The NBA playoffs can often be very predictable, at least at the end. But as the 2014 NBA playoffs begin on April 19, it isn't as easy to predict how they will go. Even in an age where the Miami Heat have won two straight championship, reached three straight NBA Finals and are favored for a potential three-peat, there are more question marks than usual around this postseason.
The Heat get to rest on the first day of the NBA playoffs, although the arch-rival Indiana Pacers won't. Like the Heat, the Pacers all but fell apart in the final weeks of the regular season, but now the postseason is supposed to make them both flip the switch. Of course, Miami has flipped the switch and then some for three years in a row, whereas Indiana hasn't had such fortune.
If the Heat and Pacers can't wake up, how vulnerable will they be to the rest of the field? Miami may not be threatened right away, as it faces the Charlotte Bobcats in round one. Yet the very first game of the playoffs feature the Heat's next potential opponents, as the surprising Atlantic Division champion Toronto Raptors take on the expensive, veteran-laden Brooklyn Nets at 12:30 p.m. est.
After that, the Western Conference field tips off with what may be the most explosive first-round match-up, between the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors at 3:30 p.m. est. If the Clippers survive, will they be ready to threaten the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs -- and perhaps put some new blood in the NBA Finals?
The night portion of the schedule features the Pacers, who take on the sub .500 Atlanta Hawks. On paper, facing such a poor playoff opponent should get Indiana back on track -- but one or two slip-ups may be a very ominous sign indeed.
Another past playoff rival for the Heat starts their playoff run at 9:30 p.m. est, as the Thunder face the Memphis Grizzlies. The Thunder were knocked out by the Grizzlies last May, but Russell Westbrook wasn't around to help. With Westbrook presumably back for the entirety of these playoffs, how different will things go for the Thunder -- and how will it shape the entire postseason?
The accompanying list details these and other major questions that the NBA playoffs will answer over the next two months.