For a unique season that was only 66 games and only started on Christmas Day, the Playoffs couldn’t have come any sooner.
After a prolonged work stoppage, the 2011-2012 Season began with the Dallas Mavericks raising their championship banner and the target placed squarely on their backs. Dirk Nowitzki carried the Mavs to the title, but that’s all in the past now as the 2012 NBA Playoffs are here and the stakes are at their highest.
The Chicago Bulls were on their way to slamming the Philadelphia 76ers and claiming a 1-0 lead in their Best-of-Seven series when the worst news possible happened: Derrick Rose suffered a torn ACL that effectively ended both his playoff campaign and his participation in this summer’s London Olympics. The good news is that this Bulls squad has already been playing without Rose, Richard Hamilton, and even Luol Deng for different parts of the regular season. The Sixers started the season hot and were even in contention for the Atlantic Division crown until a late swoon barely got them the eighth seed. Even without Rose in the lineup though, most expect the Bulls to drill Doug Collins’ boys with ease.
The glamorous pick throughout the season, the heavily favored Miami Heat were strong enough to grab the second seed despite Dwyane Wade missing chunks of the season due to injury. LeBron James arguably had his most complete season ever and might have just won his third Most Valuable Player award in the process. New York already lost the sensation that was Jeremy Lin as the season wound down, then Iman Shumpert injured his ACL in Game 1 of the Playoffs. After surviving the firing of Mike D’Antoni and the promotion of Mike Woodson to head coach, the Big Apple dreamed of playoff wins and upsets. Highly unlikely with James firing on all cylinders, but the Knicks are still dreaming.
Frank Vogel coached the Indiana Pacers to a surprising 42 wins, earning them the third seed and a first-round encounter with the Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic. While thoughts of a Pacers sweep was talk of the town, Jason Richardson, Jameer Nelson and the rest of Stan Van Gundy’s crew instead pulled off a Magic upset in Game 1. This won’t be as easy as previously thought so Danny Granger, David
West, Paul George, and the other Pacers better wake up if they want to advance.
Only separated by one win, the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks renew acquaintances after their last battle four years ago. The Hawks won the first game this time but Josh Smith’s stellar performance was overshadowed by Rajon Rondo’s bumping of a referee in the dying minutes, something that will surely lead to some kind of disciplinary action. Without Rondo and with Ray Allen still nursing an ankle injury, this may be the last time we see this version of the Celtics on the hardcourt.
The San Antonio Spurs took the top seed in the West near the end of the regular season after periodically resting ageing stars Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Even as Tony Parker inserted himself into MVP discussions, the memory of 2011, when the Spurs became just the third No. 1 seed to be eliminated in the first round, lingers heavily on their minds. They’ve got a tough assignment in the Utah Jazz powered by Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, but most don’t expect a repeat of last year’s upset.
Kevin Durant won his third straight scoring title this year but he wants much more. Tagging up with Russell Westbrook and James Harden to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder, they’ve been the favorites in the West even before the season began. This young and deep nucleus drew a tough out in the defending champion Mavericks (as proved by their needing Durant to bail them out as time expired) but the Thunder should dethrone Dirk Nowitzki’s veteran crew in the end.
Even with Mike Brown now at the helm and despite Kobe Bryant missing some time to heal an injured shin, the Los Angeles Lakers still earned the third seed out West. Andrew Bynum finally became a force on both offense and defense, something the rest of the NBA has been fearing for years. Though Metta World Peace is still serving his seven-game suspension for elbowing James Harden, the Lakers will likely stomp over Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari’s Denver Nuggets for an eagerly anticipated match with the exciting Thunder.
After blowing a 27-point lead in Game 1, the Memphis Grizzlies will be hard-pressed to get their groove back against the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s the kind of loss that can destroy a team’s morale and it will be up to Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, and Marc Gasol to make sure they get back on track. Otherwise, Chris Paul will lead the Clips’ dissection of these Grizzlies.
With Derrick Rose going down, the path to the Finals just got a lot easier in the East, particularly for the favored Miami Heat. Over in the West, teams seem more bunched together as the veteran quintets make some last pushes in the face of the hungry young guns. All eyes are on the NBA Playoffs once again after the lockout, and that is the best news of all.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.