NBA Playoffs: Who's Got Game?

With the regular season nearing its close and the playoff picture pretty much set, it’s time for fans to turn there eyes to the postseason, where 16 teams enter and one emerges the champion.

Regrettably, not all of the match-ups are set, so rather than looking at individual series, this will evaluate the status of each team.  In my mind, each team fits into one of three groups:  the three true contenders, the potential dark horses, the teams who likely will end up disappointed and the teams who are thrilled to be in the field at all.  So here’s how it all breaks down:

Happy to Be There

Portland Trailblazers

I know some Portland fans may consider this season a disappointment, but these guys have been through a hell of a lot.  They kept suffering injuries and they kept fighting for the postseason.  Now they’re a tough team that honestly nobody wants to meet in the first round.  Obviously, there are plenty of reasons to think they won’t advance (Brandon Roy’s torn meniscus, for example), but the Trailblazers know they can play through pain and wait for a potential breakout next season.

Charlotte Bobcats

Making the playoffs is a seismic achievement for these guys, who have been nothing more than mediocre throughout their short but meaningless existence.  They should be focusing on making improvements to strengthen themselves, and maybe they can contend for their division title (but not unless somebody kidnaps Dwight Howard).

Milwaukee Bucks

Condolences to Bucks, whose playoffs contention hopes snapped with Andrew Bogut’s elbow.  Now they are fighting for the six seed and up against an Atlanta team they likely cannot beat.  But its a serious emotional victory to make the postseason.  Now they just need to make sure it’s not a fluke.

Chicago Bulls

I’m pretty sure these guys are gonna make the eighth seed (with an assist from Chris Bosh’s broken face), which means they get to do their best to pester the LeBrons like they pestered the Celtics.  They’ve shown themselves to be a tough young team with yet another strong stretch run.  Just in time to attract some marquee free agents (Wade?  Bosh?  Stoudamire?).  Despite a first round opponent they cannot possibly beat, things look ok in Chi-town.

Oklahoma City Thunder

I can’t help but wonder if the Lakers watched the Thunder earn the eight seed and thought, “aww now we have to defend Kevin Durant again.”  Durant has transformed into the best young star in the NBA, powering OKC into the playoffs.  Considering the feistiness of the Thunder, combined with the potential complacency of the Lakers, this could be an interesting series.  Stay tuned for what these guys can do.

Bound for Disappointment

Dallas Mavericks

I do feel bad for Dirk Nowitzki here.  He’s one of the best in the league, particularly in crunch time.  But his guys have a measly point differential (less than +3ppg).  They aren’t a cut above the rest of the West, despite being on pace for the second seed.  I just can’t see them winning the West.  It would stun me.  I don’t see them getting past the Jazz either.  I think the Nuggets would give them a test.  I don’t have confidence in these guys.

Denver Nuggets

They have a lot of good things going; Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups are great, they execute well and have a great home court advantage.  Here’s the issue:  they don’t have the horses.  They have an obvious lack of depth and simply could not close in on the top seed they so badly needed to reach the conference finals.  With homecourt advantage, they could top anybody in the West except perhaps LA.  I think they’re stretched too thin, and thus will not be able to truly contend.

Boston Celtics

Maybe the Celtics have another playoff run in them.  I say no.  Their age is getting the best of them.  They had to battle to win 50 games.  Even KG, the rock of the 2008 title run, is a shell of his former self.  They’re running out of steam and have been on the decline for months.  Sorry guys.  It was wonderful watching you win that title.  It ain’t happening this year.

Miami Heat

And by disappointment I mean, disappointment when they fail in the playoffs and Dwyane Wade leaves town.  They could definitely take down the Celtics in the first round if they click.  They are on a hot streak.  But they aren’t gonna beat the Cavs in round two.  I just can’t see it happening.  As good as Wade is, and he is really good, he cannot power this team to the conference finals.  And then it could be game over for Wade in Miami.

