2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: 25 Burning Questions Heading into the NBA Playoffs
Can you feel it? The NBA playoffs are just around the corner.
Over several weeks of top-notch basketball the league's 16 best teams will be reduced to one.
The Los Angeles Lakers have emerged as the last team standing in each of the previous two seasons, but they're not a lock to win it all again.
The question of who will win the title isn't the only one on my mind as the playoffs approach. Here are 25 more that I can't wait to have answered...
25: Can Either No. 8 Seed Upset a No. 1 Seed?
Based on current standings, the No. 8/No. 1 matchups feature the Bulls and Pacers in the East and the Spurs and Grizzlies in the West.
Of the two No. 8 seeds, I'd have to give the Grizzlies a better chance at pulling off the huge first-round upset, but I'm certainly not predicting that will happen.
The Spurs will advance in five or six games. The Bulls should sweep the Pacers.
24: Can Doug Collins Engineer a First-Round Upset?
Veteran coach Doug Collins has done a great job with a not-so-great roster in Philadelphia.
At the start of the year, a lot of people thought most of the pieces on this team didn't fit together.
But in the last couple months, Collins has found a rotation that works and the team has surged into sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
If the seeding stays the same, Philadelphia will play Miami in the first round. On the year, they're 0-3 against the Heat. The chances of a first-round upset are slim.
23: Who Really Got the Better End of the Kendrick Perkins Trade?
The Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder made one of the biggest deadline trades of 2011. The main pieces involved were Kendrick Perkins, Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic.
While the Thunder have been better than the Celtics since the deal, this is the regular season. We all know the Celtics will pick things up when the playoffs start.
Both teams have a legitimate shot at winning their conferences. Seeing which teams perform better in the playoffs will do a lot to help us determine who truly won this trade.
22: Who Will Break Out in the Playoffs?
The playoffs can often be a setting for lesser-known players to emerge as stars. This year, there are plenty of guys who could make that happen.
Jodie Meeks, Landry Fields, Rodrigue Beaubois, Gary Neal and several others could make themselves known in the postseason.
Then there are the Denver Nuggets. Half of their roster could break out in the playoffs. Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari may all get some serious attention if they win a series or two.
21: Will the Atlanta Hawks Ever Be Consequential?
It's been the same story with the Hawks for the last few years. They have plenty of individual talent. They can manage a good record in the regular season. They are not legitimate contenders.
They managed to pull off a slight point guard upgrade at this year's trade deadline when they acquired Kirk Hinrich, but this team looks about the same as it always has.
The Hawks have a real shot to beat the often-inconsistent Magic in the first round, but their chances of taking down the Bulls in Round 2 are extremely slim.
20: Can the New York Knicks Score a First-Round Upset?
It sure doesn't look like it right now. The Knicks managed to beat the Magic in overtime last night, but Orlando was shorthanded and one win doesn't erase how bad New York has been since acquiring 'Melo.
The Knicks are 8-12 since the trade and they've lost to teams like Milwaukee, Detroit, Indiana and Cleveland.
The games of 'Melo and Amar'e don't seem to complement each other very well, and I think they need a premier distributing point guard to make this work.
Of course, they may have to wait until the offseason of 2012 to make that acquisition.
With as much firepower as New York's two superstars are capable of providing, they do have a slight chance to get out of the first round.
19: Can Any Teams Out of the Playoff Picture Still Sneak In?
With each passing day, the playoff hopes of teams on the outside looking in become dimmer (at least in the Western Conference).
In the East, there are three teams fighting over one spot. The race between the Pacers, Bobcats and Bucks could come down to the last day of the season.
18: Will Kevin Durant Become the West's Best?
The Lakers are not a lock to win the title and give Phil Jackson the fourth three-peat of his career. In fact, they're not even a lock to win the Western Conference.
One team in LA's way is the Oklahoma City Thunder.
If these two meet, and Durant outplays Kobe, we may look back on such a series as a passing of the torch.
