The trade deadline is over, the teams are set, and there’s about six weeks left in the NBA season. It’s time to rank the contending teams and stir up some conversation about which team is winning it all this year. Lets take our pants off and get right to it.
The Champion: San Antonio Spurs
They are still the team to beat. Their roster consists of the same players that won it last year with a key addition in Kurt Thomas. This team is built for the playoffs. The game tends to slow down in the post-season and there is nobody better to run an offense through than Tim Duncan. I’ve said in the past that he is the best player in the league and I still believe it. NBA Championships are won from the inside out and this is why Shaq and Duncan have dominated the playoffs the past ten years. We’ll make an exception to my statement with Michael Jordan, because he was the best to ever play the game.
Furthermore, NBA coaches not only have to game plan for Tim Duncan, but Manu Ginobili as well. Ginobili is becoming a superstar in this league. I’m using the word â€˜becoming,’ because I don’t believe he is a superstar yet, but he is close and will be soon. He has become super clutch and has been the go-to-guy at the end of games this season for the Spurs. San Antonio is currently the number one seed in the West. If they are able to clinch home-court advantage throughout, with the fierce one-two punch in Duncan and Ginobili the Spurs might be on the way to their fifth championship in ten years.
The Coup D’etat: The Los Angeles Lakers
They were good before they traded for Pau Gasol in early February and now they are great. Kobe is better than he has ever been and that is scary for the rest of the league. He dropped another 50-point game yesterday in the Lakers win over the Dallas Mavericks, but what has been most impressive is his unselfish play. On offense, the open guy is found almost every time, whether it’s Odom down the lane, Gasol for a dunk or Fisher for a 13-foot jumper. They make the game look so easy at times.
I need to point out a part of Gasol’s game that I love. He keeps the ball up above his head. How many times do you see a big man rebound the ball, and then bring the ball down before going back up again, only to have a smaller guy knock the ball out? It happens all the time. Gasol does not do this. He’s seve-feet tall and uses that to his advantage. If he catches the ball high, he keeps it up so nobody can get it. He is one of the best finishers in the NBA. With Kobe, Gasol and one of the deepest benches in the NBA, the Lakers are ready to overthrow the Spur Dynasty. Don’t forget, Bynum will be coming back soon.
The Sleeper: The Detroit Pistons
They are the best defensive team in the NBA, they’ve won it all before and these guys have played with each other for six years. You never can count this team out. Their starting five has a great player at every position in Billups, Hamilton, Sheed, McDyess, and Prince. On top of that, they have built a bench that is deeper than any other past Piston team in their six year run. This year, they’ve beaten the Spurs, Lakers, Dallas, Boston and Phoenix. They prove every year they can play with the best and this year is no different.
When watching this team play you can see that each player knows exactly where the other players are and will be. I can’t stress the importance and advantage a team has when they’ve been teammates for a long period of time. This is another team that makes basketball look easy. The Pistons score so many easy layups on perfect cuts to the basket and they are throwing up a lot of points this season, averaging a hair above 98 points per game. I’m picking this team to beat Boston in seven games in the Eastern Conference finals and having a legitimate shot at the NBA title.
The Early Favorite: The Boston Celtics
Everybody jumped on the Celtics bandwagon early, even before the season started. In the offseason they added all-stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to play with Paul Pierce. They started the season with eight straight wins, finally losing to Dwight Horward and the Orlando Magic. When star power is mixed together on one team, a Championship is the only goal and that’s what this team was built for.
However, Ray Allen is playing on a bad ankle and Kevin Garnett has suffered some injuries this year. If this team is going to win, they will need to be completely healthy come playoff time. Furthermore, I question the point guard position. This team is going to face the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals. Either Rondo or newly acquired Sam Cassell (pending physical) will have to stop Chauncey Billups. I’m not saying the Celtics can’t win it all, because they can, but I don’t see this team being 100% healthy which they need to be.
The Darkhorse: The Dallas Mavericks
With the addition of Jason Kidd, Mark Cuban was stating he wanted to win it all right now. Cuban gave up a lot in Devon Harris, Diop and draft picks, but Jason Kidd is the best point guard in the league. Josh Howard, Jason Terry and Dirk will get better looks at the basket and easier chances to score. Moreover, Dallas can spread this offense as much as they want with all the outside weapons they have.
However, they are still weak in the middle. Will they be able to beat a Suns team or a Spurs team in a seven-game series? The more I look at this team I don’t think they can. For this Dallas team to win, their offense will have to be running on all cylinders. They can’t make any mistakes, they will have to shoot at a high percentage, and they will have to be consistent in every game and in every series. Getting through the Western Conference without a dominant inside game is going to be tough.
The Longshots: The Cleveland Cavaliers, The Utah Jazz, and the Phoenix Suns
If Lebron plays this year like he did last year against the Pistons and his new teammates can come together quickly, they have an outside shot. However, I still think this team is maybe one piece away from being a legitimate contender. It will be fun to watch Lebron this year and I guess we can never count him out.
Utah is a very solid team and could be dangerous, but the Spurs easily beat them last year in the Western Conference finals. Carlos Boozer is a great player, but he can’t represent that team in the middle alone and he can’t stop Duncan. However, if the Spurs are knocked out early and the Jazz don’t face them, they could take the West.
When Phoenix traded for Shaq, I thought it was exactly what they needed, but I don’t think that anymore. The Suns don’t have enough time to institute a new offense around Shaq and with one less three-point shooter gone in Marion, the offense can’t spread like it used to. And I’ll say this again, Amare Stoudemire can’t play defense. Stoudemire is an amazing offense of player, but horrendous defensive player. This will haunt them in the playoffs.
Now it’s time for me to pick my winner. As stated above, I’m picking the Pistons to represent the East. From the West, I’m taking the San Antonio Spurs. This will be the fifth straight year I’m picking the Pistons to face the Spurs. And for the fifth time in ten years, the San Antonio Spurs will once again be crowned the Champions of the NBA. Feel free to respond, I’d love your comments.