Seven burning questions heading into the NBA Playoffs

There is always a lot riding on the playoffs, but this year there is even more drama surrounding the NBA postseason. Here are seven big questions that will be answered over the next few months.

1. Will the Cavs win the title?
2. Will that keep LeBron in town?

These two questions are joined at the hip. There are some who believe that a Cavs title ensures that LeBron will re-sign, while others believe that if he brings a title to Cleveland, it gives him an out. The general consensus seems to be that if the Cavs fail to make the Finals again, it will increase the chances that LeBron signs elsewhere this summer. There’s no denying that LeBron seems to be a loyal guy, but will that loyalty outweigh the prospect of playing with Chris Bosh in New York, or join a talented Bulls team in Chicago? Only he knows. But I have a hard time seeing LeBron returning to Cleveland if the Cavs don’t make the Finals again.

3. Can the Lakers get it together?
The Lakers haven’t exactly instilled their fans with a sense of confidence heading into the postseason. They lost three straight games in early March, then rattled off seven straight wins, and have since lost four of their last six. Andrew Bynum still isn’t playing and Ron Artest isn’t exactly fitting into the Lakers’ triangle offense. Chemistry has never been this team’s strength — they are by far the most talented team in the West, which is why they won the title last year. But can that talent offset this team’s disjointedness? Unfortunately for the Lakers, they aren’t going to draw a cupcake in the first round; the Spurs, Blazers and Thunder are all capable of giving the Lakers all they can handle.

4. Which Vince Carter is going show up?
The Magic took a big risk when they traded for Carter and let Hedo Turkoglu go. Carter’s numbers are down across the board, but he has shown signs of being the perimeter creator that Orlando was looking for when the franchise made the trade. But Carter hasn’t shot this poorly from the field (42.5%) since his final year in Toronto, when everyone thought he was dogging it to force a trade. Playing alongside Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis is supposed to help Carter’s shooting accuracy, not hurt it. When the chips were down in last year’s playoffs, the team gave the ball to Turkoglu and asked him to create. That job is Carter’s now — will he deliver?

5. Will the Celtics get out of the first round?
Now that the Bucks’ Andrew Bogut is officially out for the postseason, the answer to this question is probably “yes.” Miami is dangerous as well, so depending on how the matchups shake out in the East, the C’s could be in trouble. Kevin Garnett has lost the explosion in his legs and Ray Allen is showing signs of getting older. The Celtics won the title two years ago because they were hungrier than everyone else. No matter what they say, that edge has been diminished somewhat.

6. Do the Spurs have enough gas in the tank for one more run?
The Spurs are 15-6 in March and April and should have good momentum heading into the playoffs. George Hill played well in place of Tony Parker, but Hill is out with an ankle injury and the Spurs are working Parker back into the fold. Manu Ginobili has played great of late, and he is close to signing a three-year extension that will keep him in San Antonio for a while longer. The Spurs appear to be getting healthy in time for the playoffs, and that’s bad news for whatever top seed is unfortunate enough to face them in the first round.

7. How quickly can the Thunder grow up?
OKC is one of the best stories of the season. Even though the Thunder’s starting lineup averages 23.2 years-old, they’ve played well beyond their years. If they draw the Lakers in the first round, they’re going to have a tough time advancing due to L.A.’s championship experience, but OKC will be a very live dog against any of the other teams in the West.

And that’s not all. How will George Karl’s illness affect the Nuggets? Would a Suns playoff run keep Amare Stoudemire in town? Will the Bulls make the playoffs, and if so, how will that affect their chances of landing a big-name free agent this summer? Are the Mavericks for real? Can the Blazers get out of the first round? What does a playoff run mean for Carlos Boozer and the Jazz? What about Joe Johnson and the Hawks?

This summer’s free agency period promises to be one of the most compelling in the league’s history. But just about every big-name free agent will be affected by this year’s playoffs. It should be fun.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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