Now that the playoff field is set, let’s take a look at how teams stack up in their chances to win a title. Below are my rankings of the each team’s chances to win the NBA Championship this postseason:
16. Orlando Magic
With Dwight Howard ruled out for the entire playoffs, this team has to turn to Ryan Andeson, Glen Davis, Jameer Nelson, and JJ Redick as their primary scorers. There is absolutely no way this team, without Howard can knock off any team here in a 7-game series. And to be quite honest, I don’t think they would be much higher on the list even if Howard were playing.
15. Utah Jazz
Yes, they made an incredible run to the playoffs. The team should be commended for being able to rebuild and win all at the same time, something very few teams in the past couple years have been able to do. But no, they are not getting out of the first round.
14. Philadelphia 76ers
Despite busting out of the gate at 20-9 the Sixers managed to go a mere 14-21 since then. This team relies on its superior defense, which is 2nd in the league in opponents’ points per game, and team play, with 8 players playing over 24 minutes per game and averaging at least 8 points per game. Unfortunately their defense will only get them so far against a healthy Bulls team or the star-studded Miami Heat. Expect this offense to struggle against the playoff-level intensity their opponents’ defenses are likely to impose.
13. Atlanta Hawks
After a season that saw teams play 66 games in roughly 120 days, depth is going to be big come playoff time. That’s bad news for a team without arguably its best player, Al Horford, and a terrible second unit.
12. New York Knicks
I just don’t see it with this team and I don’t think I ever will. Amare Stoudemire is not the player he once was. JR Smith drives me crazy every time he touches the ball. Carmelo is playing out of his mind right now, but he will come back to Earth sooner rather than later. However, with Tyson Chandler anchoring their defense and Steve Novak and Smith able to knock down threes, they can give any team a run for their money…just not a run at a title.
11. Denver Nuggets
This team will certainly cause its first-round opponent some headaches with its depth and blistering pace of play. Ty Lawson has been playing great all year, Arron Afflalo is firing on all cylinders right now, and Danilo Gallinari is finally healthy again. Although their model of star by committee is unprecedented, letting whoever is the hot hand take over in crunch time, it is also unproven. That and the fact that they give up 101.2 points a game, second-worst in the league, truly hinder their chances at making a deep playoff run.
10. Indiana Pacers
I love this team, absolutely love them. They roll 10 deep and play great team basketball. They don’t lean on any one player too much, so any guy can be their lead scorer any night and even if Danny Granger is cold, they can win. But this team is still a couple years away from being a title contender. They simply do not have that one player who can take over at the ends of games. Every other team ahead of them has what they don’t: a player who will take over in the fourth quarter and carry them to wins. Until they have that superstar, they will continue to simply be a good team, nothing more.
9. LA Lakers
Metta World Peace. It’s all been said, he’s clearly not sane. Fortunately for the Lakers, despite the impressive April World Peace was having, their playoff hopes do not rest on the far from level head of that man. Unfortunately for the Lakers, they have plenty other problems, their lack of depth chief among them. Also, their 3-7 record against the five teams above them in the standings (Oklahoma City,San Antonio,Chicago,Miami, andIndiana) is disconcerting. Having said all that, anything is possible with Kobe Bryant leading your team. And don’t forget they haven’t lost any of that length that gave them an advantage over every team they played en route to winning titles in 2009 and 2010.
8. LA Clippers
I know the Clippers haven’t been to the post-season in a long time, but the fact still remains: they have Blake Griffin, and more importantly, Chris Paul. If you’ve already forgotten what Chris Paul did to the Lakers last year in the playoffs please reintroduce yourself. He took the series to 6 games on his own, averaging 22 points, 11.5 assists, and 6.7 rebounds while shooting 47.4% from the three and 54.5% from the field, utilizing his tear drop in the lane to perfection. Just imagine what he will do with another legitimate star and some solid role players (Jordan, Butler, Foye, Young, and Martin). They have a shot at making a deep run, but that inexperience certainly knocks them down on our list.
