MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/19 April) – This Holy Week looks auspicious for Filipino sports lovers. Pambansang Kamao Manny Pacquiao redeemed himself against Timothy Bradley in their grudge rematch on Palm Sunday. And on Easter Sunday, this basketball-crazy country will start the week watching the first games of the NBA playoffs.
In the Eastern Conference, all eyes will be on whether the LeBron James-led Miami Heat can make their fourth finals stint and earn their third title in a row. They will face Michael Jordan’s franchise Charlotte Bobcats in the first round. Charlotte has never won against Miami since 2010, aside from never having won a playoff game, a “record” held by no other NBA team.
After losing 14 of its last 25 games, Miami may not be as menacing as last year when they ended the regular season with a 66-16 record highlighted by a 26-game winning streak. They are two games behind the Indiana Pacers, a strong title contender. Yet the playoffs may change the intensity of Miami’s game, and they may just be holding back their firepower. (Remember Sun Tzu’s counsel of feigning weakness when you are strong?)
Miami, however, is in trouble if Dwyane Wade could not perform 100 percent due to a recurring hamstring injury. Wade did not play in most of the games that they lost. Clearly, like the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen tandem of old, Miami needs the lethal James-Wade combination. Chris Bosh alone could not effectively complement James.
As the top seed in the East, Indiana takes on eighth seed Atlanta Hawks. If both Indiana and Miami succeed in disposing of the other playoffs contenders, they will again battle for a ticket to the Finals. Last year, Miami earned the right to be in the championship after a grueling series with Indiana that went the distance. It was a series that could have gone either way, except that Indiana showed immaturity in handling close games.
The Chicago Bulls, however, cannot be underestimated. Since January 1 they have performed better than either Indiana or Miami. Who knows, they might frustrate hopes for a repeat of last year’s Eastern Conference finals rematch. But first they have to stop the Washington Wizards especially John Wall.
Toronto Raptors will play against Brooklyn Nets to complete the Eastern Conference playoffs cast. It will be Toronto’s first playoffs appearance since 2008.
In the Western Conference, league leader San Antonio Spurs (66-20) will try to reassert their dominance over Dallas Mavericks, a team they have beaten thrice in a row. Dallas won the championship in 2011 against Miami.
Memphis Grizzlies will try another upset against Oklahoma City Thunder led by NBA top scorer Kevin Durant. Memphis beat Oklahoma in the second round of the playoffs last year. But Oklahoma’s starting guard Russell Westbrook was sidelined by an injury at that time.
For sure, Memphis will be handicapped by their apparent lack of excellent outside shooters. It would be a real nightmare for them if Marc Gasol, 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, fails to outmuscle Oklahoma’s tall guys.
In the other Western Conference matchups, Golden State Warriors will play against Los Angeles Clippers, and Portland Trailblazers will take on Houston Rockets.
The vastly improved Clippers, now steered by former Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, took the third seed in the West. Power forward Blake Griffin is expected to lead the scoring chores for the team. His defense, however, has always been suspect despite his imposing size and strength.
But this is playoffs time, folks. Statistics is a factor, but it’s nothing if an athlete doesn’t have the heart of a champion. Let the games begin. (MindaViews is the opinion of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His lingering obsession is to cover the Summer Olympic Games.)