The general consensus is that the San Antonio Spurs will finish this year what they failed to finish last year and capture the 2014 NBA title.
The Spurs (62-20) were the only NBA team to reach 60 wins this season as they rumbled through the schedule as if they were playing pickup games in their own gym. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, however, doesn’t believe the Spurs are a shoo-in to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
“Having the best record out of the West doesn’t really assure anything,’’ Cuban said. “It’s that brutal.
“But I think San Antonio has played great, they’ve got a great team, so they have to be considered the odds-on favorites. But I don’t think anybody is afraid of anybody.’’
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Here are five things to look for as the NBA playoffs start Saturday:
1Are the Spurs as good as advertised?
Leading the Miami Heat by five points with less than 30 seconds remaining in Game 6, the Spurs looked to be a lock to win last year’s NBA title. The NBA had rolled out the championship trophy, security personnel had brought in the ropes to keep folks off the court, and the champagne was on ice in the Spurs’ locker room. But it all vanished in a flash for the Spurs, who lost Game 6 in overtime, then Game 7. The Spurs certainly have played this season with a chip on their shoulder. They won a franchise-record 19 consecutive games, including winning all 16 games they played in March.
2Can the Miami Heat three-peat as champions?
The NBA hasn’t had a three-peat league champion since the Los Angeles Lakers won three consecutive titles from 2000-2002. It’s just so difficult to do. Why? It’s taxing on the body, there are injuries, and some of the role players have gone elsewhere. Even worse, the Heat is trying the rare feat of just reaching the Finals for the fourth year in a row. The last team to do that was the Boston Celtics from 1984-’87. This also could be the final playoff run together for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who can all be free agents on July 1.
3Will the Indiana Pacers get their act together?
This season started as if the Pacers had learned the errors of their ways when they blew Game 1 in the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami and wound up losing that series in seven games. By March 2, Indiana had posted a 46-13 record and everything looked rosy. Then, internal bickering started, followed by losing. Although the Pacers captured the East’s top seed, they wound up losing 13 of their final 23 games. It’ll be interesting to see if they recover in time now that the bright (playoff) lights are turned on. The Pacers are fragile, but they also are talented.
4Will acquiring Dwight Howard pay off big in Houston?
The Houston Rockets broke the bank last summer when they nabbed Dwight Howard off the free agency board. Howard, who had narrowed his choices to the Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, signed a four-year, $88 million deal with Houston. This is the time of the year when the Rockets want a return on their dividends. Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, and also shot 59.1 percent from the field. With a talented supporting cast around him, anything less than an NBA championship probably will be considered a failure in the eyes of Rockets followers.
5Will the veteran-heavy Nets become playoff darlings?
Don’t automatically assume that the Heat or the Pacers are a virtual lock to win the East. The Brooklyn Nets might have something to say about that. The Nets were built for the playoffs. They added former Celtics stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who won an NBA title with Boston in 2008, over the off-season. Plus, they have Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Andray Blatche. Pierce and Garnett are fierce competitors who know how to hit crucial baskets. In addition, after a rugged start in his first season as a coach, Jason Kidd has figured out how to manage games. That’s why the Nets are the playoffs’ biggest wild card.