The NBA playoffs have gone about as predicted, thus far. At the moment the only series still in the wind is Grizzlies-Clippers and even that’s 3-1. We’ve personally gone from thinking either team (particularly the Grizzlies) could give the Spurs a second round challenge, to being of the mind that San Antonio will beat either of them in five. Other than that Denver has proven more formidable than expected but without it actually materializing them in threatening to advance. So here we are, with six playoff series’ either officially over or with a predetermined outcome, mostly due to injuries or piss poor match-ups. There’s an outside shot we don’t even see a single series reach a sixth game.
Things are particularly uncompetitive in the East and it simply isn’t going to get much better in ensuing rounds, either. For the remainder of the playoffs the east is essentially paying lip service to the west. Miami’s going through the motions before getting to the Finals while everyone in the west secretly hopes they sustain either a minor or major injury whilst running through the feathered pillow gauntlet of the rest of their central & eastern time zone counterparts.
After they beat the Knicks in either five or six games, their next two opponents will be first the Pacers and then the Celtics. The former has historically proven to be a terrible match-up and they were the youngest, least experienced first round playoff team, once they get past Orlando that will only be compounded in the second. And while Boston proves to be a better match-up, it seems that the nature of time has ascended the Heat past the Celtics, and unless Miami only brings their B-game and Boston brings their A-game, something I don’t know is even possible for either team, Miami will close out Boston before we even get to game seven.
To wit, the path has been cleared for the Heat to get to the Finals. With Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose (the two best players in the conference after LeBron) sidelined for the rest of the season, the Knicks in non-stop turmoil and the Celtics aging and constantly battling injury, Miami won’t have any excuse for missing the Finals, and they know as much. The one team that has managed to stay healthy is Indiana, the youngest and least imposing of all the teams listed for the Heat. If the Knicks or Bulls traded their setbacks with Indiana, Miami might have a tougher road. But as it stands things have panned out perfectly for the indifferent South Beach & Dade county masses.
Now, despite my confidence in the outcome of these series’ (notice I didn’t even bother to mention the Sixers, who have a 3-1 series lead on depleted #1 seed Chicago), that doesn’t imply I won’t watch every last second of Indiana-Miami and subsequently most every last second of Boston-Miami. My infatuation with the Pacers is well documented on this website and both teams have the potential to force close series that challenges the Heat more than anyone else expects. But the competitive imbalance is actually part of what makes the series’ so anticipatory. It isn’t that Indiana and Boston are bad teams, they’re just not in the same stratosphere as Miami. Boston used to be and Indiana has the potential too, but this, for all intensive purposes, is Miami’s prime title contending years. The Pacers and Celtics of the world are a year or two away on either side of Miami.
The possibility of an upset no one can really bank on is, if it comes to fruition, what qualifies an upset as an upset. Not simply a 7-seed beating a 2-seed, or 8-seed beating a 1-seed. When we look at these things numerically it devalues legitimate shock value and its importance in the post-season. For example, is anyone all that stunned Chicago is losing their first round series this year? Or when Dallas lost to Golden State, the Warriors had beaten them all four times they played in the regular season in 2007. Circumstances tend to get in the way of regarding every lower seed beating every higher seed as a choke job by the losing side. Maybe you consider Dallas losing to Golden State in 2007 as big of an upset as the Sonics losing to the Nuggets in 1994, but if you actually watched any of these teams play you would know that isn’t the case.
Bringing this back to Miami, if they lose the cause won’t be a match-up issue like it was with Dallas last year and it won’t be because Miami’s bench lacked depth, it will be the direct result of a significant injury (to Wade or LeBron) and/or another choke job by any combination of their two or three best players. Which is what everyone outside of South Florida wants to see, right? As gratifying as the collapse against Dallas was for every fan of every team north of Miami, if they somehow lose to either Indiana or Boston before reaching the Finals it will be the mark of a cataclysmic upset that could break up their current nucleus, far more so than any possible Finals opponent. If you’re looking for a reason to stay tuned into the Eastern Conference Finals that would be it. Given, it isn’t much. In short: a upset so unlikely to happen you want to be there for the infinitesimal chance that it does. But it’s the best anyone can honestly say the East has to offer.