1. A Heat/Thunder Finals Rematch Is Inevitable, Isn’t It? Other Than Health, Is There Any Reason To Expect Something Different?
BRANDEN PETERS: I picked a Heat vs. Thunder rematch in the off-season and the chances that it won’t happen are slim to none. However, this is the NBA and crazy things happen from time to time. Unless the Knicks and Pacers miraculously get healthy soon, no one in the East is going to beat the Heat. In the West, there is a good chance that the Spurs have the depth, experience and coaching to give OKC a run for their money, especially if the Spurs end up getting the top seed.
SANDY DOVER: I would say that’s reasonable to think, but the Thunder haven’t been battle-tested in the Playoffs. I don’t think they’re better without Harden, and though Durant has become something of a distributor and more well-rounded, I’m not sure they’ll beat Memphis or even the Clippers without The Beard in the lineup. And to follow up to Branden, even if the Knicks and Pacers did get healthy and stronger in the postseason, I can’t give them any advantages on the Heat. They’re not strong enough to beat the Heat.
RICHARD BOADU: Yes. There’s definitely reason to expect something different; that’s exactly why they play the game. No one saw the No. 8 seed Denver Nuggets beating the No. 1 seed Seattle Supersonics in 1994. The Pacers took the Heat behind the woodshed a few times during last year’s playoffs. Don’t be surprised if the Spurs or Knicks play rematch wreckers this postseason.
NUBYJAS WILBORN: If San Antonio were healthy they would be my pick in the West. I don’t trust Denver because they don’t have an elite go-to scorer. Pacers don’t score enough to beat Miami. Knicks can score, but they won’t be able to stop LeBron. Heat and Thunder are the two best teams in the league and it will be that way for the foreseeable future.
MAURICE BOBB: The only way I’d expect anything different is if OKC and Miami have complete meltdowns on the way to the Finals, which is as likely as Tiger Woods dating a mocha-skinned beauty from Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
2. Who Will Be The Most Underrated Player In The Playoffs?
SANDY: The most underrated player in the Playoffs is probably Carlos Boozer. He’s been cast aside as potential amnesty weight in the media, but he’s had an All-Star type year. Booz has proven that when healthy, he can will a team to win games, and he’s been healthy and dependable and highly productive for Chicago. People will remember him when he gets into the postseason – don’t sleep.
PETERS: Although his 54-point and 47-point performances against the Knicks and Lakers, respectively, finally got some shine, I really don’t think fans outside of the Bay Area know how good Stephen Curry really is. Curry has arguably been the second-best PG in the league for the second half of the season behind Chris Paul. At press time, he’s averaging 22.8 ppg, 6.9 dimes and 1.59 steals per game. He has the wettest jumper in the league, not to mention, a handle that makes defenders look silly on the regular. There are some good players that get minimal national love (Ty Lawson, Eric Bledsoe), but they aren’t on Steph’s level right now. After getting snubbed this year, he’ll be a perennial All-Star from here on out.
BOADU: Steph Curry is about to go ape sh*t like he did in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. There is no reason why he wasn’t an All-Star. The coaches who voted for the reserves will pay for it this NBA postseason like ol’ boy in Taken did when he took Liam Neeson’s daughter.
NUBYJAS WILBORN: The fellas are on the money with Steph Curry. In fact, we’re sleeping on that whole squad, because David Lee is a high-level baller, as well. Curry is going to show the world why he’s known as a baby-faced assassin.
MAURICE: I hate being the go-along-to-get-along on this, but I’d have to agree that the most underrated player is Steph Curry. He’s constantly overlooked despite the way he cooks players like a Hibachi. Something tells me that after the first round of the playoffs, Steph the Chef will no longer be flying under the radar.
3. Who Will Be The Most Overrated Player In The Playoffs?
SANDY: The most overrated player is probably Derrick Rose – I say this not because he is actually overrated in his talent, but because the people applying the pressure for him to return, are under the illusion that a recovering player will actually somehow snap back to world-beater level. It’s not happening. Rose knows this, and people with common sense understand this, and yet, so many people are campaigning for his return for postseason play, it overrates the actual impact he’ll have in being able to will the Bulls to a championship. They couldn’t even beat Miami when the Heat were the weaker team – what makes ANYONE think the Bulls will be able to now?
PETERS: Hands down it is Jeremy Lin. Sure, he’s averaging respectable numbers (13.3 ppg and 6.1 apg), but when you consider he’s making over $8 million a year on average, he’s way overrated. Dude cashed in on a three-week stretch of good games like no other. The funny thing is he complains that he didn’t get recruited to a major school because of his race, but ironically, he has his race to thank for his current status in the league.
