The top seeds all advance. There is no wonder or whimsy. In fact, it is the only thing that gives the regular season any credence at all: the teams that battle for 82 games and earn one of the top four seeds in their conference will be advancing in the playoffs.
It is really the leg up the NBA has on the NHL (besides legions more fans and piles more dough). The NHL regular season definitely means nothing. More than half the league makes the playoffs. Once said playoffs begin, anyone can win, regardless of seed. Just look at the Canadiens from a season ago. Most teams with any discernible talent make the playoffs by default. From there, hot goaltenders rule.
However, it seems 2011 may be a slight changing of the tides. The NBA playoffs, dare I say, are having an interesting first round. The "guaranteed sweeps" by the top two seeds in the East have been anything but. Chicago has had to fight and claw for both their victories, while Miami struggled in their first game against the 76ers.
To continue the East surprise, Atlanta has a game lead on Orlando and Boston barely eked out their win over the Knicks. Good thing Ray Allen is still Ray Allen, i.e. a better version of Reggie Miller.
If that wasn't enough for a first round of the NBA playoffs, the West is a minefield. The top two seeds each lost their first game. The Spurs' loss is perhaps explainable since they can't match up with Memphis' size and Manu Ginobili didn't play, but the Lakers losing to the Hornets is almost inexplicable.
Meanwhile, over on the ice, things are taking care of themselves. The overall top seed, Vancouver, is up 3-0. The Detroit Red Wings are as well. Washington and Pittsburgh both have a game lead in their series, as does the defending eastern conference champion, Philadelphia.
It is almost as if our beloved sports have switched bodies, trading playoff manifestos with each other.
Not that this is a bad thing. I am all for more exciting playoff basketball. In addition, I won't mind if the "big boys" duke it out in the later rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of course, you realize what the other outcome of this turn of events is. Everyone who has touted 2010-2011 as one of the best NBA regular seasons in decades may be in for a rude awakening. It may have been a total waste of time.
What good did San Antonio's season-long battle for the best record do if they are too banged up to get out of round one? What did the Lakers prove by making huge pushes after the All-Star break if they cannot turn it on again before its too late? How can people be calling Chicago the favorite to win the East if they are having so much trouble getting past this Indiana roster of roll-players? And after all the bitching and complaining and nitpicking all regular season long at the expense of the Miami Heat, wondering what was wrong with them, why they weren't better, aren't things shaping up rather nicely for them to stroll their way into the NBA Finals? Wouldn't that be quite the turn of events.