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Monday, February 17, 2014

And They're Off!

The 2014 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans went off without a hitch (and without defense). The entertaining offensive spectacle featuring the best players in the league unofficially kicks off the home stretch of the NBA regular season. The playoffs showcase the best of the Eastern Conference and the Best of the Western Conference to decide the participants in the NBA Finals. One side of the equation is all but decided. The other side is up for grabs.


The Eastern Conference is a two team race and has been for quite some time. Barring a catastrophic and unprecedented rash of injuries, either the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers will represent the Eastern Conference in the 2014 NBA Finals. The only undecided piece of the puzzle is which team will secure home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. As of this morning, the Pacers have a 2-1/2 game lead on the Heat.

The Western Conference is a horse of another color. The Western Conference champions of 2012 and 2013, the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, respectively, sit atop the conference but neither team is necessarily assured of the top seed...yet. OKC holds a healthy four game advantage over the Spurs. Just six games back, however, are the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, and the Thunder's division rival, the Portland Trailblazers. The Thunder are in the driver's seat, but a funk by the Thunder combined with a hot streak by their pursuers could put some drama into the Western Conference race come April.

The Pacers took the Heat to the brink without Danny Granger. Could Granger, who has been used sparingly in the regular season, be the X-factor in the playoffs? 1

Of course, there are 16 teams that will reach the NBA Playoffs. Like every season, several teams enter the postseason tournament without a prayer of winning a conference championship. This season, I would say "the majority" of playoff teams don't have a shot.

Can anyone name the Atlantic Division leader right now? No peeking! It is the Toronto Raptors at 28-24. Yet they aren't even the hottest team in their division. That honor would belong to the Brooklyn Nets, who have caught fire since the start of the new year under rookie head coach Jason Kidd after a disastrous start to the season. The red hot Nets have a losing record and would hold the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs if the season ended today.

Chicago Bulls Head Coach Tom Thibodeau deserves a solid gold medal for having the Bulls in second place in the Central Division without former MVP Derrick Rose for a second straight season. They may actually slip out of the first round of the playoffs, depending on how the seeding falls. Finally, to illustrate just how terrible the Eastern Conference is in 2014, if the season ended today, the hapless Charlotte Bobcats would make the playoffs with the eighth seed at 23-30 with the comic-tragic Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, and Cleveland Cavaliers giving chase.

Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, 50, may have to activate himself if his team is to have a prayer of not being swept out of the playoffs. 2
The sixth through eighth seeds in the West are longshots to reach the NBA Finals. However, they all have the potential to pull of an upset in the first round. The long-in-the-tooth but quietly dangerous Dallas Mavericks are currently in sixth place in the Western Conference. The back-from-the-dead Phoenix Suns are in seventh place. And the offensive juggernaut Golden State Warriors are currently in eighth place. Any one of these teams are capable of pulling off a first round upset should the stars of the hardwood line up properly. The same applies to the 9th place Memphis Grizzlies, no stranger to playoff upsets. Memphis is only a game-and-a-half back of Golden State.

The Phoenix Suns dancers might earn some extra playoff money...for once. 3


There are 25-30 games remaining in the regular season. Much like a NASCAR race, the first 50 games have decided the pole positions. The beginning of the "real" race starts on Tuesday. Drivers, start your engines!

LeBron fired the starter's pistol to the second half race last week at Golden State.

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