Posted by Matt Moore
In this week's edition of the Friday 5 with KB, we ask how far the Heat can go, where the Kings will be, and how the March slog will work out. All this and more in this week's Friday 5 with CBSSports.com's Ken Berger.
1. Point blank, right now, how far do you think the Heat go in the playoffs?
Ken Berger, CBSSports.com: A loaded question deserves a dance-and-dodge answer. First, it depends on who they play. In any round, I'd be concerned if I were the Heat playing Boston, Chicago or Atlanta. Boston obviously has their number, and the Bulls have a player capable of winning a playoff game by himself on the road -- plus, several of their core players have been through playoff series together in the past, which Miami's guys have not. For all their lack of defense and rebounding, the Knicks still impose a certain fear factor simply because of the offensive weaponry they have and because Carmelo is so good in the clutch. So in a roundabout way not to answer your question, I could see Miami getting bounced in the first round or getting to the conference finals. I don't see them going farther than that, and if I had to guess, I'd say they lose in the second round.
2. San Antonio got fairly detonated last Sunday against the Lakers. I have concerns about their defense in terms of length versus the Lakers and their ability to guard stretch fours like West, Aldridge, and Randolph. Am I nuts or is the San Antonio record not indicative of their playoff strength?
KB: I think you've pinpointed the Spurs' weakness fairly well, but I'm not as concerned about them as you are. Having said that, I do think Z-Bo or West could give them fits in a first-round series. I just think it's a different story in a best-of-7 when Duncan will have rest between games and Pop will have time to make adjustments and figure it out. While I think it's a little insulting to say the Spurs may not be as good as their record, the reality is that the playoffs are all about matchups. And if San Antonio consistently has a bad matchup against bigger teams or floor-spacing fours, their record won't help them win that series. I don't think that's hysterical; it's just a fair observation.
3. I don't mean to alarm anyone, but the extension for the Kings to file for relocation is coming up in the next few days. How does this play out from what you know now?
KB: Anaheim or bust is what it looks like to me. I've increasingly gotten the impression that the commissioner has run out of patience with Sacramento, and the Maloofs' posture is the definition of one foot out the door.
4. What are the teams most likely to tank from here on out? Are there any? We're not looking at a super strong draft class.
KB: I guess you could argue that Charlotte already tanked by trading Gerald Wallace, though their plan is more geared toward using the cachet of Michael Jordan to attract a marquee free agent in 2012. Also, there's no rule that says the Bobcats have to cede the eighth spot to Indiana; the Pacers have to earn it. Imagine that: Charlotte trades its best player for two first-round picks and still makes the playoffs. It could happen. Other than that, I don't envision tanking being nearly the storyline it's been in past years. For one, it's a weak draft to begin with and could get weaker if underclassman pull out due to lockout fears. Plus, in the West, all the teams on the bubble really want to make the playoffs -- Portland, Denver, New Orleans, Memphis, Phoenix, Utah and Houston. Same in the East with New York, Philly, Indiana, Charlotte and even Milwaukee.
5. This is what I refer to as the NBA's deathmarch, trying to slog through the days post-trade deadline, pre-playoffs. Are you looking forward to the quiet or does the endless stretch of March get to you on the beat?
KB: After the excruciating Melo saga -- which for me culminated with writing the breaking story of the trade from seat 27C on my Delta flight from Los Angeles to New York on Feb. 21 -- I welcome the sanity. The Melo story was all-consuming for weeks, even months, and the deadline was busier than most people in the basketball and media business expected. On the NBA beat, this is always the time of year to take a breath and try to recharge a bit. It's also a time when I typically welcome the opportunity to focus on, you know, basketball again. But I'm energized on a couple of fronts more so than I've been in deathmarches past. I'm interested in seeing how the Knicks thing works out with Carmelo and Amar'e, and eager to see how the Perkins trade affects Boston and Oklahoma City. Also, the playoff races at the bottom are tight, which will lead to more compelling March and April games than we've had in recent years. As mentioned above, there are five teams legitimately battling for the final three spots in the East and six teams vying for the final four spots in the West. So that means I will pay even less attention to the NCAA Tournament than I normally do. As soon as I catch my breath.