While most Canadian sports fans are gearing up for the NHL playoffs and the NFL Draft, LeBron James and the rest of the NBA are gearing up for their post-season.
After a grueling 82-game season (which included the return and retirement of Rasheed Wallace, the hilarity of the Los Angeles Lakers saga and the continuation of the Raptors’ futility), the second season is sure to provide some interesting storylines.
Here are five stories this fan will be following:
1. If the Miami Heat win the NBA title, will LeBron James accomplish the greatest individual season of all time?
Follow me on this one.
This season, LeBron averaged 26.8 points, 8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game. These are numbers only Michael Jordan and Larry Bird can lay claim to.
James was also the catalyst of Miami’s run at the 1972 Lakers’ 33-game winning streak (which included 27 straight victories from February 3 to March 27).
During a stretch in February, LBJ scored 30 points in six straight games, while shooting a staggering 60% (including a 13-14 performance against the Bobcats). Not too shabby.
As impressive as the regular season has been for LeBron (which will surely include a fourth MVP award), he understands it’s all for nothing if the Heat come up short in June.
The king is on a quest. I wouldn’t bet against him.
2. Can Carmelo Anthony conquer his demons and carry the Knicks deep into the playoffs?
The hometown kid helps his hometown school win an NCAA title, then goes to the NBA. When he arrives, he’s overshadowed by his personal villain (LeBron), yet becomes a star in another city. Eventually, he’s traded home, and is given the chance to grant New York its first title since 1973.
Spike couldn’t have written it better himself.
With an innovative spread offence, the Knickerbockers led the league in three-pointers, and earned the Eastern Conference’s second seed. They should challenge the Heat in the conference final.
This is personal for Melo. In nine post-season appearances, he’s been eliminated eight times in the first round. As of today, his legacy is nothing more than a scoring machine who demanded a trade out of Denver.
He’ll need help from Tyson Chandler and JR Smith, but all eyes will be on the former Syracuse star as he attempts to carry the Knicks to their first final since ’99.
3. Can Oklahoma City return to the finals?
In today’s era of free agency and ludicrous contracts, it’s rare to see a trade that benefits both teams.
Last season, James Harden wanted to be paid like an all-star, but Thunder GM Sam Presti made a “business decision” to part with the effective triumvirate of OKC’s young core. As a result, the Thunder traded Harden to the Houston Rockets; a team searching for a superstar (they were also pursuing Dwight Howard and had three top-18 selections in the 2012 Draft).
Initially, Thunder fans were shocked and heartbroken. Harden was the 2012 6th man of the year, and was an integral component of the Thunder’s ride to the NBA final.
In Houston, Harden has flourished . The former Arizona State star was fifth in league scoring, and was selected to his first all star game.
In OKC, the Thunder have improved in field goal percentage, three-point percentage and defensive field goal percentage. With Kevin Martin replacing Harden as a perimeter threat and the maturation of long-limbed Serge Ibaka, OKC compiled the best record in the West and are primed for another long post-season run.
Their first round matchup? The Harden-fueled Rockets.
4. Who will be the NBA’s version of Wichita State/Florida Gulf Coast?
The NBA needs a team or player to break Twitter.
Ater careful analysis of the first-round matchups, I think the winner of Denver/Golden State series could be that Cinderella team.
My case for Denver?
They’ve won 23 straight home games, and have lost just three games at the Pepsi Center this season. Running (combined with the Colorado altitude) has been the key to their success. George Karl is a Coach of the Year candidate, and has been battling throat and neck cancer since 2010. His team has inherited his resilience. The Nuggets scored 106.1 points per game this year (first in the NBA), despite lacking star power. Oh, and Denver also went 16-8 against the West’s top five seeds.
As for Golden State, they’re dwelling in new waters (centre Andrew Bogut is the only Warrior with playoff experience). It’s also just the second time in 19 years the Warriors have made the playoffs (the last time, this happened).
Quite simply, the Warrior possess the firepower to complete another upset. Smooth-stroking Stephen Curry set the single-season record for three-pointers with 272. The former Davidson product has developed into a star (remember when Minnesota drafted two point guards ahead of him?) and with help from another sharp shooter in Klay Thompson, wonder-kid Harrison Barnes Lee, and coach Mark Jackson, this could be the team that captures our heart – 140 characters at a time.
5. How will the Lakers season end? What will be of Dwight Howard next year?
“For a small reward, a man will hurry away on a long journey; while for eternal life, many will hardly take a single step.”-Anonymous
Last season, Dwight Howard abandoned Orlando for the LA spotlight. With four future hall-of-famers, the Lakers seemed destined for 70 wins. Instead, they barely squeaked into the playoffs. To make matters worse, Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon with two regular season games remaining.
Inevitably, this paves the way for Superman to take control of the purple and gold, while questions swirl about Kobe’s future with the Lakers.
What happens if Dwight and Pau are able to come together to eliminate the Spurs? Could Dwight’s play force the Buss family to deliver Kobe’s pink slip to his hospital bed?
Or, what if the Spurs sweep the Lakers and Dwight plays poorly? Could Shaq 2.0 leave La La Land after one unsuccessful season?
One thing I do know is that we won’t stop talking about the Lakers.
Frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Written for CAVE by Michael Skrzyniak