It’s that time of year again. The NBA’s regular season has come to an end and while fourteen unlucky, or just downright abysmal, teams sit idly by this post-season, the top eight from each conference duke it out for a spot in the NBA Finals and a chance at winning a coveted championship ring.
For the uneducated, the NBA consists of 30 teams split into two geographically divided conferences, East and West. Each team plays a total of 82 games, against all opposition, in order to earn a spot in their respective conference play-offs. From there, teams play each other based on seeding in a best of seven series with the victor progressing through to the next round. The NBA championship is then decided in another best of seven series between the East and West conference champions.
The story so far
Continuing on from their 2012 glory, the Miami Heat posted the best regular season record (66-16) since Lebron James decided to take his talents to South Beach. The star-studded Heat are the clear favourites for this year’s Championship coming off a phenomenal late season run that saw them go 38-3 from their last 41 games (including a 27 game win streak). It came as no surprise, then, when a dominant Miami swept a hapless Bucks outfit (4-0), which managed only 38 wins during the season, to be the first team through to the second round.
The other first round Eastern Conference match ups proved more of a struggle as the Indiana Pacers bested the Atlanta Hawks in a series lasting six games while New York Knicks claimed their first series win of the millennium (4-2) against an aging Boston Celtics. Sadly this signals the end of an era for the Celtics as they look to offload veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in order to build a new dynasty around injured star Rajon Rondo.
The series between fourth and fifth seeds (Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls) was the hardest fought of the opening round and the only series to go the distance to seven games. The Bulls, already down 2011 MVP Derrick Rose, overcame injury and illness woes, to starters Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, to prevail. Nate Robinson’s handling and sharp shooting as well as second year rookie Jimmy Butler’s endurance proving the difference.
Besides Miami, this year’s championship contenders all hail from the West, with the top five teams all boasting better records than the East’s second placed Knicks. The Greg Popovic coached San Antonio Spurs have proved timeless, again, taking the West’s second seeding and took no time in disposing of an injury plagued Los Angeles Lakers (4-0) who were without their best four front court players and Metta World Peace. Dwight Howard turned recalcitrant, exacerbating the Lakers problems, when he was ejected during the sudden death game four after receiving a second technical foul.
Meanwhile the other three first round encounters of the West all went 4-2 with the Golden State Warriors putting an end to the Denver Nuggets. Denver Coach, George Karl, has since won a posthumous Coach of the Year Award – though it’s unlikely the accolade will console him. Spurred on by big forward combination of Zach Randolph and Mark Gasol the Memphis Grizzlies knocked out the young and exciting LA Clippers who will no doubt come back stronger next year.
The most interesting encounter of the round was between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets. 2012 sixth man of the year, James Harden, faced the side that he made it to the NBA Finals with last year. The extra minutes and freedom given to him as a starter at Houston weren’t enough to overpower his former teammates and three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant despite the loss of All Star Russell Westbrook in game two.
The second round is now underway and the remaining teams are evenly poised for a tilt at a Championship. Only a few questions remain. Can Chicago extinguish the Heat long enough to allow their injured stars to return? Will Golden State be able to break their 29 away game losing streak in San Antonio? Will Manu Ginobli cease being so profligate from beyond the arc? Can the Thunder’s big men find some form and take it to Memphis? And can New York kick it up a gear against the Pacers and march further into unknown?
Stay tuned to find out.
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