Home cookin': No. 1 wins East, No. 2 loses everything
With the two gridlocked in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots (Miami currently holds a half-game lead over Indiana, with less than 10 games remaining for each team), these teams realize that No. 1 is the only one that matters. The No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference puts Game 7 on the court of the team that may need it, use it and reach the NBA Finals with it. Could the Heat survive a vengeful Pacers squad before a riotous fan base in Conseco Fieldhouse? Or could the Pacers endure another 48 minutes of pressure against an opponent that has tortured their professional souls for the last two postseasons?
My answer to both is a resounding no, because these two squads, in terms of talent, are joined at the hip. While reigning MVP LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh stand head above shoulders as the league’s most dangerous trio, Indiana has come to boast arguably the best starting lineup in the NBA, led by a much-improved Paul George, followed by the veteran leadership of David West, imposing presence of 7’2” Roy Hibbert, steady point guard play of George Hill and do-it-all explosiveness of Lance Stephenson. Those resumes can cross each other out, especially considering how tightly-contested the seven-game Eastern Conference Finals was last year.
It’s fair to say that Toronto, Chicago, Brooklyn, Washington, Charlotte and New York (add in Atlanta and Cleveland, who both remain in the hunt) are talented bridesmaids, but bridesmaids nonetheless. Although Brooklyn has a 3-0 regular season edge over Miami, tempos change weekly for teams that battle through regular season injuries (especially for these two banged-up teams, i.e. Wade, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams), so the playoffs could be a different ballgame with strict lineups and rotations and – more importantly – more focus on one opponent. With that in mind, James and the Heat will be ready to pounce on and eliminate a Brooklyn squad with several proud veterans, but one rookie head coach.