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These NBA playoffs are the real deal

Lakers probably can't handle Spurs, but Clippers might exceed expectations in the West.

April 19, 2013|By Ben Bolch
  • Lakers center Dwight Howard strips the ball from Clippers center DeAndre Jordan
Lakers center Dwight Howard strips the ball from Clippers center DeAndre… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

The release arrived Friday afternoon with the breathless headline "LAKERS ISSUE FRAUD ALERT."

No, it wasn't about getting the No. 7 seeding in the Western Conference with a $100-million payroll.

The Lakers wanted to warn fans about scams associated with buying playoff tickets from third-party sources while conveniently directing them to a ticket exchange on their team website. The Clippers issued a similar release about an hour later.

It's a sad reality that the NBA playoffs are filled with cruel intentions.

The Milwaukee Bucks want to bankrupt oddsmakers who have them as 500-1 longshots to win the title.

Houston's James Harden wants to upstage former best buddies Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Memphis wants the Clippers to experience the heartache the Grizzlies felt after Game 7 in their first-round series last season.

Here are seven deceptively good questions going into the playoffs:

Is there any way the Lakers beat San Antonio?

Sure, in Twitter followers.

Lakers stars Dwight Howard (3.9 million followers as of Friday afternoon), Kobe Bryant (2.1 million) and Pau Gasol (1.9 million) make Spurs counterparts Manu Ginobili (1.6 million), Tony Parker (486,000) and Tim Duncan (not on Twitter) seem like social media misfits.

Things could be equally lopsided in the other direction in the actual games. The Lakers' best bet is to play inside out while hoping lingering injuries to Parker (neck, ankle, shins) and Ginobili (hamstring) turn the Spurs upside down.

Bryant's torn Achilles' tendon will prevent him from bringing the vino, the word he chose earlier this season when asked about his age-worthy performances. Perhaps he can send good vibes from his Newport Coast home by tapping into another "V" power: Vladimir Shpunt, Frank McCourt's positive-energy guru.

What are the Clippers missing to become a Finals contender?

Nothing, if you really think about it.

They have two of the game's top stars in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. They have perhaps the best bench in the NBA. They have a coach who has overcome his own lame-duck status to help his team quack the league's upper echelon.

And because the Clippers went to San Antonio for the conference semifinals last year, this isn't their first rodeo.

Is it too late to change my Finals picks?

Can Miami put together a playoff run reminiscent of the 2000-01 Lakers?

Those Lakers, if you recall, won their first 11 playoff games before Philadelphia's Allen Iverson dropped 48 points on them in Game 1 of the Finals at Staples Center, earning a cringe-worthy fist bump from ESPN's Stuart Scott in a subsequent interview. The Lakers went on to win the next four games and finished the postseason 15-1.

These Heat should sweep Milwaukee before losing, at most, two games combined in the next two rounds. But Miami isn't going to win a second consecutive title without at least two losses in the Finals, so the Lakers' NBA-record .938 playoff winning percentage should stand.

Can the Thunder win it all without Harden?

Good question. It probably will hinge on secondary options Kevin Martin, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha more than on stars Durant and Westbrook, whose combined brilliance isn't enough to produce a title.

"We haven't seen the guys who really have to produce at a different playoff level do that in a Thunder uniform ever, even the guys who have been there before," TNT analyst Kenny Smith told The Times.

Now would be a great time to start.

Will Derrick Rose will come out of mothballs and play for Chicago?

Not likely. And with good reason.

"That would be like training and then someone says, 'OK, we're going to have you run in the Olympics' and you've never run a race in between to get there," Smith said. "I don't think that's possible to happen."

The one-year anniversary of Rose's torn knee ligament is April 28, a day off for the Bulls between Games 4 and 5 in their first-round series against Brooklyn. Here's guessing Rose won't play in either one.

How far can Denver go without Danilo Gallinari?

As far as the Nuggets' "teamness" — a phrase popularized by Coach George Karl — takes them.

And that could be quite a ways considering their amazing depth and NBA-best 38-3 home record. Wilson Chandler's late-season surge has softened the blow of Gallinari's season-ending injury and the point guard tandem of speedy starter Ty Lawson and ageless reserve Andre Miller is as good as it gets.

Now if only the Nuggets could fix the Atari 2600-caliber graphics on the scoreboard inside the Pepsi Center.…

Is it true that closeout games are easy?

Depends on whom you ask. Andrew Bynum has plenty of free time these days, so maybe give him a ring.

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