NBA March Madness: Who Reaches the NBA’s Final Four?


Dwyane Wade led Marquette to the Final Four in 2003. He’ll likely help the Heat reach the NBA Final Four for the third straight season. Photo Credit: Mark Runyon, Basketball Schedule

During the next three weeks, NCAA tournament brackets will be the hot topic of conversation for basketball fans. Flying under the radar, however, is the fact that the most important days of the NBA regular season also occur during March Madness.

Approximately a month remains on the NBA schedule and championship contenders are preparing to flip the switch to postseason mode (with the exception of the Miami Heat, who have flipped the switch to dynasty mode).

Imagine a bracket of the potential NBA playoff teams if the postseason started today. The overall No. 1 seed would unquestionably be Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers would survive the bubble and get to the Big Dance.

Who do you have in your NBA Final Four?

Eastern Conference Finals: No. 1 Miami Heat vs. No. 2 Indiana Pacers

The Heat are almost a given to make it to at least the conference finals, as the Big Three vies for its third straight NBA Finals appearance. Miami has won 23 straight games and LeBron James is well on his way to his fourth MVP award in five years.

The Pacers are the best of the rest, although they would face a difficult road to even get this far in the postseason.

The Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics are currently tied for the seventh seed and either team would pose a challenge to Indiana. The Bulls await the return of Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich and, of course, Derrick Rose. A healthy Bulls squad could test the Pacers and steal a series win. Unfortunately for Chicago, entering the playoffs fully healthy is a big “if.”

We’ve all witnessed how Boston performs when the national media doubts the team’s chances. Last year, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the brink of elimination in a seven-game conference finals. Future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett must be taken seriously regardless of their seed.

Should the Pacers advance past the opening round, they would likely face the third-seed New York Knicks in the conference semifinals. That series would be a battle between evenly matched teams, but the home court advantage could lift Indiana in six or seven games.

Eastern Conference Sleeper: Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have hit a wall in the second half of the season. They have wilted against difficult competition, and the injuries are piling up. But even if Rose does not come back, Chicago is a totally different team with a healthy Hinrich running the show and with Gibson patrolling the paint.

Luol Deng and Joakim Noah have played second fiddle to Rose for the past two seasons, and not many people are giving them a fighting chance in the playoffs. If the Bulls catch their second wind and put a healthy squad on the court, they are capable of winning a playoff series and of at least putting up a fight in the second round.

Western Conference Finals: No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder

Yes, I’m boring and decided to pick the top four seeds for my NBA Final Four. So what? Stick to college basketball if upsets are your thing because in a seven-game playoff series, the better team usually wins. The four best teams heading into the final month of the season happen to be the four top seeds.

Yes, the Spurs are still one of the best four teams in the league even though point guard Tony Parker is still not expected to return for another two weeks, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Gregg Popovich is once again working wonders with a deep, talented roster.

As long as Parker returns with no setbacks and as long as Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are healthy heading into the postseason, the Spurs are on track for a return to the conference finals. Small forward Kawhi Leonard has made major strides in his second NBA season and he will be a dangerous weapon on the wing for the Spurs this postseason.

The road this year, however, may be much more treacherous for San Antonio as opposed to last season. The Spurs swept consecutive series en route to the conference finals a year ago.

As of now, the Spurs would draw the Lakers in the first round, a team that is finally rounding into shape. Dwight Howard appears to be the healthiest he has been all season, and Kobe Bryant will not exit the playoffs quietly.

The second round will also be extremely difficult for San Antonio, as a matchup with either the Denver Nuggets or the Memphis Grizzlies is probable. Either team could push the Spurs to seven games, but red-hot Denver would be an especially difficult opponent. The Nuggets are 30-3 at home this season and their speed and athleticism is a mismatch for the aging Spurs.

Flip the scripts, however, and the Thunder would face the same problems against the Lakers and either the Nuggets or Grizzlies. Oklahoma City only trails San Antonio by one game in the standings, so swiping the No. 1 seed from the Parker-less Spurs is not out of the question.

At the end of the day, the Spurs and Thunder are the class of the West. Postseason NBA games are played primarily in half-court settings, and these two teams execute better than any other team in the conference. That doesn’t bode well for high-flying transition teams like the Nuggets and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Western Conference Sleeper: Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are peaking at the right time and the veteran-led squad is finally gelling together. Even more important has been the increased production of Howard, who is finally looking like the dominant physical presence we grew accustomed to seeing in Orlando.

Most of all, the Lakers have one of the greatest players of all time who refuses to give in to Father Time’s demands. Bryant is still one of the top five scorers in the game, and no opposing coach wants to see that look in the Mamba’s eye at the end of a tight playoff game.

The Lakers trail the Golden State Warriors by two games for the sixth seed in the West. If the Lakers snag that playoff slot, they would be a dangerous first-round matchup and could at least pull off an upset this postseason.