What a difference a regular season makes! We started the season thinking the LA Lakers had a lock on – at the very least – a slot at the Western Conference Championship. We said that Oklahoma Thunder would also be a cinch for the Western Conference Finals. We marveled at the prospects of a first-ever all El – Ay tussle between the Lakers and the Clippers. It’s the end of the first round of the playoffs, folks; and the injury-laden Lakers and Clippers have been unceremoniously booted out, while a banged-up Oklahoma has barely made it to round 2. Welcome to the NBA playoffs, folks. Where the war will show no mercy on the walking wounded.
If this year’s NBA playoffs had a theme, it would have to be: health makes wealth. Yes, folks, whosoever ends up healthier and fresher come the NBA Finals will win it all.
In the Western Conference, Oklahoma will be missing Russell Westbrook, the second half of their Dynamic Duo. Kevin Durant will be hard-pressed taking up the scoring cudgels in the absence of his sidekick, unless Kevin Martin steps up. The over-achieving Golden State Warriors will be missing a prolific scorer in power forward, David Lee. Lee tried to give his teammates a boost by playing a few guarded minutes in the final game against the Denver Nuggets, but he was clearly way below his game. Golden State will depend solely on Stephen Curry’s ability to shoot the lights out every single night. San Antonio will be missing back-up center Tiago Splitter, and pacing the shaky legs of its aging trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. They will be forced to give major minutes as the competition heats up, and that’s when the injuries set in. The Memphis Grizzlies are the only healthy team in the West. Expect the Grizzlies and the Spurs to duke it out in the wild, wild west.
In the Eastern Conference, the New York Knicks barely survived the first round with batches – not individual players – marching in and out of the injured list. The Knicks have had to revamp their roster for the playoffs following the retirement of Rasheed Wallace due to injuries, the injury of super back-up point guard Pablo Prigioni, and other close calls. Scoring champ, Carmelo Anthony and Sixth Man Awardee, JR Smith, are expected to carry the load for the injury-wracked Knicks. The defense-oriented Chicago Bulls gored their way to the second round despite injuries to Loul Deng, Kirk Hinrich and, of course, Derrick Rose. They are a badly bruised team riding on the broad shoulders of Joakim Noah, running on nothing but pure adrenalin. Getting lucky sans the injuries are the low-key Indiana Pacers and the defending NBA champs, Miami Heat. Miami’s Dwyane Wade missed the last game of the first round, but has since been declared healthy for the 2nd round. Again, it’s the health issue that will feature the Heat tangling with the Pacers in the Eastern finals.
That said, Miami and San Antonio have emerged as the conference favorites. Miami will breeze past Indiana, but I can see San Antonio barely surviving a rugged war of attrition against Memphis in the west. And I foresee the Heat winning it all. That is, if it can stay hot and, of course, healthy.
That’s the name of the game this season. Stay healthy.