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The heat is on in the NBA Playoffs 2011

Last update - Sunday, May 15, 2011, 16:27 By Metro Éireann

May heralds the final heated stages of the NBA Playoffs, which gather the best performing teams in America’s National Basketball Associa-tion (NBA) in an elimination tournament based on a best-of-seven games series. This is the last sprint to the NBA Finals for the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy and a title that has been contested since 1949.

In the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls advanced past the Indiana Pacers by four games to one to meet the Atlanta Hawks, who bested the Orlando Magic 4-2, in the semi-final stage.
The Bulls are the top-seeded favourites after a strong season – the first time they’ve achieved such success since Michael Jordan’s last season in 1998. Led by Derrick Rose, a possible future MVP in only his third year in the NBA, the Bulls won 62 games during the regular season and will be hard to beat – although it was the Hawks who made the first strike in their best-of-seven series, pipping the Bulls by eight points at the United Center on Monday. As of 9 May they stand at two games apiece.
Elsewhere, the Miami Heat – led by their all-star trio of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – will meet the Boston Celtics who routed the New York Knicks in four straight games (a sad time for Knicks fans who’ve waited seven years since their team last made the playoffs). Miami have much to prove after a season of mixed fortunes, especially against the hungry Celtics – who lost their grip on the championship to the LA Lakers last year.
Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the dreams of last year’s champion Los Angeles Lakers have already been dashed following a clean sweep by the strong Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers, fronted by Spaniard Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant, were serious contenders even if they showed some signs of fragility at the end of the regular season. But the Mavs, led by Dirk Nowitzki (the first European player ever designated MVP in the NBA) were not to be intimidated.
There was another big upset when the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs – winners in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007 – were defeated by the Memphis Grizzlies by four games to two in the first round. It was all the more surprising as the Grizzlies were deprived of their star forward Rudy Gay.
In the semi-finals they take on the Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly the Seattle SuperSonics) who are led by Kevin Durant, the best scorer of the regular season and MVP of the 2010 Fiba World Championship, and could create a big surprise.
The Playoffs mark the time when the most is expected of the NBA. It’s the moment for players to raise their game and become stars, for the coaches to improve their techniques and strategy, and for the fans to support their teams through thick and thin. It’s when Americans comes together to celebrate the best of what the world’s top basketball league has to offer.

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