17: Are the Nuggets More Likely To Win a Title Without Melo?
The Denver Nuggets look like a different (and better) team without Carmelo Anthony.
They play hard on both ends of the floor. They look like they're having fun. And most importantly, they now play as a team.
They won't win a title this year, but with a loaded-with-potential core of Ty Lawson, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, they could win one before the 'Melo-era Knicks.
16: Does Brandon Roy Still Have a Future?
It always saddens me to see great, young players suffer career-threatening injuries.
Brandon Roy and the Blazers were well on their way to becoming one of the NBA's elite teams as recently as a couple years ago.
Multiple knee surgeries later, and the futures of both the team and the player are up in the air.
Roy's performance in the playoffs could tell us a lot about what kind of player he can be for the rest of his career.
15: Will Orlando Be Able To Keep Dwight Howard?
Dwight Howard is saying all the right things as rumors of an impending departure are swirling around the Orlando superstar.
But you have to think that the Magic need to make a real run at a title this year to convince Howard to stick around for a few more years.
The only way a chance at playing with Kobe Bryant or Deron Williams wouldn't be enticing is if he's certain he can win a title where he is.
14: Will Marc Gasol Get the Best of His Brother?
It could be interesting to see the Gasol brothers face off. If the Spurs keep sliding and the Lakers snag the top seed they would meet.
Memphis can still overtake New Orleans for the seven seed too (for a two/seven matchup between the Grizzlies and Lakers).
I'm not looking for a No. 8 over No. 1 upset here, but Pau Gasol has been known to take games off and his brother might make him pay for that in the first round.
13: Why Can't Turner Sports Cover Every Game?
ESPN's NBA coverage has become nearly unbearable. Meanwhile, watching games on TNT is a blast (despite having to occasionally listen to Reggie Miller).
I actually wish the NBA could work out the same arrangement that we've all enjoyed during the NCAA tournament.
Use all the same announcing crews and put the games on TNT, TBS, CBS and TruTV. And of course, give us EJ, Kenny and Charles during halftime and postgame shows.
12: Can the Spurs Contend Without Tim Duncan at 100 Percent?
The Spurs looked nearly invincible as they coasted through most of the regular season. And they were doing that with Tim Duncan having one of the least productive seasons of his career.
He's taken on a lesser role this year, and it seemed like he might not be as integral to their success as he was in the past.
But since Duncan went down with an ankle injury, the Spurs have been a much different team. In an answer to the question posed on this slide, it doesn't look like the Spurs can win without Duncan at 100 percent.
11: Which Lower-Seeded Teams Have the Best Shot at an Upset?
The two No. 5 seeds in this year's playoffs have the best shot at a first-round upset.
The Nuggets have been great since they traded Carmelo Anthony. They have at least eight players that can put up 20 points on any given night, and they play good defense now too.
As for the Hawks, they have a lot of talent on the roster. If they can force the Magic to miss some of those threes they love to shoot, they have a chance.
10: Is This Chris Paul's Last Playoff Run with the Hornets?
If the Hornets make the playoffs, it could be CP3's last run with the team.
The team is fading, while others in the West are rising (Grizzlies, Clippers, Rockets, Warriors).
Next season is the last on Paul's current contract. If they miss the playoffs he'll probably explore free agency and I can think of at least one East Coast team that would be interested in him.
9: Which Playoff Coaches Could Be on the Hot Seat with a Bad Showing?
There are at least a couple playoff coaches who could be in danger of losing their job if their team doesn't perform well.
The Orlando Magic have had title aspirations for years with their solid team built around Dwight Howard. But they've only made the NBA Finals once under Stan Van Gundy and they got rolled by the Lakers.
If they lose in the first round (or even the second), Van Gundy could be done.
Another playoff-bound coach in danger is also on the East Coast (just further north). The Knicks have been terrible since they acquired Carmelo Anthony, and many people are pointing fingers at Mike D'Antoni.
