Following an intriguing regular season with ups and downs for even the top franchises in both conferences, the postseason is nearly here.
Teams like the Indiana Pacers, Golden State Warriors and others come in hobbled, but the playoffs are essentially the beginning of a new season for every team.
Though a few lopsided series are on tap, a plethora of outstanding matchups in both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference will make getting out of the first round a struggle for several teams.
Here's a glimpse at the current playoff picture provided by NBA.com:
In the West, expect to see four series that from top to bottom will pit some of the best teams in the NBA against one another. With five teams at 50 or more wins and the Warriors and Dallas Mavericks one win away from that mark, the West is loaded once again.
As for the East, just two teams sit at over 50 wins, as both the Pacers and Miami Heat are clearly the cream of the crop, but teams like the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls have hopes of pulling off a miraculous run.
Let's take a look at how the playoff schedule would look if the season ended on Monday and a breakdown of some of the more enthralling matchups.
|2014 Projected Postseason First-Round Matchups|
|Team 1||Record||Team 2||Record|
|No. 1 Indiana Pacers||54-26||No. 8 Atlanta Hawks||37-43|
|No. 2 Miami Heat||54-26||No. 7 Charlotte Bobcats||41-39|
|No. 3 Chicago Bulls||47-32||No. 6 Washington Wizards||42-38|
|No. 4 Toronto Raptors||46-33||No. 5 Brooklyn Nets||43-36|
|No. 1 San Antonio Spurs||62-18||No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies||47-32|
|No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder||58-21||No. 7 Dallas Mavericks||49-32|
|No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers||56-24||No. 6 Golden State Warriors||49-30|
|No. 4 Houston Rockets||53-27||No. 5 Portland Trailblazers||52-28|
Oh, the NBA playoffs. A brand new season with not only enticing games awaiting basketball fans, but also a clean slate for franchises that were hampered down the stretch to make the postseason.
One of those teams struggling mightily coming in is the Warriors. Golden State has gone 4-4 over the last eight games but enters the playoffs with injury concerns for one of its stars. Andrew Bogut suffered a rib injury that caused him to sit out the end of Sunday's loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. He had X-rays taken following the game.
Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle reported the news and coach Mark Jackson's thoughts on the injury:
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Warriors' opponent on Sunday has turned things back around. Since the return of LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland has the look of a team that was one of the best midway through the season.
Aldridge returned to the Blazers during a three-game losing streak—concluding with an ugly loss to the Orlando Magic—and has completely changed the look of the team. ESPN Stats & Info provides a look at the turnaround for Rip City:
The Blazers are actually 7-1 now since his return following the huge win over Golden State on Sunday. During that stretch, Aldridge has averaged 24.8 points and 12.8 rebounds per game, returning to his form that made the Blazers a top contender earlier in the season.
As for the only perceived contenders in the East, both the Pacers and Heat still have a shot at taking the top seed in the conference. With Indiana going 4-8 in its last 12 games, Miami has slowly snuck back into the discussion.
But the Pacers still control their own destiny and could clinch by winning out. As ESPN Stats & Info notes, the top seed would be a first for Indiana in a decade:
Though both Indiana and Miami are contending for the top overall seed, Mike Greenberg of ESPN points out that both teams could be working toward avoiding a matchup with a team that looks like a contender coming into the playoffs:
The Brooklyn Nets will obviously have to get through a stout Bulls team that has defied the odds this season without Derrick Rose, but they have a roster that could give either the Pacers or Heat fits in the second round.
It's tough to predict how the playoffs will shape up on either side. But with some of the biggest games of the year just on the horizon, the intensity in the NBA is about to heat up once again as the postseason finally arrives.
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