-- It's now April -- no fooling -- which means the NBA playoffs are almost here. The Western Conference has so many dynamic story lines that every series and every game should be exciting. But is there any hope for the Eastern Conference playoffs? Yes. While the East lacks the glamour of the West, here are three thoughts on how the East playoffs can be exciting, too.
I'd like to see Detroit and Indiana play well in the postseason -- dominate, even -- so that heading into the NBA Finals fans have the sense that the East can give the West a run.
Who would give the West the best series? Right now, I'd say Detroit -- and I mean no disrespect to the Pacers, who have the NBA's best record at 55-20.
Detroit's front line, led by Rasheed and Ben Wallace, matches up well with those West front lines. And reserve Elden Campbell gives coach Larry Brown another long big man. Defensively, the Pistons probably stack up against West teams better than any other East team.
While I believe the Pistons pose the most serious challenge, they'd still be underdogs against whichever West squad they play. But I think Detroit would have the best shot.
Schedule-wise, six of Cleveland's final eight games are against teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. So it'll be tough.
But if the Cavs somehow sneak in, LeBron's presence would add energy to the East playoffs. It would be reminiscent of a young Michael Jordan, when Jordan and the Chicago Bulls made the postseason. Those Bulls struggled at first, but remember Jordan's 63-point performance in Boston? LeBron could generate that kind of playoff electricity.
The Heat are an exciting, young team with an up-and-down style that's fun to watch. These are not your father's Heat. Too many East teams -- including the Heat of recent years -- play a grind-it-out, walk-it-up, 82-80 style. But this year's Heat, with new personnel, are a much different ballclub.
In his first year in Miami, forward Lamar Odom is having a fantastic season (17.1 points and team-leading 9.9 rebounds per game) after spending the first four years of his career with the Los Angeles Clippers. Veteran guard Eddie Jones (17.7 ppg) leads Miami in scoring, and second-year guard Caron Butler is contributing.
Not many fans care much about Miami, but if you like entertaining basketball, watch the Heat. If I were assigned to broadcast some Heat playoff games, I'd be a happy announcer. Miami is 119-118 overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks this past Friday (at home) was a sensational game -- maybe the best game I've ever watched as a broadcaster, except for the Lakers' 29-point comeback over the Dallas Mavericks last season.
Whoever the Heat match up against in the first round, it should be an exciting series.
Tom Tolbert, who played in the NBA for seven seasons, is an NBA analyst for ESPN.