(RNN) – The NBA playoffs are here: The drama and intrigue of some of the world's best athletes pitted against each other in the combination of athleticism, toughness and endurance that is basketball – it has finally arrived!
OK, so technically the playoffs have been here for three weeks. Round 1 is already in the books, and round 2 is starting to separate the Kates from the Pippas.
But really, who cares about round 1, right? Nothing ever happens. It's basically a warm-up round for the favorites. You're just going through the motions and trying to appear productive. It's like the first two hours (Hi boss!) one hour 30 minutes five minutes of a work day.
Besides, it's not like top seeds ever get knocked out early because their star player tore his ACL in the last minute of a game they were decisively leading when the coach could have pulled him out of the game, and him not getting pulled out of the game and getting hurt possibly altered the outcome of the entire playoffs, as well as the career of one of the greatest players in the game today. (If you know a Chicago fan, give them a hug right now.)
When reigning MVP Derrick Rose went down in game one of the Chicago Bulls-Philadelphia 76ers series, so did the Bulls' chances of a championship. As a basketball fan, I joined others in a collective misty-eyed sniffle for all the great performances we would miss out on.
As a Celtics fan, I channeled my inner Lloyd Christmas.
Cockeyed optimism aside, everyone knows Boston's chances to add banner No. 18 to the rafters rely upon the aging, aching joints of their "seasoned" ("old" in politically correct sports talk) star players.
If they hold up, they could pull off at least a trip to the Finals. But that's more a statement on the rest of the teams left than anything else.
Not to say there isn't plenty of talent, quite the contrary. But each roster has its own version of "Yeah, but."
No one can lay claim to the title of Team to Beat. Instead, the remaining contenders each have a significant weakness in their championship resumes.
They can be broken down into three categories. Either they:
Kind of like the 2008 presidential election, if Ralph Nader also ran.
(He did run? Are you sure? I don't remember that at all.)
So here is a list of the remaining teams in the NBA playoffs in no particular order, each with their own reasons why they may not hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy.
Trail the Indiana Pacers 2-1 in a best-of-seven series, game 4 at 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday.
The Heat have LeBron James. He's the league's biggest star, the most physically gifted athlete on Earth and won his third MVP award in four years this season.
They also have Dwyane Wade. He's among the league's top 10 players, has the ability to take over a game too and has won an NBA title before – with a little help from Shaquille O'Neal.
When the two stars are in sync, they run an up-and-down the court style better than any duo in the league. A fast break leading to an alley-oop is one of the most fun feats to watch in sports. These guys do it on a regular basis.
Yeah, but: They really have nobody else. Chris Bosh, the third member of the Heat's Big 3, is out indefinitely with an abdominal strain.
The rest of the team is filled with minimum salary guys after Miami spent top dollar on Bosh, James and Wade. Players logging significant minutes for the Heat would get little to no playing time on another playoff-caliber team.
The team also got creamed by the Pacers Thursday, and will have to refocus in order to take the series and move on.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Lead the Los Angeles Lakers 2-1, game 4 at 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday.
The Thunder are young, hungry and have great team chemistry. They are led by Kevin Durant, the three-time reigning scoring champion. The 23-year-old is amazing to watch; he can score from anywhere on the court.
Surrounding Durant is one of the most complete teams in the league, including All-Star Russell Westbrook and Sixth Man of the Year James Harden. Their two big men, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, are excellent defenders close to the basket.
Yeah, but: The Thunder are led by a pair of 23-year-olds (Westbrook also is 23). There isn't much history of players that young leading their team to the NBA title.
Westbrook also has a tendency to put his Alpha Dog hat on and take more shots than his superstar teammate. That happened in last year's playoffs and was widely blamed for Oklahoma City not getting to the Finals.
Los Angeles Clippers
Trail the San Antonio Spurs 2-0, game 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday.
In his first season in L.A., point guard Chris Paul has turned the black sheep franchise into a contender. Teaming him with Blake "Did you see what Blake Griffin just did" Griffin has produced some of the best highlights of the season.
They also have a supporting cast of role players around their stars, with guys who can rebound and defend, guys who can handle the ball and guys who can shoot the 3-pointer.
They can put a second group of five on the court that can hang with the opposition, giving their starters a chance to rest.
Yeah, but: The Clippers have not proven they can play consistently good basketball. Mental errors on shot selection and mistakes late in games have cost them throughout the playoffs, and they have little hope of getting past a veteran team like the Spurs if they continue.
Also, Griffin's free throw shooting is a liability, especially in the fourth quarter. Teams foul him every time he gets the ball, knowing he shoots only 52 percent from the line.
The Pacers showed they are no Ralph Nader candidate by decimating the Heat on Thursday. They don't have the big names most of the other teams have, but they have depth at every position, play unselfishly and defend well.