BOADU: Carmelo Anthony. The scoring title looks good, but can you win a playoff series taking 34 shots a game and playing less defense than a Canadian Football League team? I don’t think so. Melo just doesn’t get it, dawg. There was a time when LeBron James wasn’t known for his defense and the light went off and he got it. Melo never paid the light bill. Oh, and you know Amar’e is going to make an appearance sooner or later and mess up the chemistry.
WILBORN: Monta Ellis takes awful shots and turns the ball over way too much. He also has severe lulls in scoring which affects his already paltry defense. I like his fearlessness; just wish he would tune it down a bit and become smarter player.
MAURICE: This time last year, I’d have answered this with Carmelo Anthony, but he’s shown growth this season. So for me, the most overrated player going into the playoffs has to be Duh-White Howard. He’s been overrated all season long and his weaknesses will be glaring if the Lakers make the playoffs.
4. All Things Considered (personnel, window of opportunity, fan base expectations, etc.), What Team Is Most In Need Of A First Round Playoff Win?
SANDY: The Los Angeles Lakers, by far. Kobe Bryant’s gonna be out for a year; Dwight Howard is a free agent and still isn’t sure what he wants to do about staying or going; and Pau Gasol has been trampled upon like a tide of elephants running through a shallow pond. Not to mention, the team is facing heavy penalties for its payroll (which is terrible for the Buss family, because their wealth is solely based in the fiscal health of the team).
PETERS: After all of the off-season moves, roster purging and high-profile exposure, it would be a fail if Brooklyn bowed out in the first round. Let’s be real, the Nets didn’t have this much hype since J. Kidd took them to the Finals. For them to bow out to the Hawks (who they would face if the playoffs started today) would mean Dwight Howard is less likely to sign with the team and the bandwagon fans in Brooklyn will go back to rooting for the Knicks (especially since Jay-Z is no longer walking through that door).
BOADU: The Clippers. Hell, they need a Western Conference Finals appearance if Vinny Del Negro wants to keep his job. The organization has wanted to fire him for quite some time, but he’s fighting back like he’ll be deported if he doesn’t win. He hasn’t gotten the axe yet, but an early playoff exit will certainly be the end of Vinny.
WILBORN: It has to be the Knicks. Lakers will get a pass because of Kobe being out. Knicks haven’t won a ring in 40 years and haven’t won a playoff series since the 1999-00 season. They desperately need to show improvement in the postseason. Oh, and that Carmelo guy needs to win for his own legacy.
MAURICE: I’d say the Knicks. They’ve fought to accomplish things this year that they haven’t in a while. But for it to make any difference, for it all to matter, they have to get out of the first round. Hell, I’d even say NY needs to get out of the second round to appease their rabid fan base.
5. Have We Seen The Last Of Kobe Bryant?
SANDY: No way. Kobe will have his “last hurrah” season even if it takes 18 months for him to be what he wants to be. Like I said on the night that he was injured, the legend of Kobe Bean Bryant has grown to demi-god status, nearly to the point of being basketball’s Achilles himself, ironically.
PETERS: Judging from Bryant’s Facebook rant, we haven”t seen the last of the Bean. An Achilles injury is no joke, but there is nothing in Kobe’s makeup that makes me think he won’t at least try to come back and come back with a vengeance. Until he says different, there is no reason to think that he isn’t still hell-bent on winning more rings than both Magic and Michael Jordan. If the Lakers make the mistake of amnestying Bryant and his $30 million salary, it is almost a guarantee he’s not done. He’d come back just to stick it to Jeanie, Jerry and Mitch Kupchak.
BOADU: Have you read his Facebook posts? Look, if Mariano Rivera’s old-ass can come back from a torn ACL at age 86, then Kobe can come back from this at 35. This is the same guy that willed his way to victory countless times. The same guy that airballed three jumpers in the playoffs and exhibited absolutely no chill after each miss. Kobe Bean Bryant was put on this earth to do what the hell he wants, and he says he wants to return, so that’s what he’ll do.
WILBORN: Kobe is one the five greatest athletes of the last 25 years, but nine months is a really long time. It’ll almost be amedical miracle if he’s able to come back at 35 with all that wear and tear on his body. I don’t think he’ll ever be the same Kobe again, and at the end, he won’t want to play that way.
MAURICE: Not even close. Kobe’s definitely coming back from this because his competitive drive will push him to do what everyone else is saying that he can’t. Bean will be like Rocky coming back to defeat the Russian. He’ll go off and train like mad, all the while, looking at cut-out articles doubting his greatness, doubting his abilities, saying he’s over the hill. Then, after returning to game shape, he’ll crumple the articles in the mirror, and come back and go to work.