Now, the real season begins.
The NBA regular season is a grind, a marathon, a collection of games that have really only one purpose—separate the playoff teams from the non-playoff teams. Once the playoffs begin, well, that's when the real fun gets going.
And, as always, there are some classic matchups to watch for. Here's how the playoff picture shook out:
|4/20||(8) Mavericks vs. (1) Spurs||12 p.m.||TNT|
|4/23||(8) Mavericks vs. (1) Spurs||7 p.m.||NBATV|
|4/26||(1) Spurs vs. (8) Mavericks||3:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/28||(1) Spurs vs. (8) Mavericks||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/30||(8) Mavericks vs. (1) Spurs||TBD||TBD|
|5/2||(1) Spurs vs. (8) Mavericks||TBD||TBD|
|5/4||(8) Mavericks vs. (1) Spurs||TBD||TBD|
|4/19||(7) Grizzlies vs. (2) Thunder||9:30 p.m,||ESPN|
|4/21||(7) Grizzlies vs. (2) Thunder||8 p.m.||TNT|
|4/24||(2) Thunder vs. Grizzlies||8 p.m.||TNT|
|4/26||(2) Thunder vs. Grizzlies||9:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/29||(7) Grizzlies vs. (2) Thunder||TBD||TBD|
|5/1||(2) Thunder vs. Grizzlies||TBD||TBD|
|5/3||(7) Grizzlies vs. (2) Thunder||TBD||TNT|
|4/19||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|4/21||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||10:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/24||(3) Clippers vs. (6) Warriors||10:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/27||(3) Clippers vs. (6) Warriors||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|4/29||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||TBD||TBD|
|5/1||(3) Clippers vs. (6) Warriors||TBD||TBD|
|5/3||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||TBD||TNT|
|4/20||(5) Trail Blazers vs. (4) Rockets||9:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/23||(5) Trail Blazers vs. (4) Rockets||9:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/25||(4) Rockets vs. (5) Trail Blazers||10:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/27||(4) Rockets vs. (5) Trail Blazers||9:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/30||(5) Trail Blazers vs. (4) Rockets||TBD||TBD|
|5/2||(4) Rockets vs. (5) Trail Blazers||TBD||TBD|
|5/4||(5) Trail Blazers vs. (4) Rockets||TBD||TBD|
|4/19||(8) Hawks vs. (1) Pacers||7 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/22||(8) Hawks vs. (1) Pacers||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/24||(1) Pacers vs. (8) Hawks||7 p.m.||NBATV|
|4/26||(1) Pacers vs. (8) Hawks||2 p.m.||TNT|
|4/28||(8) Hawks vs. (1) Pacers||8 p.m.||NBATV|
|5/1||(1) Pacers vs. (8) Hawks||TBD||TBD|
|5/3||(8) Hawks vs. (1) Pacers||TBD||TNT|
|4/20||(7) Bobcats vs. (2) Heat||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|4/23||(7) Bobcats vs. (2) Heat||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/26||(2) Heat vs. (7) Bobcats||7 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/28||(2) Heat vs. (7) Bobcats||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/30||(7) Bobcats vs. (2) Heat||TBD||TBD|
|5/2||(2) Heat vs. (7) Bobcats||TBD||TBD|
|5/4||(7) Bobcats vs. (2) Heat||TBD||ABC|
|4/19||(6) Nets vs. (3) Raptors||12:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/22||(6) Nets vs. (3) Raptors||8 p.m.||NBATV|
|4/25||(3) Raptors vs. (6) Nets||7 p.m.||ESPN 2|
|4/27||(3) Raptors vs. (6) Nets||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/30||(6) Nets vs. (3) Raptors||TBD||TBD|
|5/2||(3) Raptors vs. (6) Nets||TBD||TBD|
|5/4||(6) Nets vs. (3) Raptors||TBD||TBD|
|4/20||(5) Wizards vs. (4) Bulls||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/22||(5) Wizards vs. (4) Bulls||9:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/25||(4) Bulls vs. (5) Wizards||8 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/27||(4) Bulls vs. (5) Wizards||1 p.m.||ABC|
|4/29||(5) Wizards vs. (4) Bulls||TBD||TBD|
|5/1||(4) Bulls vs. (5) Wizards||TBD||TBD|
|5/3||(5) Wizards vs. (4) Bulls||TBD||TBD|
It's either a testament to the strength of the West or the failings of the East that the No. 8 seed out West, the Dallas Mavericks, would be the No. 3 seed in the East. Much like real estate, when it comes to the NBA playoffs, conference location, location, location is everything.
Below, you can find all of my series predictions, including a more in-depth look at a few teams.
|Mavericks vs. Spurs||Spurs|
|Grizzlies vs. Thunder||Thunder|
|Clippers vs. Warriros||Clippers|
|Blazers vs. Rockets||Rockets|
|Pacers vs. Hawks||Pacers|
|Heat vs. Bobcats||Heat|
|Raptors vs. Nets||Nets|
|Wizards vs. Bulls||Bulls|
The Pacers, Heat and Spurs Will Advance
It would be absolutely shocking if any of these teams dipped out of the playoffs in Round 1. The Pacers will be playing a Hawks team that has a losing record, the Heat will have a winnable series against the the Charlotte Bobcats and the Spurs have been the league's best team all season long.
No, the questions for these teams will be asked later in the playoffs. The main one for the Heat will be why they didn't try harder to earn the No. 1 seed down the stretch. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra (sort of) addressed that with Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:
It was out of our control at some point, and those guys have put a lot of mileage, like I said.
Our schedule was fairly extreme down the stretch. I have never been a part of a group that have played that many games in that few of days down the stretch run. It’s not an excuse. We just want to make sure our guys are feeling right, that they’re sharp, that they’re feeling healthy and they have minor ailments that a couple days will do wonders for them.
Is Spoelstra adopting Gregg Popovich's "rest the starters when needed" philosophy? It's probably not quite so intense. But the Heat have reached the last three NBA Finals, winning two of them, so no team in the league has played as many games as Miami. It's hard to fault them for wanting to hit the postseason fresh, even with the top seed on the line.
That won't come into play until the conference finals, assuming the Pacers and the Heat both get there. Miami will cross that bridge when they get there apparently.
And yes, they'll get there.
Houston Rockets Will Knock Off the Portland Trailblazers in Six Games
This is a truly intriguing series, but it's hard to bet against the team with Dwight Howard and James Harden. It also helps that Houston has home-court advantage—they're 33-8 at home this year—and won the season series, three games to one.
Matt Moore of CBS has more on why this is a brutal matchup for Portland:
The Rockets overall have a lot of matchup advantages. An example? It's regular season, so that comes with caveats, but Jeremy Lin has a plus-15.5 net efficiency in four games vs. Portland this year. Lin's supposed to be the weak spot. The Blazers can score a little bit on Houston (as most teams can) but can't stop them at all. Dwight Howard averaged 25.5 points per game vs. Portland, James Harden averaged over 30. This is a nightmare matchup for Portland, at least from the outside.
Anything can happen in the postseason, but there's every indication that Houston will be moving on.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers Will Advance
The Clippers likely wanted to avoid the No. 6 Golden State Warriors, but playing the Memphis Grizzlies is hardly a walk in the park, either. Still, it would be surprising to see either of these teams bow out in Round 1.
The Thunder have the league's likely MVP (Kevin Durant), one of the top guards in the league (Russell Westbrook) and will be a popular pick to advance out of the West. This is a well-rounded, dangerous team.
It's very hard to imagine either of these teams losing in Round 1. Both are too talented to exit early in this postseason, no matter the matchup.