If their woes continue through an early playoff exit, D'Antoni could be replaced by a more defensive-minded coach.
8: Which Players Could Be Moved Because of Poor Playoff Performance?
Yes, I am going to suggest Chris Bosh could be traded if the Heat don't play well in the postseason. Of the Big Three, Bosh is the only one that is possibly expendable.
Miami has no depth after LeBron, D-Wade or Bosh, but they may be able to acquire two or three solid players in exchange for their power forward.
Others who could be moved include Gilbert Arenas, Andre Iguodala, Chauncey Billups, Danny Granger, Tony Parker, Andrew Bynum and Chris Paul.
7: Are the Celtics Too Old to Make One More Run?
The Celtics have been up and down at best since they traded Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder in exchange for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic.
Considering their roster, you have to wonder if this late-season mini-meltdown has more to do with age than the loss of Perkins.
I have a feeling they'll be able to conveniently right the ship at the start of the first round of the playoffs (as they always do).
No one will be surprised if they make the conference finals, but the days of legitimate championship contention may be behind them.
6: Will Dirk Nowitzki Finally Win a Title?
Their chances are slim, but the Mavericks are legitimate.
Rick Carlisle has transformed them into a much different team then we've seen in the past. Their calling card is now defense.
They are 10th in the league in points allowed, and eighth in field-goal percentage against. Players like Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd have helped cultivate this new identity.
Plus, they still have plenty of offensive weapons—that of course includes the greatest player in franchise history, Dirk Nowitzki.
5: Will LeBron Finally Silence His Critics?
LeBron unintentionally invited his villain status, then intentionally embraced it.
With the possible exception of Kobe Bryant, no player in the league is as polarizing as the Miami Heat superstar.
His fans praise his phenomenal regular-season production, while his critics are always quick to point out his postseason failures.
The only thing that will silence LeBron's doubters, haters and critics is an NBA championship. Will he win one this year?
4: Can the Chicago Bulls Win an NBA Championship?
Yes, they can.
Tom Thibodeau has transformed the Bulls into one of the best defensive teams in the NBA (if not the best). Plus, they have two elite rebounders in the frontcourt in Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah.
How does the old saying go? Defense and rebounding win championships.
It doesn't hurt to have Derrick Rose either. He'll almost certainly win the league MVP this year and he absolutely deserves it.
He's seventh in the league in scoring at 24.8 points per game, 10th in assists at 7.8 a game and eighth in assist percentage at 39.2 percent.
That combination of scoring and distributing has been a huge part of Chicago's success.
The Bulls are currently in first place in the Eastern Conference standings and Derrick Rose is the biggest reason for that.
He's carried the team all year (through substantial injuries to Boozer and Noah). If he keeps that up through the playoffs (and he can), they have a legitimate shot at a title.
3: Will the Heatles Implode in the Playoffs?
Miami has been written off more than once this season, but the Heat keep bouncing back.
They've had losing streaks of three, four and five games. During each one of those three streaks, countless people pounded the panic button.
As I said before, they've found a way to get back on track each time.
The season has certainly been up and down. During each of the down periods, James, Wade and Bosh have looked like pieces from three different puzzles.
If they go into one of those funks during the playoffs, there are three or four teams in the Eastern Conference that can bury them.
If that happens, people inside and out of the organization will start pointing fingers. And with egos like LeBron's in place, an implosion could certainly happen.
2: Can the Lakers Three-Peat (Again)?
With the way the Lakers have been playing since the All-Star break, they have to be considered favorites to take home the title in 2011.
They have a great size advantage over every team but Dallas and Oklahoma City with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol down low.
They have versatility, toughness and energy off the bench with Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown, and veteran leadership with Derek Fisher.
But of course the biggest reason the Lakers still have as good a shot as anyone at the title is Kobe Bryant. He embodies what it means to be a winner.
1: Will There Be a Lockout Next Season?
This question has been at the back of every NBA fan's mind all year (or at least since the NFL lockout became official).
Please let there be NBA basketball next year...