Roy Hibbert has quietly emerged as one of the best all-around centers in the game. His ability to score and rebound in the low post gives his team confidence to take shots, knowing that he's there to grab the rebound and give them extra opportunities.
He also is a premier defender who blocks or affects many of the other team's shots within five feet of the basket. It helps to be 7'2" and 260 pounds in basketball.
Yeah, but: Danny Granger is not at the level many thought he would be by now. He looked like he was on the verge of becoming a superstar two years ago but has regressed since then.
George Hill only took over the starting point guard spot with a few games left in the season. It remains to be seen if he can lead his team to victory late in a deciding match-up of a playoff series.
San Antonio Spurs
Every season, the Spurs get written off as a team that has passed their prime. And every season, the Spurs are found at or near the top of the standings.
While the San Antonio nucleus of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker is getting older, the team's management has a knack for finding young support players that can contribute. Guys like Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter played significant roles and gave their star teammates a chance to rest during the year.
Sidenote: Another reason the Spurs have remained successful is because they are the DIRTIEST team in the NBA. These guys shove, slap and flop their way through games year after year, and for some reason no one talks about it.
Maybe it goes overlooked because they don't play in a big market like New York or L.A. But they play so dirty, I half-expect them to come out of their locker room in sequined robes, scream "WOOOOOO" and slap the figure-four leg lock on their opponent.
Yeah, but: Players who are old by basketball standards are measured both in age and in minutes played.
Ginobili, 34, and Duncan, 36, both have a lot of NBA minutes on their legs after making the playoffs every season of their careers. Parker is only 30 but is in his 11th year in the league, same thing for him.
They have swept through the playoffs so far, going 6-0. But once an opponent pushes a series to six or seven games, the endurance of the Spurs will become a serious factor.
Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant's 15th season saw little decline in terms of ability. The 33-year-old had an increase in playing time and shots taken this year, nearly won the scoring title and willed his team through a condensed season after the lockout.
He really wants a sixth championship ring, the same number Michael Jordan got.
Andrew Bynum finally got to show how much he has improved this year after missing no less than 17 games per season the previous four years. He averaged nearly 19 points and 12 rebounds in the 60 (out of 66) games he played.
Pau Gasol's play has been up-and-down much of the year, but his performance in game 7 against the Denver Nuggets was the difference in the series.
Yeah, but: Kobe's strongest attribute – his desire to be the best – could also be the team's downfall. Without former coach Phil Jackson to balance the team, they have struggled under the weight of Bryant's near-constant pressure to play better.
The other players have reacted to the pressure in their own ways. Bynum has shown he still needs to mature after outbursts on the court, and Gasol's response has often been to climb into a shell of emotionless, uninvolved basketball.
Tied with the Philadelphia 76ers 2-2, game 4 at 7 p.m. EST Monday.
The Celtics struggled through the early part of the season, but began to find the right combination down the stretch. One of the biggest reasons for it was the way Kevin Garnett started playing after moving to center.
The 35-year-old Garnett showed some of the same explosiveness around the rim he had earlier in his career, and he has continued to hit the 18-foot shot he perfected later on. Paul Pierce, 34, showed he had plenty of game left as well and has even played effectively through an MCL injury this series.
Point guard Rajon Rondo has finally developed a more consistent mid-range shot, adding to his abilities as a passer and rebounder.
Yeah, but: Ray Allen will have to become more involved on the Celtics' offense. He only reached double-figures in scoring twice in the five playoff games he has played in since returning from an injury.
Right now, his ankle and Pierce's knee are the two biggest concerns for Boston. The team missed a great chance to take a 3-1 lead against the Sixers, blowing an 18-point lead Friday and adding at least a two more games to the series.
Philly has a deep team, several above-average-to-very-good players and all of their starting five are threats to score double-digits.
Jacks-of-all-trades Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner can also attribute in assists, rebounding and on defense. The team has shown the ability to overcome big leads in the playoffs and did not back off the Bulls once Rose went down, winning the series decisively.
Yeah, but: This team is still missing a true No. 1 guy and is at best a year or two away from making the Finals.
The teams that win championships usually have a year-by-year progression: They make the playoffs a few years in a row, they get past the first and second round a time or two and then become a realistic contender.
Not counting those who added a megastar (Shaq, Garnett) in the offseason, this is the formula teams have followed. It's the biggest reason the Sixers won't win it all, and the biggest roadblock for the Pacers; they haven't reached that point yet and couldn't handle the stage if they got there that quick.
Philly has a good shot at making it past Boston this year, and they have a lot of the pieces needed to be good for many years.
But they are not going to win an NBA title. Not this year anyway.
Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.