Now that the NCAA’s March Madness is behind us, it’s time for the NBA’s version of the postseason: April Consistency. Yes, that seems like the complete opposite (and it is) and somewhat boring. It’s hard to believe that the same sport has two very different playoff systems but there’s no getting around the fact that both ways are very entertaining.
While college basketball puts every NCAA tournament qualifier on a neutral court in a single-elimination format that puts every favorite on edge, the NBA does the opposite—home-court advantage in a best-of-seven format. Why doesn’t the NBA go for the exciting format? Because no one wants to see a Milwaukee team take on Houston for the title this year. That’s why. We want to see Miami battle the revenge-minded Knicks in the conference finals with the winner taking on the best of the West. Most likely, we will.
Let’s look at the seven likely contenders with this author’s odds of winning the title in parenthesis:
New York Knicks (15:1) Why they’ll win: Defense and Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks have the best center in the East in Tyson Chandler, which has clearly upgraded the defense. Meanwhile Carmelo Anthony may be the best player in the conference not named LeBron James, and if J.R. Smith keeps shooting well, he could be the wildcard for them.
Why they won’t: The Heat. Miami’s suffocating defense smothered New York’s perimeter shooting in last year’s playoffs and though revenge will be a factor, it’s not enough to swing this series.
Denver Nuggets (13:1) Why the’ll win: The Nuggets are the highest-scoring team in the league (106.1 per game) and have home-court advantage through at least the first round.
Why they won’t: Playoff experience. Let’s not beat around the bush here. George Karl is one of the best coaches in the league in the regular season—if not the best. His problem has been duplicating that success in the postseason and this goes all the way back to his days in Seattle in the ’90s. Besides, Danilo Gallinari (the team’s second leading scorer) is out for the playoffs and leading rebounder, Kenneth Faried is currently hobbled by an ankle injury.
Memphis Grizzlies (10:1) Why they’ll win: Defense and experience. The Grizzlies, which led the league in fewest points allowed per contest at 89.3, are one of the few teams to buck the playoff system in recent years having beaten top-seeded San Antonio as an eight-seed in 2011.
Why they won’t: Zero home-court advantage. Despite winning 56 games, Memphis doesn’t even have home-court advantage in the opening round against the Clippers, and is already down two games to none.
Los Angeles Clippers (8:1) Why they’ll win: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The two-some may be the most fun duo in the league and if both are in lockdown mode in the playoffs they could make a run to the finals.
Why they won’t: Very little playoff experience. This goes for the players, the coach, and the franchise in general. As for coach Vinny Del Negro this is especially critical for him. Never is a coach more tested than in the playoffs when strategic decisions and motivational speeches can be the difference in a series. We’ll see what the fifth-year coach can do in 2013.
San Antonio Spurs (4:1) Why they’ll win: They’ve been here before—plenty of times. Back when the Spurs won their first title (1999) a 23-year-old Tim Duncan was just in his second season and put up 21.7 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. Now with four rings on his fingers, a 37-year-old Duncan is still at 17.8 points and 9.9 rebounds a night—not too bad.
Why they won’t: Age. This isn’t 2007 anymore. The Spurs last won the title six years ago when Tony Parker (then just 25) and Manu Ginobli (29) were on the south side of 30. Although Duncan has clearly aged well, they won’t get past the young legs down in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City: (2:1) Why they’ll win: Revenge and youth. As mentioned, the Thunder with superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (both only 24) are a very tough combo to beat. They lost to the Heat last year and probably haven’t forgotten it either.
Why they won’t: Have they ever gotten past the trade of James Harden? Harden, who went to Houston just before the season started and ended up fifth in the league in scoring at 25.9 points per game, gave the Thunder such a dynamic edge off the bench last postseason. His trade, for financial reasons, was a downer for teammates for sure though the team still ended up with the best record in the conference. The postseason isn’t the regular season though.
Miami Heat: (1:1) Why they’ll win: Miami, which won an NBA-best 66 games this season and recorded 27 straight at one point (second longest streak all-time) is the best team and they have the best player in three-time MVP LeBron James. They are deep, healthy, and seem motivated to win yet again. Though LeBron won the title last year his constant historical comparison, Michael Jordan, won six so he still has a ways to go.
Why they won’t: Revenge? Injuries? Unless Dwayne Wade goes down in the playoffs or the Knicks, Pacers, or Thunder play with some serious revenge on their minds, Miami will be hoisting the trophy come June.