x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Finally, the NBA season gets started

Finally, the regular season has ended and the real season, and drama, has begun, writes Steve Dilbeck.

After an uneven regular season where they did not completely dominate, to not win a championship would be a total letdown for LeBron James, left, Chris Bosh, centre, and Dwyane Wade.
After an uneven regular season where they did not completely dominate, to not win a championship would be a total letdown for LeBron James, left, Chris Bosh, centre, and Dwyane Wade.

And now to the good part. The NBA season is like eating an artichoke. You have to wade through these layers of petals in the regular season to finally get to the rewarding heart of the post-season.

Thankfully the curiosity of the Miami Heat, the rise of the Chicago Bulls and the mercurial season of the Los Angeles Lakers helped make the six-month grind of the regular season more interesting.

But now the play-offs have arrived, which is when the NBA rises to another level, when the drama hits overdrive. This should be one of the most interesting NBA post-seasons in years. Plenty of intrigue and glamour matchups. Here are four storylines to follow as the play-offs unfold:

Miami Heat. Six months of melodrama, egomania, adulation and they have not won a thing yet. It is time for the Heat to live up to the hype or get ready to hide.

The Heat will not have an easy path. They should get past the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round, but then should come the Boston Celtics.

If the Heat do not deliver a title, their season has been a failure. Even their Big Three will admit to it. That is why they picked Miami - to win it all.

Los Angeles Lakers. The craziest team in the NBA. They go 17-1 after the All-Star break then they lose five consecutive games.

"This team is weird," Kobe Bryant said. Too weird to predict. But being a veteran team, nobody is discounting the possibility they will be back in the finals and give Phil Jackson, their retiring coach, a chance to capture his 12th title.

Chicago Bulls.The surprise team of the year in the regular season. Now it is time to discover if they can translate the league's best record to a title. The Bulls have not won a second-round series since 1998, when Michael Jordan was finishing off his career. Now they are led by 22-year-old Derrick Rose, who may discover carrying a young team is a different animal in the play-offs.

Denver v Oklahoma. Easily the best first-round match-up. The Thunder are the happening team with stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But the Nuggets stunned everyone by compiling the third-best record in the league after trading Carmelo Anthony.

This matchup is a break for the Lakers, since one of the two teams in the West who may have the best chance of blocking their return to the finals will be eliminated early.

The week in the NBA

Players of the Week

•Derrick Rose, Chicago. The presumptive MVP started his play-off run with 39 points, six rebounds and six assists against Indiana.
•Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas. The Mavs forward, below, averaged 27.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in three wins, including the play-off opener over Portland.
•Dwight Howard, Orlando. The Magic centre had a night to remember in Orlando’s first play-off game against Atlanta, scoring 46 points and pulling down 19 rebounds. But the Hawks won anyway.

Teams of the Week

• Chicago. Won their last nine games to finish with the regular season’s best record to earn home court advantage throughout the play-offs.
• Dallas. Won their last four games to hold off Oklahoma and finish third in the West.
• Miami Heat. Won their last four regular-season games to finish second to Chicago in the East.

Duds of the Week

• Brandon Roy, Portland. It is looking like the former All-Star will never recover from his lengthy list of injuries.
• Hedo Turkoglu, Orlando. His return to the Magic seemed grand. Not anymore.
• Oklahoma v Denver. Two of the hottest teams in the second half, and the Thunder beat the Nuggets twice this month.
• Boston v New York. The Celtics should prevail, but the Knicks showed signs of life down the stretch.
• Orlando v Atlanta. Much was expected of the Magic at the season’s start, but they have struggled to find their mojo in the second half. And they have already dropped the opener at home.