One year ago, on March 23, 2014, playoff matchups were largely set. Between that day and the start of the postseason, only the No. 1 Spurs and No. 2 Thunder, and No. 5 Nets and No. 6 Wizards flipped. There was still drama about who would get the final two playoff spots in the West between Dallas, Memphis, and Phoenix, but we mostly knew what we were getting a month later.
This season, I have a feeling nothing will be the same when the playoffs begin April 18. The two top seeds are essentially locked, despite the hyper-competitive West and the Hawks' malaise. The Warriors and Rockets are essentially guaranteed to get the top slots in each conference. We know at least 12 playoff teams (five in the East, seven in the West -- I'm being generous to Dallas). But the order or matchups? Who the final three East teams or last West team will be? That's all up in the air.
That is going to make the final month worth watching, rare in the most grueling part of the NBA season, with half the league tanking for ping pong balls and the other half often resting. Instead, each game means something.
The Clippers could go as high as second, avoiding Golden State until the Western Conference Finals, or as low as seventh to meet Memphis in the first round. Portland likely will win its division, but that doesn't guarantee home-court advantage after the first round. And the Spurs -- oh, the Spurs -- conceivably can maneuver into their choice for a first-round opponent. Everything in the West is tactical.
On the other hand, the East is total chaos. Clubs at the top can't aim for a first-round opponent because there's no telling who all will make the playoffs. Example: Every time a team like the Bucks seems to have secured a spot, they slide into the depths.
All this is good news for us, so buckle up. This is about to get fun.