NBA Predictions: Which Contenders Can Win on the Road in the Playoffs?
The Los Angeles Lakers now have the league's most road wins this season after trampling the San Antonio Spurs just days ago. Most analysts and sports shows had all but forgotten about the Lake Show until their most recent road win, but now it seems as if everyone is starting to remember what is most important when it comes to professional basketball.
Winning, on the road that is.
As the regular season winds down, the only thing that really matters is who can put it together away from home. It matters for those with home court, as they will need to put lesser teams away quickly to stay rested come playoff time. It matters equally to those without home court, as the balance of power can easily be shifted in a series by getting a huge road win to start things off.
First thing's first: If you haven't been winning on the road in the regular season, it's not going to start when the pressure comes. In the playoffs, the game becomes much more half-court oriented, and every possession matters more than it did before. On the road, teams are not able to make the same mistakes as they can at home, and each turnover could very well be their last.
The teams that are great, and not good, are the ones who manage to dig deep within themselves. They have the experience, leadership and talent to take their show on the road. There are several contenders for the championship trophy this year, but some of them are much more likely to win on the road than others.
The following is an examination of each of the championship hopefuls, and how good of a chance they have at winning where it matters the most, out on the road.
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I hate to just be the next guy in line saying all of this, but every game that passes makes me increasingly worried about the Miami Heat's chances come playoff time.
The Miami Heat currently have 21 road wins this season, but that information does very little to comfort me in terms of the postseason in this case. The Heat may not be having the biggest problem winning on the road thus far, but what they have had a good deal of problems with lately is winning in general.
Forget the losing streak they're on, I'm not interested in the number. What has me concerned is that the Miami Heat don't seem to have an identity. You can see this clearly when the clock starts to run down on them, and they're not in the lead.
A team looks for the best possible option to put itself up by at least a point with the time running out. The Heat play a game of, "Who wants to isolate and look for his own jump shot?"
This is a bad plan, as you can infer from their late-game field-goal shooting numbers: The Heat have missed all but one of their 15 field goal attempts with under 10 seconds remaining coupled with a chance to take the lead or tie the game.
The Heat have the largest collection of talent in the league right now, but a lack of identity is going to make it hard for them to win big games on the playoffs...road games or home.
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The Dallas Mavericks have also been taking care of business on the road this year, sharing the league lead of 23 road wins with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Dallas has been a competitive team now for the last several years, but something is different this year that could result in a different playoff experience. That difference for the most part is defense, or more specifically, Tyson Chandler. With Chandler in the post, the Mavericks have gained a ton of ground in both rebounding and shot blocking. He provides them with a defensive anchor in the post that they can funnel the opposition's offense into, and in turn, he's saving them points because of it.
The Mavericks, like any other contender, also have a wealth of talent and experience. While Dirk's trip to the Finals in 2006 wasn't pretty, he still had to get there somehow. Jason Kidd has also been to the Finals (with similarly bad results), and if any one can lead them back through the trenches, it's him.
On top of all this, the Mavericks have been clicking under the radar all year. Teams don't always excel when nothing is expected from them, but sometimes they emerge to shock the world.
I would expect nothing short of making the second round for the Mavericks, and making noise in the third, possibly. I'm not sure how they would do against the Spurs or the Lake Show, but they have their best shot in recent memory this year.
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Dwight Howard is without a doubt playing the best basketball of his career right now. He's also racking up technicals like a Dennis Rodman protege.
Even with everything the Magic have going for them at this point, having only tallied 16 road wins so far worries me about their postseason potential. One thing is certain, the Magic have their work cut out for them in regards to their competition.
The Magic will go in with easily the best center in the game today, but will that be enough when stacked against the MVP in Derrick Rose? How about against the suffocating team defense of the Boston Celtics?
The Magic have much of their old formula back from 2009, having brought Hedo Turkoglu back into the mix. This is crucial for them, as few things are as important as chemistry. Things like this will definitely help the Magic on the road in the postseason.
Another area that makes me worry about their chances, however, is their lack of a closer. In road games especially, basketball teams need an individual who can step up and put the team on their back. I'm worried for the Magic, because I just don't think they have that player.
Dwight Howard is nothing less than amazing at times, but his offense is nowhere near as reliable as it would need to be in order to be that closer the Magic will need.
I'm all for team basketball, and the Celtics have proven that it can work, but the Celtics also had that closer in Paul Pierce.
San Antonio Spurs
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Between the two of these guys, more than a few championship rings have been won. Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich are still the anchors of this Spurs squad heading into the latter part of the season, and you can bet a buffalo nickel that they know what to do next.
