We’ll remember the 2012-2013 NBA regular season for one thing and one thing only: The overwhelming supernova of the Miami Heat.
The Heat dominated teams left and right, making competition look not only subpar, but inferior. LeBron James pogo-stick’d his way into the all-time top 15; Dwyane Wade found a way to bottle up “black don’t crack” and applied it to what were deteriorating knees; and Chris Bosh dealt with extra-curricular hate and spit out a sneaky-impactful 16 and 7 campaign. Additionally, Coach Spoelstra bought an all-access card to the top tier coaches’ lounge, the bench (especially Shane Battier) played significantly better and they even resurrected part-time human ink-canvas, Chris Anderson.
Oh and they came within six games of breaking the NBA’s all-time win streak, topping out an expletive-inducing 27 games.
The Knicks, Thunder, Lakers and Clippers were the other team storylines that dominated the regular season talk and highlight shows. Quiet as it’s kept, other things happened. Guys like Roy Hibbert and Deron Williams started off tortoise-slow and had people questioning their status as star players, but both rebounded nicely in the second half. While players such as Andre Iguodala and Jeff Green –– one traded to a new team, the other back from a serious health scare –– were able to positively reinsert their games into new situations. Even noted stress-inducer Nate Robinson, played well in Derrick Rose’s absence and contributed mightily to a very solid season by the Bulls.
There are other stories and other squads, as well. Teams without the fanfare (some justifiably so) but full of dudes playing well and forcing themselves into postseason conversations.
Milwaukee Bucks, 38-42
How They Could Win:
I can’t even say “don’t believe the hype” in regards to the Milwaukee Bucks. There is no hype. These dudes are playing in Anchorage, as far as relevance. Make no mistake, a healthy Heat team will basically disembowel the Milwaukee Bucks. Even a slightly injured Heat team would beat them.
That being said…the Bucks aren’t the typical 8th seed, bereft of talent and full of borderline professional-level players. Their core of Brandon Jennings (17 points and 6 assists), Monta Ellis (19 and 6), Larry Sanders (9, 9 and 2.8 blocks), JJ Redick (12.3 ppg), Richard Mbah a Moute (7 and 4) and Ersan Ilyasova (13 and 7) can all play.
Jennings and Ellis each have “I can get 20 points in a playoff game” potential, especially Ellis, who, at his best, is amongst the nastiest scorers in the League. Redick came over from the Magic and gives them legitimacy, or at least a threat, from the outside. But the biggest reason for any upset dreams for Bucks fans, relies in the games of Ilyasova and Sanders. Ersan is a tricky scorer and at 6´10 is a tough mismatch for most players. He also has legit outside shooting ability, as his 44 percent three-point percentage attests. Sanders, all jokes aside, has been nothing short of a revelation this season. His blend of timing, athleticism and power is impressive. A unique talent, to say the least, and easily one of the best shot-blockers in the game. When he’s on the court, he is impossible to miss.
Why They Could Lose:
Simply put, Jennings and Ellis, as a duo, are very shaky, and have combustible potential growing every moment they are on the floor together. Inefficient offense and suspect defense will keep them from ever really realizing their potential. Additionally, Sanders acts like he’s “touched” sometimes and for everything he brings to the table, he also has the potential to jump on top of the table, and jump on it until it breaks into wooden shards. When your three key players have so many questions, winning in the postseason becomes a pipe dream.
Memphis Grizzlies, 56-26
Why They Could Win:
Interior heft like a mofo. The inside games of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are of the premier kind, and they anchor a Memphis squad that sometimes seems out of place in a world where you pay your electricity bill from your smartphone. Add that to the defensive doggedness of (“Trick or Treat”) Tony Allen and steals-monster Mike Conley, and you have a team that makes it hard to score. They play a physical style that other teams simply can’t match in technique or intensity. They only give up 89 points per game, which, when you initially look at it, seems like a typo. Additionally, guys off the bench like Jerryd Bayless come in and contribute on both ends and keep up the energy. In their matchup against the Clippers, they will decidedly have the strength and toughness advantage on their side. There isn’t a better named team in the league than the Grizzlies.
Why They Could Lose:
They only average 93 points a game (27th in the League), they are 24th in assists and, worse, they don’t have a perimeter destroyer, a dude with the ability to black out and give you a 40-point game. The takeaway here is that, much like a 5´7 guy at a WNBA Draft party, they struggle to score. In the playoffs, where defense tightens and fast breaks are limited, a true contender has to have a guy for which defensive sets are a secondary concern. Randolph is the closest thing they have, but this is his 12th NBA campaign, and in the latter part of the regular season, he’s begun to slow down a bit. Gasol is a great overall player, but it’s not like you can just feed him the ball in the post and get out of the way. They work best as a tandem, but individually, they can be neutralized. Not to mention they struggle from the outside. The Grizz don’t shoot a lot of three-pointers, because they don’t have anyone who can make them on any kind of consistent basis. Shooting 34 percent as a team from the outside cuts down their spacing, and makes it much harder for the interior guy to do work.
Atlanta Hawks, 44-38
How They Could Win:
The Hawks need to amp up the energy level. Is there another franchise in the NBA that elicits less enthusiasm than the Hawks? No wonder all of those reality shows are based in Atlanta; seems like there isn’t anything else to get excited about. This is shoulder-shrug HQ. Other than averaging 24.5 assists per game (2nd in the League), the rest of their numbers fall right in line with where you’d assume. They score 98 ppg, give up 97 and are in the bottom third in rebounding. Middle of the pack, nothing really extraordinary. The Hawks are the Hawks and there is a reason why you very rarely argue with their fans. Because even they know that their upside is small.
When healthy, Al Horford is one of the better big men in the game and he’ll have to play above himself to counter the inside size of the Pacers. The only chance they have of beating Indiana is by killing it from the perimeter. If Jeff Teague and Devin Harris can consistently find them, Kyle Korver and rookie John Jenkins have shot-making ability. And Josh Smith has to have at least two games where he doesn’t take any bad shots and is able to block and rebound in significant numbers. In this series, speed is important. Atlanta is, overall, the more athletic team, and they have to run like someone is chasing them. I’m talking knees-high running, cutting through back alleys and jumping-over-fences running.
How They Could Lose:
Playing the Pacers is akin to going to the dentist. They are first in rebounds and second in points allowed (90.7). You already know it’s gonna be rough and you’re gonna regret it as soon as you walk in the door and sit down in the waiting room. That mentality is what the Pacers feed off of every game. If you walk in with a broken spirit, you have no chance. Honestly, is there anyone on the Hawks who has enough gumption to mentally compete?
The Hawks only hope is that Indiana, who have been in slump-mode for most of April, beats themselves.