Any time a team in any professional sport wins a championship a target is painted directly on their back the following season as every single team in there league will be giving them all they can handle each and every night. The Los Angeles Lakers have not only had to endure that treatment last season, but they have done it again this and so far they have come out on top as they are arguably once again the best team in the league.
Throughout this entire NBA regular season people have doubted the Chicago Bulls chance of competing with the best of the best and being able to make a run at an NBA title. As of yesterday, those doubts have vanished as the Chicago Bulls are officially owners of the best record in the Eastern Conference ahead of the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat.
Even though this team still has to prove themselves come playoff time, they have play extremely well at this point and have a lot of people talking about a Bulls-Lakers NBA Finals at season’s end.
#3- San Antonio Spurs (54-13)
All season long the San Antonio Spurs have been the best team in the league statistically and record wise. Even though they will almost certainly head into the playoffs as the number one overall seed in the Western Conference and the league’s best record, they have really shown some flaws as of late with two big losses to the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers and the revamped Heat.
If any team can turn it around and get back to playing dominant basketball on both ends of the floor it is the Spurs, but they will need to step it up from here on out if they expect to contend with the Lakers come playoff time.
Like most of the teams on this list, the Dallas Mavericks fell victim to the defending champs recently as Kobe Bryant and company came into Dallas and just dominated the Mavs from start to finish. Not only did this loss ultimately result in the Mavs dropping to the third seed in the West, but it may have also damaged their confidence if they should meet the Lakers during the playoffs.
#5- Boston Celtics (47-18)
It wasn’t all that long ago that the Boston Celtics were considered to be arguably the best team in the league as they were dominant on both ends of the floor, especially defensively. Ever since they made the trade sending arguably their best defender in Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder, this team has really struggled to get back to form and as a result have been knocked out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference and are in danger of falling out of the top five on this list.
#6-10- Miami Heat (46-21), Oklahoma City Thunder (43-23), Denver Nuggets (40-27), Orlando Magic (42-26) and Portland Trail Blazers (37-29)
The one team that made the biggest splash in the NBA free agent market over the summer was without a doubt the Miami Heat. With the addition of superstars LeBron James and Chris Bosh alongside the recently re-signed face of the franchise in Dwyane Wade, this squad looked more like an All-Star team than an NBA roster, but even though they were able to land the three most sought after free agents in the summer, they have had their fair share of struggles this season.
As any athlete and head coach knows, creating team chemistry is not something that comes easy or something that can be attained after just a few games of playing together. Team chemistry takes time and patience, but with all this added attention in South Beach, the demand and pressure to become a winner right now may have started to take its toll on the Miami Heat.
Earlier in the season, a lot of people around the league started to question this team as the Miami Heat had gotten out to a very disappointing record of 9-8. With the three superstars really starting to struggle in South Beach, the consensus was that it was going to take some time before the Heat could actually contend with the best of the best in the Eastern Conference.
Fortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case as the Miami Heat quickly got back on track and rose all the way up to the second seed in the East behind the Boston Celtics. Even though they had been able to jump back up the rankings in the East, they have had problems against some of the best of the best in the league all season long.
On Sunday afternoon, the Miami Heat played host to the Chicago Bulls in a game that was thought to be a rout in favor of LeBron James and company. With three straight losses to the New York Knicks (91-86), Orlando Magic (99-96) and the San Antonio Spurs (125-95), the Miami Heat continued to show how flawed their game plan is moving forward. The loss to the Spurs was the most devastating to the Heat as they were just dominated from start to finish by arguably the best team in the league.
Even though the Chicago Bulls have showed that they are a serious force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference this season as Derrick Rose has become the NBA MVP favorite, the Miami Heat were thought to make easy work for the resurgent Bulls team, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.
The game was tight for the majority of the contest and the Heat did seem to have the game in hands at times, but the Bulls turned out to be just too much for them to handle down the stretch. Derrick Rose led the way for the Bulls once again with a game-high 27 points, LeBron James finished with a team-high 26 points, but it wasn’t enough to lead the Heat to victory and snap their losing streak as Chicago went on to win 87-86.
With this win the Chicago Bulls have taken over the second seed in the Eastern Conference as the Miami Heat fall to third in the conference and have some serious issues moving forward.
The San Antonio Spurs continue to play consistently well as the sit atop the NBA power rankings once again. Not only have Tim Duncan and company been able to keep their loss total to just 11, which is pretty impressive to say the least, but they are considered to be the team to beat in the Western Conference from here on out.
