is still attempting to escape the disappointment that came with losing Rajon Rondo and finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference.
Still, the Celtics are not a team to be trifled with. Jeff Green may well be an X-factor, and Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry are playoff warriors.
I also doubt Garnett and 'Melo have completely forgotten about their differences over, ahem, cereal.
These two teams have the most history of any of the first-round matchups, and Boston has been a popular upset pick in this one.
What's the Deal with These Clippers?
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We'd like to fancy the Los Angeles Clippers title contenders, but we really don't know.
There are times when they look unstoppable (17-game winning streak), and others when they're unwatchable (usually without Chris Paul).
Speaking of Paul, so much is resting on how the Clippers fare this postseason. Not only is head coach Vinny Del Negro on the hot seat, but Paul is set to enter unrestricted free agency.
A deep playoff run would go a long way in convincing Paul to stay while perhaps saving Del Negro's job. A first- or even second-round bounce, however, has the potential to create some serious issues.
Would Paul actually consider leaving if the Clippers can't get over the playoff hump? Would he return no matter what? Is Del Negro capable of leading this group of talent anywhere special?
How far the Clippers travel in the postseason will speak volumes about what direction they're headed in over the summer.
James Harden vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
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Try as the Thunder might to retain James Harden this past summer, they were forced to trade him. And try as Harden might to avoid his former team in the first round of the playoffs, he just couldn't do it.
Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.
Oklahoma City and Houston met three times during the regular season, so this matchup is nothing new. But just a year ago, Harden was seen willing the Thunder to the NBA Finals alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Now, their paths toward a championship run through each other.
The Thunder have won three out of four games against the Rockets this year, but Harden and friends were second in the league in points scored per game (106). Their offense is explosive, and they can go on runs that defenses simply can't defend.
Harden knows all too well that the Thunder are capable of the same. Durant and Westbrook form one of the most potent tandems in the league, and they are among the most unguardable players in recent memory.
Is There a Method to Brandon Jennings' Madness?
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It's time for Brandon Jennings to back the unthinkable.
I'm not talking about his quest for a max contract this offseason either, though his playoff performance will have a lot to say about how the Bucks and other potentially interested teams handle his situation.
What I am referring to is Jennings' wish that the Bucks would meet the Heat in the opening round of the playoffs.
"The two games that we played Miami so far, we matched up well against them," he told Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel back in March. "If you ask me, that's who I would want to play first round, Miami."
Milwaukee was 1-3 against the Heat during the regular season. If this series is anything other than a sweep, Jennings and Co. deserve some credit.
That Derrick Rose Guy
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Will he? Won't he?
Rose has remained steadfast in his refusal to rush back, and the Chicago Bulls are prepared to play on without him. But there's no use denying it: The longer Chicago's season lasts, the more opportunities Rose has to come back.
The Bulls have done their part, too. Chicago has set itself up against a winnable first-round foe in the Brooklyn Nets. The Rose-less Bulls were 3-1 against them on the season.
Of course, a series victory likely means they would be forced to face the Heat in the second round. Chicago was 2-2 in the regular season against South Beach's star-studded convocation, though.
Rose or not, that matchup would be interesting.
How Much Fight Do the Kobe-Less Lakers Have Left?
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From 17-25 to seventh place in the Western Conference, the Lakers are full of surprises. Even in the midst of controversy and an inordinate amount of injuries, the Lakers have managed to persevere.
Dwight Howard led the Lakers to a 2-0 finish after Kobe went down. He and Pau Gasol are finally clicking, and they've avoided the Thunder in the first round. But the season will only be a success if Howard and crew are successful in the playoffs.
Los Angeles has already defied the odds by clinching a postseason berth. If there was ever a shorthanded team poised for some playoff magic, it was this one.
Howard just has to ensure that he continues to give more motivational speeches. Seeing him hit his free throws would be nice too.
Carmelo Anthony's Playoff Demons
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This is Carmelo Anthony's 10th NBA season. It's his 10th playoff appearance. But he's made it out of the first round just once.
Since 'Melo has joined the Knicks, he's also just 1-8 in postseason bouts. And after last season, he is now the only top-five pick from the 2003 NBA draft without a championship ring.
Can you feel the pressure? I know Anthony can.
'Melo has redeemed himself in the eyes of New York fans by playing at a career-setting pace this season. Unfortunately, that does little to minimize the standards he's being held to.
The Knicks are hungry for playoff success once again, and Anthony has to be itching to prove his critics wrong. Will he be able to carry the Knicks past the first round?
We'll know soon enough.
Who the Heck Is Going to Come out of the Western Conference?
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If anyone other than the Heat comes out of the Eastern Conference, we'll be shocked. The same cannot be said of the Western Conference.
Oklahoma City has to be a favorite, and San Antonio is a team many like to come out on top, but that's just the beginning.
The Nuggets, Clippers and Grizzlies all seem capable of making a run. Counting out the bottom three seeds wouldn't be wise either.
Stephen Curry and the Warriors are inexperienced, but they are dangerous. It doesn't seem likely that the Rockets will be able to make it past the Thunder, but they can catch fire offensively at any time.
Sans Kobe, the Lakers still have more star power than most in the league. If they manage to sneak past the Spurs, they get the winner of the Nuggets-Warriors series. From there, they could find themselves in the Western Conference finals.
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The Heat are the most well-rested team in the league, LeBron James is having a career year and the team has clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Even with the Knicks and Pacers entering the fold, the Heat are big favorites to emerge from the East. It's equally hard to envision a Western Conference foe taking down Miami in a seven-game series.
LeBron and Co. won 66 games during the regular season. They lost just four games at home, and they managed to go 15-5 against the West, including a 7-1 record against the top four teams.
Should we just fit LeBron for his second championship ring now?
Miami hears dynasty bells, a piercing melody that 15 other teams may not be have the ability to silence.