Zgoda: Five questions for the NBA playoffs

  • Updated: April 20, 2013 - 3:32 PM

A Knicks superstar, and the Lakers’ wounded one, add spice as Miami flexes for a repeat.

hide

Miami Heat's LeBron James

The NBA playoffs begin Saturday without the Timberwolves for the ninth consecutive season or a guy named Kobe Bryant, but not without its usual share of compelling story lines.

In the East, the defending champion Miami Heat is clearly the team to beat, no matter how much commotion the New York Knicks’ late-season surge created in Gotham. What else can you say about a team that’s already won one title and has lost only two games since Feb. 1?

In the West, five teams won 56 or more regular-season games, the kind of parity that could make even a first-round series between Memphis and the Los Angeles Clippers one for the ages.

Even the No. 1 vs. 8 series pitting Oklahoma City and Houston reunites Rockets star James Harden with the team that traded him away mostly for salary-cap reasons last fall, and the 2 vs. 7 series offers a Los Angeles Lakers team without injured Bryant in the unexpected role as underdogs against four-time champion San Antonio.

Here are five questions that will have an impact on this year’s playoffs.

Five questions

1. What’s it going to take to beat the Heat?

Sounds like a silly question here in Minnesota in any number of ways, doesn’t it?

Usually it takes a big ol’ parasol or one of those misting machines, but in this case, judging from the season’s final three months, it sure looks like it’s going to take a whole lot more than that.

LeBron James might win both league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year if voters were honest with themselves. Instead, he’ll probably have to settle for his third MVP, another All-NBA first-team designation and his second championship ring.

The Heat won 66 games, lost ony four times since Jan. 14 and finished the season with a 37-2 flourish that included a 27-game winning streak, the second-longest in NBA history.

“I don’t see anyone challenging them,” ESPN analyst Flip Saunders said. “They’ve really been off the charts, the way LeBron is playing. There are teams that are going to be able to beat them a game or two maybe, but I can’t see anyone that has the ability to beat them four games.”

2. How are Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony going to top THAT?

You can’t make this stuff up, or maybe you can…

When New York and Boston played in January, Anthony went looking for Garnett in the Celtics’ locker room and later outside the team bus, seething over something K.G. said during the game at Madison Square Garden.

That something reportedly was about Anthony’s wife, La La, tasting like Honey Nut Cheerios. Later, Anthony’s wife denied the remark was ever said but said her hubby played along with it by telling reporters, “I’m definitely going to get a bowl of that, for sure.”

Anthony’s actions earned him a one-game suspension. Both players have downplayed any rivalry between them since then.

Garnett praised Anthony in the days leading to Saturday’s first-round playoff opener, calling his late-season burst in which he claimed the NBA’s scoring title from Kevin Durant “unbelievable.”

So what’s past is past, right?

Or is it?

3. Is Mike D’Antoni being wrong going to make everything right?

The once-mighty Los Angeles Lakers barely made it into the playoffs, and now without the great Kobe Bryant they must face 58-victory San Antonio.

But don’t necessarily count the Lakers out, not if Dwight Howard decides to put on his big-boy pants for the playoffs, not if Steve Nash can come back from injury.

And not if Mike D’Antoni is sincere about his recent admission that he was wrong earlier this season when he concluded big men Howard and Pau Gasol can’t play together.

The Lakers finished the season 8-2 and beat out Utah for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot, and Gasol starred alongside Howard down the stretch after missing six weeks because of a foot injury.

His play caused Nash to tell reporters Friday, “This is the Pau that I was begging for a chance to play with.”

It also has put him back in favor with D’Antoni after falling into the coach’s disfavor early in the season.

“I’ve come to realize that we can play with the two big guys,” D’Antoni told reporters earlier this week. “I was a little skeptical at first. I think with both of them being close to 100 percent, yeah, they can play together easily. I kind of had a preconceived notion that probably wasn’t right.”

4. With apologies to the Fabulous Thunderbirds, are the flashy L.A. Clippers “tuff enuff?”

The Clippers won the Pacific Division for the first time in history and swept the hometown rival Lakers for the first time since Donald Sterling bought the franchise in 1981.

But as loaded and high-flying as they are with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and, heck, even former Timberwolves big man Ryan Hollins, do the 56-victory Clippers have enough substance with their style to go deep in the playoffs?

It’s a particularly important question given their first-round rematch with Memphis, a team they beat in seven games in last season’s first round.

