NBA Playoffs – the 5 teams that can win the championship
This NBA season will be remembered as one of best ever, without question. We’ve witnessed literally hundred of great games and almost as many Blake Griffin dunks.
We saw the creation of a new NBA superpower in the Miami Heat, only to be usurped by the rise of the Derrick Rose and his Chicago Bulls.
Some NBA Superstars left traditional homes for greener pastures, whilst others were traded out to new surroundings.
It really was a season for the history books. Yet the fun stuff hasn’t even started yet.
The 2011 NBA Playoffs tip-off this weekend. After battling through a grueling 82-game schedule, the top sixteen teams sit just sixteen wins away from getting their hands on the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.
Before the race to the championship gets underway, let’s break down the top five teams and their realistic championship aspirations.
5. THE BOSTON CELTICS
The Boston Celtics have been here before.
As they prepare to mount another tilt at NBA glory, the entire organization knows what it takes to get to the NBA summit. The Celtics have made the NBA finals in two of the last three seasons, and were victorious against the Los Angeles Lakers, in 2008.
With that being said, the Boston Celtics have endured somewhat of a slide this season.
The ‘Big 3’ – Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen – are all that extra year older, and have battled injuries all season. The nucleus of this Boston Celtics team, was put together prior to the 2007 season, and it’s clear that time is finally catching up to these Celtics.
Rajon Rondo has continued to improve for Boston, yet his subpar shooting ability and lack of clutch confidence makes him a liability for the Celtics late in games.
Rondo is one of the best players in the NBA during the first 45 minutes of any game, but his late game struggles have the potential to derail championship dreams in Boston.
Yet perhaps the biggest ‘X-Factor’ for this Boston Celtics side is the departure of Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Many – especially those within the playing squad – saw Kendrick Perkins to be the heart and soul of the Celtics line-up. His tough play and commitment to the cause epitomized everything that the Boston Celtics pride themselves on.
Head Coach Doc Rivers even said that if Kendrick Perkins wouldn’t have been injured in Game Seven of last year’s NBA Finals, it would’ve been the Celtics who were victorious, not the Los Angeles Lakers.
His loss also hurts from a match-up standpoint, because if the Celtics come up against the Orlando Magic or the Los Angeles Lakers, they lack an inside presence to control Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum respectively. It’s a big loss to overcome.
This Boston Celtics side cannot be written off however. The experience mentioned earlier is the intangible for the Celtics. If they can stave of Father Time for another month, and get some favorable match-ups, they still very much have a shot at winning another title.
4. THE SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The San Antonio Spurs are in a very similar situation to the Boston Celtics. They’re a team with a wealth of experience, and have achieved the ultimate success four times in the last twelve seasons.
They were brilliant throughout the first three-quarters of the season, storming to the league’s best record. However they have started to tail off in the last month or so as injuries finally caught up with the Spurs.
San Antonio boast a line-up that features three career All-Stars – Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker – which fits perfectly into the theory that a team needs at least two superstars to win a NBA Championship.
However, the All-Star credibility of their leader – Tim Duncan – is very much in question this year.
Tim Duncan has established himself as a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, ever since he left Wake Forest and graduated to the NBA thirteen years ago.
Over that span, Tim Duncan has a plus 20/10 average, a feat that not many players can boast over a career of that span. He has led the San Antonio Spurs to each of their four NBA Championships since the 1999 season.
Yet this year, Tim Duncan is not an All-Star, he’s not even close. His average has fallen to just 13 points and 9 rebounds. They’re still impressive numbers, but they represent just how quickly age has caught up with Duncan.
If the San Antonio Spurs were to win another title in June, they need the Tim Duncan of years gone by; unfortunately that Tim Duncan may be gone.
Although in the absence left by Tim Duncan’s decline, Argentinian Manu Ginobili has turned in another impressive season. Ginobili has been the catalyst for this San Antonio Spurs team and has improved upon his career averages, across the board.
His season has been nothing short of sensational.
It’s incredibly rare that the team which finishes the season with the best record is not one of the favourites for the championship. But that’s the fate of this San Antonio Spurs team.
Like the Boston Celtics, their experience means that they cannot be counted out by any means, but I just cannot see the Spurs beating any of the next three teams.
3. THE MIAMI HEAT
This Miami Heat team was created to win championships.
Ever since LeBron James famously announced he would be “taking his talents to South Beach”, championship glory has not only been the goal, but the expectation.
