NBA questions: Can the Heat go all the way?

The NBA playoffs are in full swing and already there have been some surprises.

Who would have thought the Bulls could lose a first-round series, or that the Knicks would win a game against the Miami Heat?

As the first round winds down, some questions about the postseason so far and a few predictions:

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_ CAN METTA WORLD PEACE SAVE THE LAKERS? Asking the former Ron Artest to provide stability might seem strange, particularly as he returns from his latest trouble with the NBA, a seven-game suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City’s James Harden in the head. But the Lakers need someone to provide some defense and a couple of 3-pointers as they head to Game 7 against Denver, making this the perfect time for World Peace to remind us that there is some good to go with his bad.

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_ THE PACERS. REALLY? Yes, really. Indiana is 16-4 since the start of April, and clobbered Miami by 15 points a week before that. With 7-foot-2 All-Star Roy Hibbert at center, two solid point guards and a quality bench, the Pacers have strength at the spot of the Heat’s biggest weaknesses. If that isn’t enough to persuade you to give them a chance against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat, consider the words of their coach. “We are not the underdog here,” Frank Vogel said. Tough talk, tough team, just not good enough. The Heat will march on.

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_ WHAT ABOUT THOSE CRAZY 8s? The Philadelphia 76ers became the fifth No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 when they knocked off Chicago, and they handled second-round opponent Boston easily in both regular-season games in Philadelphia. Don’t forget: The New York Knicks were a No. 8 when they went all the way to the finals in 1999, the only other season shortened by a lockout, but there’s no repeating that now. The Celtics, in likely the last hurrah for this group, will end this Philadelphia story.

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_ ARE THERE MORE INJURIES TO COME? There’s a lot of hoops left to play, but let’s hope not. Injuries (Does Kobe Bryant’s stomach bug count?) already did in the Bulls, Magic and Knicks, and are even playing havoc with the U.S. Olympic team. But if you believe the schedule is to blame, keep your eye on the next round: Some teams may have to play on back-to-back days in the postseason, the last remaining obstacle from the compressed schedule.

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CAN THE WEST FINALS BE AN L.A. STORY? A Lakers-Clippers matchup with an NBA finals spot at stake would be a hit in Hollywood. Staples Center tenant vs. Staples Center tenant; the team that thought it had acquired Chris Paul against the one that actually got him. Sorry, this script is flimsy. Both teams are just trying to hold on after squandering 3-1 leads in their first-round series, and even if they do, neither will get out of the second round.

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_ WHO WILL BE THE MVP OF THE PLAYOFFS? There is no such award, but if there were, how about the same guy who would have won it two years ago? Rajon Rondo will never get the attention of Boston’s Big Three, but the Celtics would never get anywhere without him. Once Derrick Rose went out, the Celtics’ do-everything point guard might have become the only player who can stop a championship parade in Miami.

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