The 82-game NBA season takes its toll on every team. By the time the playoffs arrive, nearly every squad is in need of extended rest—something no team has benefited from since the All-Star break.
The short lull between the regular-season finale and first-round playoff action is enough to get players healthy and recharged for a postseason run, but the biggest prize of the first round is the extra time off after a short playoff series.
Teams like the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder will likely earn a few extra days off with quick first-round series. To take nothing away from the Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets, there’s a reason the Heat and Thunder enter the playoffs with No. 1 seeds.
But not every team will have such an advantage when the second round begins. Winning in the playoffs is no easy task, and the following teams may be faced with a shortened rest period before the second round courtesy of a seven-game series in the opening round.
(7) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (2) San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles and San Antonio have been the Western Conference’s powerhouses for more than a decade. Unfortunately for both teams, age and injuries have taken their toll this year, and neither is especially prepared for a deep playoff run at the moment.
The Lakers deserve a lot of credit for making a final push for the playoffs without Kobe Bryant, but the Black Mamba’s absence can’t be understated. Despite a roster featuring stars like Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, questions remain as to Los Angeles’ ability to gel as a unit and advance through the first round without Bryant.
The Spurs aren’t exactly in ideal position for a short series, though. With seven losses in its last 10 games and plenty of big names on the injury report, San Antonio isn’t carrying much momentum into the playoffs.
This was a potentially devastating draw for both teams. As talented as both squads are, this matchup will necessitate a long, arduous series—something neither team can afford with a matchup against either Golden State or Denver on the horizon.
Prediction: Spurs in seven.
(7) Boston Celtics vs. (2) New York Knicks
No team is without injuries at this point in the year. New York and Boston are among the squads that have been bitten hardest by the injury bug.
The Knicks’ injury report is littered with banged-up frontcourt players, including Marcus Camby, Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin. Without those players in the lineup down the stretch, New York was forced to play a fairly one-dimensional style of basketball predicated on long jumpers and perimeter scoring.
Chandler and Martin are probable for Game 1, but there’s no guarantee the Knicks will be able to rely on both for substantial minutes. Should New York’s big men not be back to 100 percent in a hurry, Boston will have a big advantage in the paint.
That said, Boston isn’t exactly as strong as we’ve come to expect in recent years. Rajon Rondo’s absence was expected to doom Boston’s season, and while the Celtics battled throughout the second half to earn a playoff spot, they aren’t the same team that took Miami to seven games in the conference finals last season.
Both teams showed tremendous resiliency in the regular season, but injuries could play a big factor in this series. If New York can’t get back to full strength early in the series, expect this to be a long, drawn-out matchup.
Prediction: Knicks in seven.