7. Memphis Grizzlies
Everyone is scared to play this team in the playoffs and they should be. They have the most complete roster out of any team here with players who contribute in big ways at every position. On any given night they can kill you with their size (Marc Gasol), their speed (Mike Conley), or their perimeter length (Rudy Gay). If Zach Randolph, their best player from last year’s run, can get back to his old ways, this team is downright scary.
6. Dallas Mavericks
Sure, I am going out on a limb here putting the Mavericks this high. Most likely, they are going to face the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs and more than likely they will be knocked out in the first round. However, there remains a sliver of hope here that I see as greater than any of the teams I have already mentioned. Dirk Nowitzki, as he proved last postseason, has the ability to absolutely dominate a playoff series and that cannot be overlooked. If Dirk can catch fire, do not be surprised if the Mavericks shock the world again and make a run at the finals.
5. Boston Celtics
Everything about this team reads old. Old stars, old school, and, most importantly, old swagger. That’s right, this team has that hop in their step that they did back when they won the title in 2008. Their defense has been great all season long, currently ranking as the third best in the league limiting opponents to 89.6 points per game. But it has been their offensive output lately that has them thinking about a title. Avery Bradley has emerged as a reliable threat, Rondo has been playing out of his mind, KG is showing flashes of his former self, and Paul Pierce still has the ability to take over games. Their biggest issue right now is their rebounding. They currently rank No. 28 in the league in rebound differential at -4.4 a game. This team’s ability to corral crucial defensive boards at the end of games will be instrumental in any run they make.
4. Chicago Bulls
I want to put the Bulls higher on this list (read No. 1), but I just can’t do it until I see more out of Derrick Rose. Yes, I know, the team has played great basketball with Rose out of the lineup. But there is no way this team can compete with the elite in the NBA without their superstar. They cannot possibly expect Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Richard Hamilton, and Joakim Noah to hold their own over a 7-game series with the Heat. If Rose plays like the MVP he was last season, it is a completely different story. If that were to happen, the Bulls become my favorite to win it all with one of the three players most capable of taking over a game and a stingy defense.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
No, I do not think the blow to James Harden’s head knocks them down on this list at all. I am hopeful that he is going to bounce back just fine from the injury. However, OKC has other issues. Russell Westbrook is playing just poorly enough recently to make us all think that he might not be the best partner to pair with Kevin Durant again. In the month of April, Westbrook is shooting 38% from the floor. In the last five games he is 25-82 (30.5%) from the floor. Not exactly the numbers you want to see from your second option, especially when his shot selection indicates a first option mentality. Having said all of that, the Thunder have maybe the most talented roster top to bottom. They certainly have grown over the past couple years. Something just tells me that they are still a year away from knocking down the next two teams on our list…
2.San Antonio Spurs
It is shocking to me that the ole reliable Spurs have come to the forefront of the Western Conference. Just like every other year, I counted them out at the beginning of the season and said that this would be the year it all fell apart. But thanks to great moves by the front office, this is the deepest team in the playoffs. After an exhausting regular season, that depth may be more important than ever. And don’t you for one minute forget about Tim Duncan. The man is still a force to be reckoned with in the paint. Don’t let his numbers fool you, they are down because he is playing a career low 28.2 minutes a game. Yes, he is getting old, but he gives this team an inside presence that can cause huge matchup problems for lots of teams. And I haven’t even mentioned that Tony Parker is playing like he is 22 again, Manu Ginobili is bouncing back slowly but surely, and they’re second in the league in scoring at 103.5 points a game and first in three-point shooting (39.5%). Be afraid, be very afraid.
1. Miami Heat
I hate to say it, but to me the Heat are the favorites to win it all. You can talk about LeBron James’ inability to close out games all you want (and believe me, that is one of my favorite talking points) but the fact remains that this team simply has the most talent of any in the playoffs. They are certainly far from perfect, as I have my own doubts about their bench. But quite honestly, they are better than they were last year in all aspects and I do not see a team out East that can contend with them in a 7-game series. Try to name one team that can match up with this group. It’s not possible. LeBron James is a matchup nightmare all by himself. The one knock on the guy continues to be his performance when it matters most. I truly hope that storyline never dies, but right now, the odds say this is the year he overcomes that obstacle and claims a ring.