San Antonio Spurs

These guys are falling apart.  There have been signs all year.  Even Tim Duncan is losing a step.  I honestly think they’ll be knocked out of the first round, again, which is unacceptable for their lofty standards.  With Manu Ginobili at the end of his contract, it may be time for the once invincible Spurs to go in a new direction.

The Dark Horses

Utah Jazz

These guys can beat anybody at home, and with the two seed still in reach, they can easily reach the conference finals.  With Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Paul Millsap, they may be the only team that can match up with the Lakers’ front court depth.  They have a sweet shooting bench player in Kyle Korver.  They have a capable swing man in Andrei Kirilenko.  Finally they have one of the best point guards in Deron Williams.  I say, if anybody’s taking out the Lakers in the West, it’s these guys

Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns are among the hottest teams in the NBA.  They are peaking at just the right time.  Take a look at Amare Stoudamire’s game stats since the All Star break.  Do it.  I’ll wait right here (Pause).  It’s insane.  He’s a force of destruction.  It’s not completely impossible for them to snag a three seed and slip into the conference finals.  It’s not completely impossible for them to knock off the Lake Show in round two (though it’s not likely).  Stay tuned on these guys.

Atlanta Hawks

I love these guys.  They’re tough, talented and on a mission to break into the upper level of the East.  I don’t think them getting past Orlando is out of the question.  Of course I need to see it to believe it.  But in all honesty, I would put them after Cleveland and Orlando in the East, and I wouldn’t doubt their chances to vault into the conference finals if they catch some breaks though.

The Big Three

Cleveland Cavaliers

Why They’re Great: There’s a lot to love about the Cavs.  They have a strong home court advantage, the top seed in the league, and a stronger interior than they did last year.  Also, they have LeBron, who guarantees plenty of wins by themselves.

Potential Kryptonite: I had this concern last year too.  I don’t know if the Cavaliers have enough talent to challenge all comers.  They had no way of corralling Orlando’s shooters last year and they are placing their prayers of stopping Dwight Howard on Shaq, who’s 37.  They roll against some teams and fight against others.  They’d better hope it’s more of the latter than the former.

Los Angeles Lakers

Why they’re great: Kobe Bryant is a great reason.  He’s a gifted scorer, strong defender and possesses a great killer instinct.  Pau Gasol is a great big man, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum shore up the front court and Ron Artest, though not as good as Trevor Ariza in my opinion, is quite effective.  All of this points to a great reason to believe will win their second straight title.

Potential Krytonite: The Lakers, frankly, have been sloppy lately.  They have a losing record against playoff bound teams, which is definitely not good.  They aren’t the team they were at the beginning of the season, and they certainly aren’t the team they were last year.  It’s tough to repeat, and other than Kobe, I’m wondering whether these guys have the firepower.

Orlando Magic

Why They’re Great: It has been said the defense wins championships, and there is plenty of defense in Orlando.  With Dwight Howard crashing the boards and protecting the rim, the Magic have the best point differential and the best defense.  They can easily swing a series against, say, Cleveland, if their shots fall.  I don’t think anybody but Orlando or Cleveland is coming out of the East.

Potential Kryptonite: Who on Orlando can make big shots?  Not Howard.  Not Rashard Lewis.  Certainly not Vince Carter.  Who can win a game with one big shot?  Who can take the team on his back in the face of all odds?  Orlando does not have that guy, and that’s why I can’t certainly pick them even to win the East, let alone a title.

The Verdict

That’s right, I wouldn’t have have written over 1500 words without a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  So the winner will be:  Cleveland.

It’s their year.  The Magic aren’t as good as last year.  Neither are the Lakers.  Unlike last year, the Cavs are certainly the best team in the league.  LeBron is better.  His supporting cast is better.  Time for King James to truly come to the throne.

Conference Finals: Cavs over Magic and Lakers over Jazz

Finals:  Cavs over Lakers

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