The 2011 NBA playoffs are right at our doorstep with the opening round beginning Saturday afternoon.
It's an exciting time in the NBA in what is arguably one of the most anticipated postseasons in league history.
The Los Angeles Lakers are looking for their second three-peat in the last 11 years. The Miami Heat's hyped super trio is looking to prove doubters wrong and win The King his first ring.
The San Antonio Spurs are looking for their fifth championship in the last 12 years, and the Chicago Bulls have people turning their heads after they finished with the league's best record.
There are numerous story lines and a ton of drama in this year's postseason, and all 16 teams are eager to get started. However, only one team can be crowned with the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Over the last few months, I have been fortunate enough to be able to speak with some of the most recognized NBA analysts about current issues going on in the league. Last night, I was able to speak with former Sacramento Kings star and current NBATV analyst Chris Webber.
We talked about burning issues, the playoffs and the MVP race. Here is what C-Webb had to say.
Allen Levin: Chicago notched the best record in the NBA after finishing an astonishing 62-20. Does this come as a huge surprise? Did anyone see this coming in the beginning of the season, and how far can Derrick Rose take them?
Chris Webber: “It is somewhat of a surprise. I think everybody had Boston before them. But, with the new coach in Thibodeau and a new guy in Boozer, you knew they were going to be really good. You just didn’t know how soon they were going to be good. They decided to take over right away. So, it is a little bit of a surprise that they’re at the top of their class this early.”
"I think they’re definitely going to be in the Eastern Conference Finals; it's just whether it will be against Miami or against Boston."
AL: Miami has seemed to pull it together, finally beating Boston and clinching the second seed. They are playing their best basketball heading into the postseason. What’s made them so effective lately and talk about their chances of getting out of the East?
C-Webb: “It’s just time. We all knew they were going to be good. They just needed time to develop and get their chemistry and everything together. Timing is everything and right now, it’s coming down to where everybody is in the right moment, and they’re playing well. So, I think it’s just the fact that they’ve had time to play with each other, which has given them a chance to be really good.”
AL: Miami's bench has been criticized all season for their lack of production. Which reserve guy will come up big for them in the playoffs?
C-Webb: “Well it’s going to be tough; it could be a Udonis Haslem. But, whenever you have a LeBron or Dwyane Wade penetrating, you’re going to have wide open three-point shooters. When LeBron and Dwyane penetrate, you got to get it to those types of bench guys. Eddie House has experience; he’s won a championship before. So, you know he’ll be ready. I think he’ll be one of the main keys for these guys playing well.”
AL: The Celtics have really been struggling as of late, losing seven of their last 13 games. Doc Rivers even noted that the team can’t just turn it on in the playoffs like they did last year. Are these Celtics susceptible to a possible first round exit?
C-Webb: “Anything can happen. Right now, I think there a little hurt. I do think it will be tough for the Knicks to play against a team like Boston, who’s pretty much been waiting all year for this moment. Anything can happen though, especially on their home court with their fans being there. But, it’s going to be an uphill battle for Boston.”
AL: New York is on fire lately, winning seven our of their last eight to conclude the season. What have they been doing lately that’s made them so much better?
C-Webb: “I think New York is finally starting to play defense. I think once they really played better defense, led by Carmelo, that’s when things really started to change around for them. If they keep their minds on their defense, anything can happen. So, I think these guys still need to focus on that. They’ve already gotten better on that end. If their smart with rebounding and things like that, they’ll have a chance against Boston. But, the defense has to be the key, and that’s what turns it around for them.”
AL: What is the most intriguing first round matchup in the East?
“For Orlando, I love the fact that they made the trade. I felt that put them right at the top this year to actually challenge Boston for the Eastern Conference Championship."
AL: Everyone made such a big deal about the Lakers hot start after the All-Star break. Then, they go and lose five straight. Is the inconsistency a cause for concern, or are they just waiting for the playoffs?
C-Webb: “No, I don’t think it’s a cause for concern. I think they’re a little disappointed that they couldn’t catch San Antonio for the first seed. For the most part, I think they were tired. It’s just been fatigue. I think it can come on again just like it did after the All-Star Break when they won 17 out of 18. The same thing can happen in the playoffs. These guys will come in and be ready to go.”
AL: San Antonio raced to the second best record in the NBA this season. Being that they are a veteran team, will they burn out, or are they ready for a deep playoff run?
C-Webb: “I don’t think their burned out. It may be a little tougher for them, but they have the second best record in the league, which shows they have stamina. I don’t think their too old, or that they burned out their chances. I think they have just as good of a chance as the Lakers."
AL: Oklahoma City is a team on the rise in the Western Conference, and a lot of people have them as their "sleeper" team. How far do you seem them going?
C-Webb: "I think they’re the most dangerous team for the Lakers and for San Antonio. I don’t think they’re a sleeper team; I think that they’re here and they made it; it’s their party. Last year, taking the Lakers to six games and losing at the end was invaluable for them. Just that experience alone should probably carry them through. I definitely think they have a good chance in the playoffs.”
AL: What is the most intriguing first round matchup in the West?
“The 3-6 matchup between Dallas and Portland is very intriguing. I think Portland is going to upset someone in the playoffs.”
C-Webb's MVP Selection: Derrick Rose
AL: Derrick Rose has been the media favorite for most of the year. But, why does he get it over guys like Dirk, LeBron and Kobe?
C-Webb: “He gets it over Dirk Nowitzki because his record his better. He gets it over Kobe because he doesn’t have two seven-footers, and his record is better. He gets it over LeBron because his record is better and plays with less help. He’s just an integral part of the Bulls team. So, I think it’s just undeniable that’s it has been his team this season, and he’s the reason for them winning.”
C-Webb's Coach of the Year Pick: George Karl
C-Webb's Sixth Man of the Year Pick: Lamar Odom
C-Webb: "Lakers-Celtics repeat in the Finals. Los Angeles Lakers will win it."