In contrast, the Grizzlies are all about muscle and moxie and short on style points.

TNT analyst Charles Barkley, of course, has an opinion.

“That team has got no toughness,” Barkley said. “They’re not a legitimate contender.”

5. A playoff pick-’em: Russell Westbrook, hero or goat?

No playoff player is more polarizing that the Oklahoma City point guard, who alternately delights and confounds even his coach — sometimes on the same play.

With Chicago’s Derrick Rose apparently out for the season and these playoffs, Westbrook is a singular combination of size, speed and strength at that position. He’s also a guy prone to shoot too much — particularly with a guy named Kevin Durant on his team already — and then there’s that temperament that led him to storm off the court when he was pulled from the game for barking at a teammate and hoisting a wild shot during a January contest.

Barkley at the time on the air implored Thunder coach Scott Brooks to “handle this” and said Westbrook must “grow up” or an OKC team that traded away James Harden to Houston after reaching the NBA Finals last spring can’t win a championship.

“This thing is going to show its ugly head deep in the playoffs if they don’t,” he said.

But now that Harden meets his old mates in a first-round matchup, Saunders said the same thing that makes Westbrook a nightmare to defend — his aggressiveness — is also what causes the second-guessing.

“The guy plays every night, gives everything he has,” Saunders said. “I think the last time he missed a game was probably in elementary school.

“The benefit and rewards of what he does and how aggressive he plays far outweigh the negatives that happen over the course of a game.”









 

  • related content

  • Full NBA playoff preview coverage

    Saturday April 20, 2013

  • NBA Western Conference power rankings

    Saturday April 20, 2013

    Western Conference1. MemphisDefense and toughness usually win come playoff time, and the Grizzlies have both in abundance, plus the experience...

  • NBA Eastern Conference power rankings

    Saturday April 20, 2013

    Eastern Conference1. MiamiAre you going to bet against the best player on the planet and a team that won 27...

  • Wolves slotted for 9th, 26th picks in June draft

    Friday April 19, 2013

    Wolves will play NBA's annual game of chance for one of draft's top 3 picks in May 21 lottery

  • Mike D’Antoni

  • Carmelo Anthony

  • Kevin Garnett

  • Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook

  • LeBron James and the Miami Heat coasted to the playoffs’ top seed with the help of a 27-game winning streak. But their hungry rivals in the Eastern Conference don’t plan to go away quietly.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Toronto - LP: D. Hutchison 2 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: M. Tanaka 5
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 2 FINAL
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 1
NY Mets - WP: J. deGrom 10 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: E. Santana 2
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 3 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: M. Gonzalez 2
Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta 0 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 1
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Danks 10 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: N. Karns 5
Cleveland - WP: C. Kluber 7 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: A. Swarzak 2
Detroit - LP: R. Porcello 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 5
Seattle - LP: H. Iwakuma 3 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 8
Los Angeles - WP: C. Perez 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 5
Texas - WP: S. Tolleson 2 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Street 1
Philadelphia - LP: M. Gonzalez 6 FINAL
Oakland - WP: S. Doolittle 8
San Francisco - LP: R. Vogelsong 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: I. Kennedy 8
Arizona - LP: W. Miley 3 FINAL
Colorado - WP: C. Bergman 8
Cincinnati - WP: A. Simon 7 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: L. Lynn 2
San Diego 22 FINAL
Buffalo 10
Dallas 34 FINAL
St. Louis 31
Washington 34 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
Houston 17 FINAL
NY Giants 30
Minnesota 9 FINAL
New Orleans 20
Tennessee 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 33
Baltimore 23 FINAL
Cleveland 21
Green Bay 7 FINAL
Detroit 19
Indianapolis 44 FINAL
Jacksonville 17
Oakland 9 FINAL
New England 16
San Francisco 14 FINAL
Arizona 23
Denver 20 FINAL
Seattle 26
Kansas City 34 FINAL
Miami 15
Pittsburgh 37 FINAL
Carolina 19
Chicago 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Columbus 4 FINAL
Carolina 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Washington 1
St. Louis 3 FINAL
Columbus 4
Calgary 1 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Edmonton 0 FINAL
Calgary 1
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(12) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(9) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
(23) East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(20) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
(14) Miss State 34 FINAL
(17) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(13) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Chivas USA 0 FINAL
Toronto FC 3
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 32 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How many games will the Timberwolves win this season?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close