The Spurs are right on the heels of the Lakers at the moment with 22 road wins this season, giving them the second-best road record. If you wonder why they are able to close out opponents so well away from Texas, you should look no further than the mold that was described about the Boston Celtics. Like the Celtics, this Spurs squad is lead by decorated veterans with championship experience, and coached by a genius in Gregg Popovich.
They don't exactly lack "talent" with players like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Gary Neal, George Hill and so on. However, it doesn't appear that they rely on that talent as much as their experience. The core of this team has been together for multiple championships already, and you don't get to that point without learning how to win those crucial road games.
For the Spurs, it's just business out there. They could personally care less if they ruin your team's fun by winning at your home. They are just going to go in there and put the ball in the hoop by finding the open man. It's kind of like they're a bunch of robots in that way, but is that really a bad thing?
The Spurs have looked great so far this season, and they have a great chance to go far in the coming postseason by winning on the road.
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While the Lakers have been getting all of the press this last week or so, I would be remiss if I didn't say that the Chicago Bulls are the hottest team in basketball right now.
The Chicago Bulls may only have 17 road wins this season, but it's not shifting my confidence in them just yet. While some contenders have all the talent (Heat) and some have all the experience (Lakers), the Chicago Bulls easily have the best mixture of the two. Their roster takes care of the talent, with MVP hopeful (lock in my opinion) Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and the list only goes on.
The experience factor is handled with ease by Tom Thibodeau, who was single-handedly responsible for the Celtics defense in 2008 and beyond. Tom is a very vocal coach who preaches defense before everything else. He has been in the playoff trenches before, and knows how to pull off unbelievable stops in order to advance.
While player experience is the most important thing, perhaps their immense talent mixed with his wise insight can pull off a championship miracle. One thing is for sure, much stranger things have happened in this league.
More important than anything else, this Chicago team has a true identity. The Bulls know who they are, and they know what kind of game they are playing. It's not that they are sure that Rose will save the day by taking the last shot, but more like they are confident that their MVP will make the right pass, or shot that is necessary to win the game.
They are comfortable in their young skin, and that will allow them to play a pure game out there.
It's going to be difficult to rattle this team's cage in the playoffs, on the road or at home.
The recent trade of Kendrick Perkins has everyone shaking their heads in confusion when the conversation of Boston's chances come up these days. Well, fear not Beantown, Boston's ability to get wins in foreign territory will keep the dream alive.
So far this season, the Boston Celtics have notched 19 road wins, and that's nothing to scoff at with 12 road games remaining on the regular season schedule. While the Celtics have a good amount of talent on their squad, their ability to win on the road stems from their wealth of veteran leadership.
Their three core All-Stars combine for so much NBA experience that it makes it easier for them to pull off victories in hostile environments. Add this to the magnificent coaching job done by Doc Rivers, and what you have is a team that is unafraid to be away from home.
Let's also not forget that much of this Celtic team won it all in 2008. Nothing goes further in the hunt for a title than championship experience. When this current team finds itself in a pickle on the road, it will be able to draw from similar experiences it's already faced with these same players.
I am still curious as to why the Celtics would get rid of their defensive bad-boy Kendrick Perkins, but the Celtics will still have a crack at things due to their heart and experience in front of rough crowds.
Los Angeles Lakers
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Want to know why they're smiling?
It's because the Los Angeles Lakers are co-leading the NBA with 23 road wins this season. While the playoffs have not yet begun, this is a good sign for the back-to-back defending champions.
People keep telling the Lakers that they can't just "turn it on" whenever they want, but for the third year running L.A. doesn't seem to care. Anyone on the roster would be willing to cop to the immense struggles the Lakers have endured in the 2010-20011 season, but no one can deny that they seem to be heading toward their peak at exactly the right time.
First of all, forget the win streak. It's currently at seven right now, but the number is really not what impresses me. What has this Laker fan wearing a big smile is the fact that they just went into the lions' den in San Antonio, and they came out dominant. Not just victorious, but dominant.
We all knew that the Lakers have dominated the Spurs in the playoffs in years past, but the preview we just received was truly something special. They went into the best team in the West's house, and they burned it down.
The Lakers will not claim the West again this year in the regular season—that will belong to San Antonio. But mark my words, L.A. doesn't need it. The Lakers may play a series or two on the road this postseason, but they will come out on top nonetheless. It sounds like a broken record after all these years, but here are the facts.
The Lakers are extremely deep, they have immense talent at every single position, have the leadership of the best basketball coach of all time, and have a wealth of championship experience. These factors add up to how the Lakers can, and will, win on the road.
With that ability, it's going to be hard for anyone to beat the Lakers in seven games.