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NBA takes centre stage as the playoffs begin

PHIL HAMILTON
Last updated 05:00 23/04/2013

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OPINION: NFL rules the sporting landscape in America but for the next two months it's the NBA's turn to hog the limelight.

It does that with what must surely be the longest playoffs of any single sporting competition around the world - 16 teams playing off across two conferences in seven-game series. While it seems like overkill, for the serious hoops fan it's eight weeks of bliss with playoff games almost every night. If every series went the full whack that would mean 105 games to decide the NBA champion (or world champion as Americans prefer to call it).

Seven-game series seems like a lot but it serves to eliminate upsets and the risk of one bad call determining the outcome, as well as bringing in oodles of money.

Naturally the defending champion Miami Heat go into the finals as the overwhelming favourites on the back of a 66-win season. They have the most talented roster built around the world's best player, LeBron James. There are never any guarantees in sport but, barring injuries, it's hard to see any team being able to beat the Heat four times in seven games. After all they won last year and that was with Dwayne Wade banged up and Chris Bosh missing for a nine-game stretch in the playoffs.

The Heat will roll through their first opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks, most likely without dropping a game. But elsewhere there are some fascinating first round match-ups.

Going on the seedings, Miami will face the New York Knicks in the eastern conference finals. But the Knicks face a potential banana skin against the Boston Celtics in what should be the best series of the first round. The Celtics, although ageing and with injury problems, are never any picnic. They play hard and not always fair with the trash-talking Kevin Garnett anchoring their defence.

The Knicks won the regular season series 3-1 but Boston was missing Garnett for the last two losses. Even without Garnett, the Celtics defended well against Carmelo Anthony who hogs the shots for the Knicks. He and Garnett have had run-ins before and after one mid-season game, Anthony was fined for waiting by the Celtics' team bus for Garnett in order to continue an on-court skirmish.

The Knicks will need Raymond Felton and JR Smith to play well because if the burden for their scoring falls solely on the trigger-happy Anthony they will lose. They will also need to tighten up a leaky defence.

Expect some fireworks and a series that goes the distance.

Over in the western conference, San Antonio against the Lakers would have been fascinating but for the loss of Kobe Bryant to a season-ending injury. Without him the Lakers have little chance of upsetting the Spurs.

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Instead, the best of the west clashes is likely to be the other LA team, the Clippers, taking on the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies defend well as their name suggests but in Chris Paul the Clippers have the game's best point guard, a man adept at unlocking the tightest of defences. He is the master of the lob pass and with Blake Griffin has the perfect dunking foil.

Memphis will rely on Marc Gasol, who is probably the cleverest big man in the league.

In Zach Randolph the Grizzlies have another good big man and his clash with Griffin will be fascinating.

The winner of this series is probably the best chance of upsetting Oklahoma's march to the western conference crown.

The other series likely to last the full seven games is between the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls in the east. They're evenly matched and Chicago's task won't be easy with defensive linchpin Joakim Noah limited by injury.

- The Press

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