NBA Roundtable Playoff Preview: Top 10 Questions, Including Who Will Win It All?

Allen Levin@@TheNBAllenCorrespondent IIApril 8, 2010

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 20:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder goes to the basket against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on February 20, 2010 in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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So, Brandon Ribak and I decided to do an NBA playoff preview edition roundtable and tackle 10 burning questions.

Ribak has written 393 articles for Bleacher Report and is the former No. 1 overall NBA writer on B/R. He won the NBA writers competition last year here on B/R.

I am a Bleacher Report Miami Heat and University of Central Florida Knights Football Featured Columnist.

We are both journalism students at UCF and write for the school paper, the Central Florida Future.

We decided to go head to head and debate the most pressing issues—tell us who you think makes the better case.

10. With the Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, and Charlotte Bobcats only separated by a couple of games in the East playoff race, how will that race end up?

Levin: Right now, the Heat are the hottest team in the NBA and their remaining schedule is extremely generous. They face Philadelphia twice, Detroit once, New York once, and finish with the lowly Nets. They are playing their best ball of the season and are determined to get the fifth seed.

The Bucks own the tie-breaker with Miami and with the two teams currently tied, Milwaukee would win the fifth seed if the season ended today. However, their final three games are against Atlanta and Boston twice, which will be tough.

And with the loss of Andrew Bogut for the playoffs, the Bucks will not catch Miami at the fifth seed and will finish with the sixth spot. Charlotte is two games behind, so I don't see the Bobcats catching up. They will finish with the seventh seed.

Ribak: The Heat are on a league-best nine-game win streak and are quite honestly playing the best basketball of the season. Miami has a very easy remaining schedule and will end up at the five seed. Milwaukee is having a hell of a season, and the addition of John Salmons could not have come at a better time.

The Bucks face the Celtics twice and the Hawks once in their final four games and will end up at the six seed. Being behind two games, I see the Bobcats staying right where they're at.

9. Who will capture the East's eighth and final seed, Toronto or Chicago?

Levin: Derek Rose was quoted last week saying that his Chicago Bulls will make the playoffs, and I believe him. They trail the Raptors by only a half game with five games to go. They have tough matchups against Boston and Cleveland, but face Toronto on Sunday, which could determine their fate.

They are 6-4 in their last 10 games, and now that Joakim Noah is back in the lineup, Chicago can catch up to Toronto and sneak into the postseason.

Not to mention, Chris Bosh fractured his face Tuesday night in the Raptors' loss to the Cavaliers and will miss at least the rest of the regular season, which puts a severe dent in Toronto's chances. The Raptors have lost three games in a row and appear to be imploding. Expect Chicago to overtake them.

Ribak: Ah, this is a tough one. With Bosh breaking his nose Tuesday night, the Raptors will capture the eighth seed only if he is on the court, plain and simple. As for the Bulls, they still have a tough road ahead of themselves as they have to face Cleveland, Boston, Charlotte, and Toronto. If you put a gun to me and I had to answer, I'd choose Toronto.


8. The Western Conference is stacked and the first round will be a tough matchup for everyone. What top West seed is most likely to get upset: LA, Utah, Dallas, Denver, or Phoenix?

Levin: If the playoffs started today, Oklahoma City would square off against the Utah Jazz. While I think the Jazz are a very strong team, the Thunder have a little someone named Kevin Durant. If Durant's play is MVP-caliber in the playoffs, there is a chance his Thunder could upset the Jazz.

Most likely though, none of the West's top seeds will get upset in the first round. However, the one team with the potential to knock off a heavyweight is the Thunder, and the Jazz appear most vulnerable.

Ribak: I have to go with Utah on this one. I feel like regardless of what seed the Jazz end up in, the Spurs, Nuggets, Suns, and Mavericks can take them in a seven-game series. The Jazz are killer at home, but I don't see them winning on the road.

7. Who will come out on top of the Eastern Conference?

Levin: I've said this all yea: the Orlando Magic. They are scary deep and create matchup problems for just about every team. I fully expect them to repeat as Eastern Conference champions. They have been playing great ball lately and have ended any conversation of them not being the team to beat in the Southeast Division.

Wins over Denver, Dallas, and the Lakers in the last month have been convincing, and Dwight Howard has been dominant. The Orlando Magic will be representing the East in the NBA Finals this June.

Ribak: This one sucks because I'm a Magic fan, but I truly see LeBron and the Cavs being crowed Eastern Conference champs this year. Adding Antawn Jamison just put the icing on top in my opinion.


6. If Cleveland and Orlando face off in the Eastern Conference Finals, is Shaq the answer to Dwight Howard?

Levin: Dwight Howard is pretty much unguardable and is the most feared center in the NBA.  Shaq's days as Superman are finished and he has been out the last month with a thumb injury. That being said, he is still the only body in the league that can withstand Howard's punishment.

The entire reason the Cavaliers traded for O'Neal was for the playoffs. His purpose on the team is to be an answer to Howard after the Cavs were exposed in last year's East Finals massacre.

