With the NBA playoffs beginning Saturday, there's a wake-me-when-it's-over feeling in the Eastern Conference, where the Heat are expected to cruise. All the intrigue is in the Western Conference, which feels wide open. Here's a look at some of the angles.
Can the Heat make history? » After challenging the Lakers' 33-game winning streak, Miami enters the playoffs as the NBA's most overwhelming defending champion since the Michael Jordan years. The question isn't so much whether the Heat can win, but whether can they challenge the 2000-01 Lakers (15-1) and the 1982-83 Sixers (12-1) for the playoff runs recognized as the NBA's most dominant. There doesn't seem to be a team in the East that can make Miami sweat unless Bulls guard Derrick Rose has a change of heart on his surgically-repaired knee.
Intriguing matchup: Spurs vs. Lakers » After Kobe Bryant went out with a torn Achilles, Steve Blake had the two highest-scoring games back-to-back of his 10-year career (23 and 24 points), and Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol have become terrors inside. It's only been two games, but wouldn't be the first time a team was energized after losing a ball-dominating superstar. Derailing the No. 2 Spurs will be a tall order, but the No. 7 Lakers are trying with some newfound chemistry.
Intriguing player: Stephen Curry » The Golden State guard not only broke Ray Allen's single-season record for 3-pointers with 272 but did it with 45.3 percent accuracy as opposed to Allen's 41.2 figure. With Danilo Gallinari (torn ACL) out and Ty Lawson (planar fasciitis) hobbled, this is a good time for the No. 6 Warriors to catch the No. 3 Nuggets. Golden State has other 3-point threats in Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes and two serious interior players in David Lee and Carl Landry.
Intriguing team: Memphis Grizzlies » Their grind-it-out style is made for the postseason. And if there's a team whose high-flying style is not, it's the Clippers. Underrated point guard Mike Conley can control the pace. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are formidable inside and Tayshaun Prince is an elite perimeter defender.
- Kevin Dunleavy