Whilst at times this season the Miami Heat have looked every bit a championship contender, there has been many occasions when they haven’t looked anywhere near the mark. It has been the most expensive Jekyll and Hyde routine in history.
The irony in this Miami Heat side is that after establishing a core trio that was supposed to make Miami an NBA Superpower, the lack of any support will be their downfall.
The trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh has been huge for the Heat, averaging over 70 points, 22 rebounds and 13 assists per contest. The production of those three cannot be questioned. But the rest of the Miami Heat squad has barely shown up at all this season.
Winning an NBA Championship is a total team effort.
Michael Jordan had a great supporting cast throughout his championship years with the Chicago Bulls; Magic Johnson played alongside a host of Hall-of-Famers with his ‘Showtime’ Lakers. Even Kobe Bryant and the current Los Angeles Lakers have a team stacked with great talent.
LeBron James should know that it takes a total team performance to win a NBA Championship, the lack of such a performance is what cost his Cleveland Cavaliers squad over the past two seasons. On each occasions, LeBron James was the best player in the league, yet his team failed to reach the NBA finals.
The Miami Heat still manage to reach third on my list of Championship favorites, purely because of the sublime skills of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and those two have the ability to carry the Heat in the early round of the playoffs.
But to win, or even reach the NBA Finals, Miami will need the rest of their team to step-up. If not, they’ll quickly be bounced out against either of the next two squads.
2. THE CHICAGO BULLS
The Chicago Bulls have been the biggest surprise story of the 2010 NBA Season.
A win against Deron Williams, and the lowly New Jersey Nets, would ensure the Chicago Bulls finish the season with the league’s best record (62-20). That is a 22 win improvement on last year.
At the beginning of the season, no-one was predicting this from the Chicago Bulls.
Derrick Rose has emerged, as not only the leader for his Chicago Bulls team, but as an elite player in the NBA. He should without doubt be named the league’s MVP. His output this season – 25 points, 8 assists and four rebounds per game – has been well above his career average.
In the last two seasons Derrick Rose showed flashes of brilliance. This season however, Rose has brought that brilliance every night. He has been one of the main reasons that this Chicago Bulls team, has gone from tough opponents in the playoffs, to title contenders.
However, as amazing as Derrick Rose has been, the overall team play for Chicago is the reason for their stellar season.
The same argument that casts doubt over the Miami Heat’s title credentials strengthens Chicago’s.
The Chicago Bulls are the hardest working team in the NBA this season. They play lock-down team defense, and crash the boards in every contest, as shown by being ranked second in the league in both Rebounds and Points Allowed per game.
The play of Luol Deng, Keith Bogans, Joakim Noah, Kurt Thomas and Ronnie Brewer is just as important to this Chicago Bulls team as the play of Derrick Rose and fellow All-Star, Carlos Boozer.
This makes Chicago a lethal team to meet in the playoffs, and a deserved favourite. There is no such thing as an easy game against the Chicago Bulls. Over a seven-game playoff series, that makes defeating them a monumental challenge for their opposition.
The only thing that has stopped me from putting this Chicago Bulls as the outright favorite is the pedigree of the next squad on the list. But they should meet in an NBA Final, it will be a spectacle to behold for all basketball fans.
1.THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS
As the saying goes, “to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man”, something that no team in the NBA has been able to do over the last two seasons. Until someone steps up and beats the Los Angeles Lakers, they’re the favourites.
The Los Angeles Lakers have had their share of troubles and forms slumps this year; yet they still appear set to claim the Number Two seed in the Western Conference.
A win against the Sacramento Kings, in the final game of the season will see them finish the season 57 wins and 25 losses. They would also have a comfortable first-round matchup with the New Orleans Hornets.
They appear destined for a historic three-peat.
Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers have been the measuring stick in the NBA for the better part of the last decade.
Another championship this season would give the Lakers their sixth title since the year 2000. That means that they will have won over half of the NBA titles this millennium. Only Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics squad of the 1950-60s, and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls of the 1990s can claim to have enjoyed a period of similar dominance.
It is almost impossible to see how any team will stop the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers not only have such an immense advantage through their playoff pedigree, but they still have the burning hunger to win.
With Kobe Bryant on the cusp of leading Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest and Derrick Fisher into another post-season campaign, it appears certain that another Championship will be headed to Staples Centre.
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