Early NBA Playoff Guide
The NBA has two days’ worth of games remaining before the 2012 playoffs begin. That’s a fact.
The San Antonio Spurs are very old, but are playing better than any other team and earned the West’s No. 1 seed. Also a fact.
Who will meet in the NBA Finals and who will win the title is still two months away from being a fact.
I am not going to get bogged down in matchups given there is still sorting out to do among seeding, but nothing wrong with a way-too-early breakdown.
As much as it kills me to say it, I highly doubt the NBA will see the defending champion Dallas Mavericks repeat.
The Favorite: Chicago Bulls
It all depends on the health of reigning MVP Derrick Rose, but if he plays at the level he did last season during the playoffs, this is a great pick.
Sure the Bulls have the best record in the East and this wouldn’t be a shocker, but they were also the No. 1 seed in the East last season and got dominated by the Miami Heat in the conference finals.
With the addition of the playoff-savvy Richard Hamilton this season, combined with Luol Deng and Kyle Korver having arguably the best seasons of their career, the Bulls have all the pieces.
Joakim Noah does what an anchor of a defense is supposed to do, while Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brwer are experienced and serviceable reserves off the bench.
If the Bulls don’t bring the crown back to the Windy City for the first time since the Michael Jordan era, look for the Spurs or Celtics to be the team bringing back the hardware.
These playoffs are bound to be entertaining, but the prevailing winner will be an old-school team that plays the right way.
Sound like the 2011 Dallas Mavericks?
Best First-Round Matchup: New York Knicks v. Miami Heat
The Heat has the No. 2 seed locked down in the East and I believe the Knicks will hold on for the No. 7 seed.
Everyone but the Heat should be praying for this matchup.
Carmelo has been the best player the last three weeks of the season. Dropping his second career triple-double and playing with sharpshooters JR Smith and Steve Novak has the Knicks looking unstoppable on the offensive end of the ball.
Mike Woodson has taken over for departed Mike D’Antonio and the Heat are now dreading this matchup.
Lebron and Carmelo in round one would be a series for the ages, but Carmelo has a better supporting cast from top to bottom.
Tyson Chandler would make Chris Bosh irrelevant for the second straight playoff season and JR Smith would enjoy draining deep 3’s in Shane Battier’s grill,
If the Knicks take down the prima donnas of Miami, Lebron, Dwayne Wade and the crew might want to reverse their introductory press conference saying to, “Not six, not five, not four….but zero.”
Time is ticking boys.
Player To Watch For: Dallas Mavericks Forward Dirk Nowitzki
Sure the 7-foot jump shooters stats have diminished this season, but never count out the greatest European born player to play in the NBA.
This pick may be a bit biased, but think about it.
Everyone questioned Dirk’s toughness after multiple first-round knockouts, including losing to No. 8 seed Golden State in 2008.
Nowitzki responded last season during the playoffs and was not only flawless in the clutch, but more like ruthless. He still presents the league’s biggest matchup problem –– just ask the Thunder’s Nick Collison.
With a roster full of veterans and random players, Nowitzki will be the one constant during the 2012 NBA Playoffs for the league’s second-oldest team.
His 21.6 points per game will probably rise to 30-plus in the playoffs, but I doubt that will surprise many.
What will surprise is if the Mavs are capable of making another run.
*Bonus* Rookie to Watch For: Miami Heat backup point guard Norris Cole
Cole exploded in his Heat home debut, dropping 20 points, four assists and four rebounds against the Boston Celtics back in December.
Since, the 6-foot-2 Cole has been up and down in a rocky first season in South Beach.
With one game remaining in the regular season, the Cleveland State University product is averaging just more than six points and right at two assists per contest.
Cole is known for his streaky shooting and array of offensive moves. He can also strike lightning in a bottle during games at times, once registering a jaw dropping near triple-double in college with 41 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists against conference-rival Youngstown State.
The Heat are going to need an X-Factor to win the 2012 title and that title has Cole’s name written all over it.
Zach Turner is the assistant sports editor for The Arkansas Traveler. His column appears every Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter @zwturner.