2011 NBA Playoffs: Closer to the Conference Finals

Derek CrouseContributor IIIMay 10, 2011

It's about time to wipe the dust of the Larry O'Brien trophy...
It's about time to wipe the dust of the Larry O'Brien trophy...Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Now that the NBA Playoffs are reaching the integral stages, teams are showing their flaws that many questioned during the regular season. When the playoffs got underway, many experts had certain teams locked in as contenders and pretenders.

Like any playoff, there has been chalk, but also a few surprises.

From the start of the season in through the playoffs, the Lakers and the Celtics were the conference winners in 2010 and the favorites going into May. While the Oklahoma City Thunder were considered to have the best chance at dethroning the Lakers in the Western Conference, fans and writers alike had the Dallas Mavericks as the marshmallows.

The team that always seemed to screw up in the playoffs did something that had never been done to Phil Jackson; swept him 4-0 in a playoff series.

While many usually see the Mavericks as a team who builds up regular season wins and then falters in the late spring, this year it’s not the case. The Lakers just didn’t have the defense or desire in the last game it seemed.

The Mavericks repeatedly had open looks from the perimeter due to the lack of a defensive guard minus Kobe Bryant. The penetrate and kick was working with success and the Lakers had no answer for all the shooters Dallas had on the floor.

While the Lakers are questioning what went wrong, the league moves on.

While the Western Conference was up for grabs and the Mavs are still waiting for the winner of the close played Grizzlies vs. Thunder series, the Eastern conference is looking to put a new team on top as well.

The Miami Heat might be the villains of the Eastern conference, but they are getting it together at an opportune time. Most of the nation loves to hate the Heat, but like a great movie, they love to watch the bad guys.

The Celtics have veteran leadership, a physicality late in games, and tons of playoff experience which sometimes is just miles on the legs, which doesn’t always translate on the court. When you have players like Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce it screams “twilight of his career."

The big three in Boston weren’t persecuted like the Heat, but ironically Miami will put the original modern big three to rest. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade are finally getting some help from Chris Bosh.

The Rajon Rondo injury is just one of the reasons that Miami will be in the Conference Finals.

Also in the East, the Chicago Bulls are facing the same questions many had during the regular season. Derrick Rose is carrying the team and that is the only way they can be successful. The Bulls have the same look of the early Jordan years where they would make it to the playoffs only to be eliminated by a “team.”

If the Bulls were squeezing out wins versus the Pacers and Hawks, how would they fare against the Heat or Mavericks? While many say, “Look at their regular season record,” you have to realize that all of that goes out the door minus the seeding come April.

Just like in baseball, the playoffs in the NBA have a totally different dynamic from the regular season. Also, you see teams over and over so your weaknesses are glaring by the third game.

With the Lakers and Celtics being dethroned by the middle of May, who will be the new conference titleholders? The Bulls look like they need some more experience. Coach Tom Thibodeau gets the most and then some out of the roster he has.

If Chicago is to reach new heights, new players need to come to Chicago. If the Grizzlies or Thunder beat themselves up in a seven game series, that could help the Mavericks, but the Mavericks will lose all of the momentum from the sweep and could flop like they are known for. The Miami Heat were trying to find themselves throughout the year and now it could be their time.

The 2011 playoffs have been some of the best basketball we have witnessed in years and look to get even better in the weeks ahead.