Having Shaq in the middle will help Cleveland a lot and it will make the series more competitive. However, I still think the Magic will take down King James and the Cavs once again. Shaq will make his last hoorah and will be extremely motivated to prove he's still capable of delivering championships, but I think Howard's young, athletic figure will get the best of an old, broken down Shaq.

Ribak: No. Nobody is the answer for Dwight. Shaq could limit his production more than Big Z could last season, but no way is he the "answer" for the new Superman.

5. How will Kevin Durant perform in his first postseason appearance?

Levin: Durant will turn a lot of heads in his first postseason appearance. He has been an absolute monster, improving greatly from last year. He leads the league in scoring at just under 30 points per game and has catapulted himself into the MVP discussion after turning around the Thunder in just one year.

He's led his team to a 25-win improvement from last year and put it in playoff contention in a much deeper and tougher Western Conference. A determined Durant under the playoff spotlight for the first time is a scary thought for whoever the Thunder face in the first round.

We will see a performance similar to Derek Rose's outstanding postseason debut in last year's playoffs. Durant will give Oklahoma City a legitimate chance to pull an upset in the first round because of his spectacular play. Get ready to see some highlight reel performances from Durant in his first postseason appearance.

Ribak: Just as phenomenal as he has been all season long. The kid is just 21 and the sky is the limit for him. I see him dropping 30-plus points multiple times.


4. Denver has been falling apart lately, with injuries to K-Mart and Coach George Karl's throat cancer. Do the Nuggets have what it takes to make a return trip to the West finals?

Levin: Despite all the setbacks the Nuggets have received from injuries and Coach Karl's cancer, they have still been able to stay in the thick of the division race with an ascending Utah Jazz. Even after going 5-5 in their last 10 games, the Nuggets still remain only a half-game behind Utah for the division crown.

Kenyon Martin is expected back for the playoffs, which will give the Nuggets a huge boost. In addition, Coach Karl just completed his last round of chemotherapy. Denver will be rejuvenated behind a healthy K-Mart and motivated to win for its Coach. The Nuggets are very deep and have the experience and leadership of Chauncey Billups, who will lead them back to the West finals.

This is a very dangerous team when fully healthy and the Nuggets certainly have what it takes to get deep in the playoffs.

Ribak: I'd love to see it happen because last season I really enjoyed watching them face up against the Lakers. But in all honesty, I do not see them making it back there. The Mavericks are very powerful and the Spurs already have resurrected.

3. The Miami Heat are the hottest team in the NBA, carrying the NBA's longest winning streak at nine games. Can they pull off an upset in the first round?

Levin: Out of the all the lower-seeded Eastern Conference playoff teams, the Heat are most equipped to pull off an upset in the first round. And that is a product of having one of the top three players in the NBA in Dwyane Wade.

Miami has had the advantage of having the best player on the floor every night during their streak, and with the way the Heat have been playing, they could pull off the upset.

They have won 15 out of their last 18 and will head into the postseason with a lot of momentum. Right now they are slated to face Boston, who is the better team, but you never know what could happen with a motivated Wade. No matter who the Heat face, they will cause a scare and make the series highly competitive. Look for the Heat to be a threat in the first round.

Ribak: Sorry Heat fans, but it's just not going to happen this season. Miami relies too heavily on Wade and it's clear that he just can't do it all. Just be happy that you have money to lure in Chris Bosh next season.


2. Phoenix also is one of the hottest teams in the NBA, backed by the outstanding play of Amare Stoudemire. Are they legit or can we expect an early exit?

Levin: Phoenix just seems like one of those teams that are continually good and always have a great regular season, but they can never get it done in the playoffs. Since the arrival of Steve Nash, the Suns have remained relevant in the Western Conference and always appear like title contenders, but they never get over the hump.

Although Stoudemire has been playing phenomenally, the West is too deep for the Suns to advance past the second round. Phoenix shouldn't be taken lightly and has the ability to make some noise, but I expect an early exit. The Lakers, Mavs, and Nuggets are too good for the Suns to handle.

Ribak: They're definitely legit, but they just can't seem to make it far in the postseason. No way they make it past the second round, if they even make it there.


1. Lastly, who takes the cake: Is it King James' year or is Kobe getting No. 5?   

Levin: I've said this all year: a Magic vs. Lakers repeat in the NBA Finals. And once again, it will be the same result with Kobe Bryant snagging his fifth championship ring. LA is poised to repeat as champions and Kobe is motivated to catch MJ's six titles.

Sorry, King James, you'll just have to wait another year, because Bryant is taking home the Larry O'Brien trophy again.

Ribak: Kobe, Kobe, Kobe. It would be great to see LeBron finally get his first ring, but the Lakers are just way too good. Yeah, they're not playing terrific right now, but they still have the best team in the league with a healthy Andrew Bynum. I just hope we get to see LeBron face up against Kobe!


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