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Who says we have to wait? Oh, the schedule does. That's cool. Can't hurt to dream, in the meantime. The East side may not be as compelling from top to bottom as the West playoffs would be (especially if the Lakers sneak in), but that doesn't mean there aren't intriguing potential matchups. Here are a few that would give those Westerners a run for their money.
There has been a rule in place in the Eastern Conference since 2007, and it goes something like this: If you're legit, you've got to prove it by knocking off the Celtics.
And while we already know the Pacers have the potential to beat even the reigning champs, with or without Chris Bosh, there's no better way to kick off a deep postseason run than running through Boston.
The Pacers fancy themselves the big-bodied bullies of the East. It might've taken former team president Larry Bird spelling out "S-O-F-T" last postseason for the Pacers to truly take on this identity, but they certainly have. David West sets that Midwest mauler mentality for Indiana, and his fellas follow. Even normally mild-mannered Roy Hibbert was suspended for flinging around half the Warriors' roster last week.
Imagine the possibilities if these two teams meet in the first round, then. Kevin Garnett has a tendency to bring out the angriest in folks, especially in the playoffs. And he would be particularly ornery in a time when the Celtics are being counted out and supposedly standing on their last legs.
This has classic Eastern Conference slugfest written all over it, even if the Celtics don't match up size-wise.
If it's upset potential we want to see in the first round, this would have it. The C's rarely disappoint come playoff time, and in their only meeting so far this season, Boston held Paul George and West to a combined 8-of-36 shooting and dominated 94-75. Of course, that was with both Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger in the fold. These two have two more regular-season meetings, the first coming Wednesday, to provide a potential first-round preview. If those games are ugly, then this is perfectly playoff worthy.
Jay-Z might've thought the city was under new management after the first borough battle of the season, but the regular season series ended knotted at two apiece, so that paperwork was far from finalized.
What better way to settle the score, and build a rivalry that goes beyond geography, than a playoff matchup right off the bat?
This would have to be a scary scenario for the Knicks. Here's a franchise that hasn't won a playoff series since 2000, and after the first month and a half of the season looked like a lock to make a deep playoff run.
Now that they've slowly floated back down to earth, even the second round is no certainty for New York. And could there be a worse foe to be upset by than the new-to-town Nets? Not only would it be embarrassing because the Nets would have gone from 22 wins to a playoff series win in one year, while the Knicks would have completed a 13th straight year without such a success. But it would be the kind of disastrous scenario that you just know would set the Knicks into dramatic, knee-jerk reaction mode in the offseason.
That kind of potential always makes for great tension in the postseason. And even though the Nets have been nearly as difficult to decipher as the Lakers this season, they seem to match up just fine against New York, with Gerald Wallace capable of disrupting Carmelo Anthony's flow, and Brook Lopez keeping Tyson Chandler honest down low.
Of course, Melo has averaged 35 points in four games against the Nets, including an insane 59 percent shooting from 3, so he may be perfectly capable of dispatching Brooklyn single-handedly.
Still, this would be a civil war worth studying.
Ever since LeBron James left the Central Division, somehow the meetings between these two teams have gotten even more intense.
Whether Derrick Rose is in the picture or not, the Bulls have a way of aggravating the Heat and forcing an unfamiliar style of play. Even in their last meeting, an 86-67 Heat win in Chicago, Miami scored its lowest total in a victory this season. And the Bulls handed the Heat one of its three home losses this season in January.
That, of course, was without Rose. Assuming the former MVP comes back with time to spare in the regular season, and manages to really get his legs under him with a first-round playoff win (though there's hardly a guarantee of that, given the Bulls probably would have to survive a four-five first-round matchup to make this happen), it would be Eastern Conference finals-worthy stuff in just the second round. Take that, Western Conference!
It's not just the battle of MVPs that would make this compelling. Now that LeBron is dancing again, it's sure to set off Joakim Noah and his jazzy hands. The battles between underappreciated power forwards Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer constantly surprise. And don't understate the impact of Kirk Hinrich, who has a long history of aggravating Dwyane Wade -- to the point where Pat Riley once called the gritty guard dirty.
This was supposed to be an epic conference finals matchup last season, before Rose went down with the ACL tear. So by the laws of basketball karma, this series has to happen this postseason.
Remember when everyone thought the Heat would absolutely coast through the East playoffs?
Wait, that's still happening.
Well, regardless, if it gets to this point, no one will see this as an easy path for Miami.
Imagine a road to the Finals that includes a first-round matchup with self-proclaimed Dwyane Wade-equal Monta Ellis and his Bucks, who always give the Heat problems. Then, a second-round meeting with a completely healthy Bulls team, only to be followed by this, a conference finals against the Pacers that would be just as appropriate if it were played in an octagon.
Assuming both teams would enter this series healthy, you could say that it would still heavily favor Miami, given that the Heat won in six games mostly without Bosh last postseason.
But the Pacers are better this season, with a more consistent West and George playing like a superstar regularly.
And now that Lance Stephenson is actually getting minutes, rather than just making choke gestures from the bench, it only has the potential to be more combative than last year's series, when it was Danny Granger doing most of the yapping.
Be prepared, Steak and Shake on Maryland Street, for there might be a LeBron James sighting on a late night in early June.
Or, if the basketball gods are of right mind, the opportunity should at least present itself.