The 2012 NBA Playoffs start today, less than 48 hours after the conference standings were cemented during Thursday’s regular season finale. This lockout-shortened regular season schedule of 66 games in 124 days has taken a toll mentally or physically on all of the 16 postseason contenders vying for the championship this spring. How the fallout will impact postseason play is one of the various storylines that will color the playoff season, as will many memorable 94’ by 50’ hoops battles fought in years past. Like Shakespeare once wrote, “What’s past is prologue.” Here are some of the questions that will get answered as the plot unravels when the quest for the Larry O’Brien trophy gets underway.
- Virtually all the pro-ball prognosticators have pegged either the Chicago Bulls or the Miami Heat to come out on top of the Eastern Conference. Do any of the squads seeded 3-8 have the talent, drive and stamina to make it to the Finals?
- Will the pressure on 9th-year, ringless LeBron James elevate his game (if that’s even possible) or be so great that he proves his naysayers right?
- Does the depth and unselfishness of the 3rd seed Indiana Pacers make them spoilers even without a legitimate star on the roster?
- Can Boston’s aged core of Pierce, Garnett and Allen stay healthy enough to grind out enough W’s to give the C’s their 18th title banner?
- Will the banged-up Hawks get enough offensive output from the gifted Joe Johnson and their defensive menace Josh Smith to overcome Al Horford’s absence?
- Can the Dwight Howard-less Magic rally together after a season-long soap opera surrounding the Association’s top 5-man?
- Do the Knicks have enough firepower with the super-combo of Carmelo and Amar’e to take down their playoff rival of years past the Heat?
- And will Linsanity be making a return to the floor and global media these playoffs?
- Is this the year that the storied Philly franchise can return to prominence and shock the pundits?
- Will last year’s champs Dallas be able to come close to replicating their 2011 title run from the 7-spot after having suffered through a roster redo, multiple prolonged losing streaks and aging superstars?
- Will Gregg Popovich’s superb coaching job (maybe his best ever) of resting his trio of stars and developing a group of young ballers while still finishing with the 1-seed get the Spurs back to the Finals and a chance at a 5th ring?
- Are the OKC Thunder poised to take the next step with the 3-time NBA scoring leader Durant, super-athlete Westbrook at the 1 and a strong supporting cast?
- Will 5X champ Kobe Bryant’s MVP-like production in his 16th season be augmented enough by Gasol and Bynum to get to the ring round in Mike Brown’s first year as Lakers head coach?
- Can the Grizzlies pseudo-shock the league as they did in last year’s first-round upset of SA now that they are a 4-seed, playoff-tested and expected to do well?
- Will the Clippers be just the ‘CP3 & Blake Show’ or will the rest of the cast step it up now that they’re in the playoffs for the first time since ’06?
- Can the post-Melo Nuggets make the mile-high fandom smile with their up-and-down attack, which ranked first in points per game and dimes per game?
- Will the Jazz’s points-leader and boards-leader, power-power forward Al Jefferson be able to lead the 8th seed to an upset stunner now that he’s back in the playoffs for the first time since ’05, his rookie season in Boston?