Culver City Observer -

By Mitch Chortkoff
Sports Editor 

Intriguing NBA Playoff Possibilities Stir Interest


Charles Barkley thinks San Antonio and Memphis are the Western Conference teams that might beat Miami in the NBA Finals. Both are strong on the inside.

But he doubts that either could beat Oklahoma City to reach the Finals because the Thunder has a faster team.

Shaquille O’Neal thinks the Lakers would be eliminated right away if they finish seventh or eighth in the West. But he sees hope for them if they can rise to sixth. That could happen if Golden State keeps slumping.

I’m not sure he’s right because the No. 6 seed plays the No. 3 seed in the first round and No. 3 figures to be the Clippers, who have beaten the Lakers in all three meetings so far.

Five weeks before the regular season ends fans and experts all over the country are trying to figure out possible playoff pairings, which makes this a fascinating part of the season.

The consensus among experts I know is that Miami will come out of the East to reach the NBA Finals unless the Heat’s major weakness – not enough inside strength – will force them to struggle in a playoff showdown with Indiana, which is powerful on the inside.

In almost every Heat loss this season they’ve been outrebounded.

Experts are divided in picking the West’s likely Finals representative. Most favor Oklahoma City or San Antonio, a few give surging Memphis and Denver a chance. Very few believe the Clippers can make it although most of them enjoy watching the team’s acrobatic play.

The experts believe the Clippers won’t be able to go on dunking sprees in the playoffs when the play is slower and rougher.

The Thunder’s close victory over the Clippers Sunday at staples Center was an example. The final margin was only four points, but the Thunder built a 19-point lead and when the game became close near the finish they had the greater firepower to clinch the win.

Of course, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were the stars, but despite trading James Harden the Thunder retain a strong supporting cast.

That was evident again Tuesday when the Thunder scored the final 12 points of their 122-105 win over the Lakers.

If the Lakers somehow put together a rousing finish to a disjointed season and win even one playoff series it will be a surprise.

It’s hard to get excited about a team that has played 60 games and lost half of them.

Kobe Bryant has been sensational lately and the Lakers’ overall offense has improved, with Steve Nash showing lately how he’s been a superior shooter over his career besides being outstanding with assists.

But the season-long problem of a faulty defense is still there. Oklahoma City scored 71 points in the first half against the Lakers.

Coach Mike Di’Antoni favors three-point shooting to often passing the ball to a center. As a result, Dwight Howard isn’t featured in the offense.

Howard had no shot attempts in the second half against the Thunder. I don’t see the wisdom of that.

Well, on we go. In recent weeks the Lakers have improved their chances of making the playoffs. They’ve had enough wins to come closer to Utah, which figures to drop out because of a challenging remaining schedule.

But a first round elimination is anticipated for whichever team becomes the No. 8 seed. Most likely the No. 7 seed too.

The intrigue will be to see if either Memphis or Denver can upset one of the top teams after that.


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