As current NBA leading scorer Carmelo Anthony said during a recent interview on his improved play, “It’s April, it’s time to go!” Indeed, it is that time of the year when the playoff race becomes tighter and every team that has qualified for the postseason begins to keep one eye focused on the grueling knockout rounds ahead.
With only a week left in the regular season, we can now look ahead at the horizon and see the postseason shores nearing closer. In this edition of NBA-India’s Fan Mailbag, we say goodbye to the lottery-bound teams and discuss the playoffs ahead.
Amar Nathyo: Four games to go, and there is a fight over the Western conference eighth spot. Even if the Lakers make it to the playoffs, will they stand a chance against the Spurs?
Currently in an eighth-place tussle with the Jazz, the Lakers’ playoff chances aren’t guaranteed. But if they qualify, their ‘reward’ will be a first-round matchup against the Spurs or perhaps the Thunder. OKC are a scarier matchup for them due to their speed and athleticism, and could easily sweep L.A. in four games. Health concerns are bothering the Spurs, in the form of Manu Ginobili (long term) and Tony Parker. If Parker is healthy, I think the Spurs will easily outclass the Lakers, too. But if Parker misses some games, L.A. could definitely make this series interesting and push it to a sixth or seventh game.
Vatsalya Singh: Ignoring the top (playoff bound) teams, who do you think is the most talented team in both the conferences? (seeds 9-15)
The West isn’t decided yet, but if the Lakers miss the playoffs, then they could be one of the most talented ninth seeds in NBA history! Otherwise I feel that the Mavericks are a very talented squad who could’ve finished higher if health issues hadn't persisted earlier in the season. In the East, the Washington Wizards are the hottest lottery team in the NBA right now. After starting the season 5-28, they have gone 24-21 since John Wall returned to the lineup.
Shun Xang Tamu: Which team will surprise in the Playoffs?
Eventually, this will all come down to matchups. The Celtics (currently 7th place) and the Bulls (5th place) are two lower-seeds that everybody in the East will fear as a result of their defensive intensity and passion. Out West, Memphis could be favourites in the first round against the Clippers even if they are a lower seed. And the Warriors could make things interesting against the Nuggets as things stand if Ty Lawson isn’t healthy to motor Denver’s energetic offense.
Zyman Marzuki: Why does Eric Spoelstra get no love? Two straight NBA Finals while managing the biggest egos in basketball, and still no respect?
Aaah… It’s the curse of having too much talent. When a team has the NBA’s reigning MVP, another top five player, and another regular All Star, it is easy to overlook a young coach who has basically ridden along with the star-studded Miami squad to success. From this point, it will be difficult to judge Spoelstra’s true coaching talent unless we see him coach a team without this much star power. Even in the past two Finals runs, Miami succeeded more because of their defense, while Spoelstra struggled to find offensive cohesiveness for LeBron and Wade. Those problems have been ironed out this year, as Miami has become the league’s most efficient offensive squad and are working like a well-oiled machine. I have a feeling that –- as Miami wraps up their winningest-ever season, which featured a historical 27-game winning streak -– Spoelstra’s name will be floating around amongst the top candidates for this year’s Coach of the Year Award.
Kaushik Lakshman: The playoffs are approaching and it is well known that the game speed reduces in the playoffs. Teams that play a run-and-gun system are not considered favourites and half-court, slower offence takes precedence. Why does this happen? Is it because players are more tuned in defensively?
I agree that the pace of the game slows down in the playoffs: our eye test proves it. Every season from 2000 onwards, the overall pace has been slower in the playoffs than the regular season and the stats prove it. There are a multitude of reasons why this happens. For starters, in a series where teams only have one other team to prepare for, there is more time and attention paid to focus on stopping opponents on the defensive end. Often, teams are also willing to sacrifice the offensive rebound (and the second-chance points) to go back on defence. Playoffs are a do-or-die situation, so every possession of every game becomes important. Teams become less reckless and hasty, and are willing to slow down to look for higher percentage shots. Coaches take more control than players on the offensive end and try to make offense more deliberate with carefully-planned half-court sets. In these tense moments, fouls become harder and officiating responds to it, causing more stoppages in the flow of the game.
In most situations, fast and furious means exciting and breathtaking. But this is the NBA playoffs, my friends, where the slow grind and the higher intensity takes the game into a fever pitch. The playoffs start in just about 10 days: it’s time we all get ready to experience the game taken up to the next level!