The Spurs did suffer a slight setback recently with former All-Star point guard Tony Parker going down with a calf injury, but if San Antonio can continue to play at this level with George Hill at the point over the next month or so, they will almost certainly clinch the number one seed in the West.
The Dallas Mavericks have played an excellent brand on basketball as of late and are just five games behind the league leading San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference, but unless Greg Popovich’s squad starts to struggle without Tony Parker, the Mavs will probably stick at the number two spot.
Mark Cuban made another key addition recently by picking up the recently bought Corey Brewer. This could prove to be a key in the final stretch of the season as Brewer provides an extra scoring punch off the bench.
3- Chicago Bulls (41-17)
There more people doubt this team, the more success they seem to have. Along with All-Star point guard Derrick Rose quickly turning into a legitimate superstar in this league and leading the way in the NBA MVP race, the Chicago Bulls have become arguably one of the best teams in the league.
Whether or not D-Rose and company can compete with the likes of the Celtics, Heat and Magic during the playoffs remains to be seen, but with wins over the Spurs, Lakers and the Heat earlier in the season, the Bulls could be dangerous to say the least.
4- Boston Celtics (43-15)
Not quite sure why the Boston Celtics are this far down this list of the NBA’s best, but I’d bet they will almost certainly rise higher and higher as we get closer and closer to playoff time. The Celtics did make a bold and questionable move by trading away arguably their best defensive big man in center Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder, but they should be able to continue to hold their own as long as they can stay healthy.
Things will get very interesting heading towards the playoffs as we see how well the Celtics can adjust to life without Perkins.
The two-time defending NBA champions have had their fair share of struggles this season, but they have been able to get back to form recently with five straight wins, three of which over playoff bound teams. This veteran team might still be headed for disappointment come playoff time, but right now they look about as good as it gets in the Western Conference.
Last year Paul Pierce entered the 3-point shootout and many people were shaking their heads as he isn’t really considered to be amongst the elite players in the league from beyond the arc. Even though the consensus was that the Boston Celtics leading scorer would be knocked out in the first round, The Truth proved everyone wrong as he beat out rookie Stephon Curry and won his first 3-point contest.
This year he will be defending his title against some pretty solid opponents, but it will be his teammate Ray Allen that he will be worried about stealing his crown.
Daniel Gibson, Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers may have gotten the best of the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in the last game before the NBA All-Star break, but they are still without a doubt the worst team in the league this season as they just can’t get anything going with LeBron James running the show in Cleveland.
Fortunately, despite all the negative press coming out of Cleveland, the Cavaliers might get some positive vibes coming from their sharp shooter Daniel Gibson who will be looking to win the 3-point shootout.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are at it again this season as they are arguably one of the best teams in the Western Conference for a second consecutive year, but they will have their work cut out for them if they want to go deeper in the playoffs this time as the West is as tough as it gets this time around.
Fortunately, even though the competition has gotten better out West, the Thunder are still firing on all cylinders with the league’s leading scorer Kevin Durant leading the charge in Oklahoma City. Along with going for the All-Star game MVP on Sunday, Durant will try and prove that he is amongst the best outside shooters in the league in the 3-point shootout.
James Jones, Miami Heat
This season the Miami Heat have gotten a lot of exposure for being one of the best teams in the league with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James leading the way, but they wouldn’t be as good this year without the outside shooting of James Jones.
As one of the underdogs in this contest, no one will be expecting much from Jones, but he could be a dark horse in this competition.
Dorell Wright, Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors are one of the best offensive teams in the league as they can light up the scoreboard on any given night with scorers like Stephon Curry and Monte Ellis, but they are also deadly from outside with Dorell Wright.
Much like James Jones, Dorell Wright won’t be given much of a chance in the 3-point shootout, but he might be able to surprise some people.
Just recently against the arch rival Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics sharp shooter Ray Allen became the league’s leader in 3-point field goals made all-time by passing NBA great Reggie Miller. Not only was this a well deserved accomplishment for arguably the best pure shooter of all-time, but it has cemented his legacy and he will look to add a second 3-point shootout victory to his resume this Saturday night in Los Angeles.
Ray Allen is the favorite to win this competition, but I won’t be surprise to see Paul Pierce give his teammate a run for his money!
There is a lot of speculation around the NBA about where the big name free agents will land this summer when they officially become free agents on July 1st this summer.
Even though everyone will be looking forward to the decision that LeBron James makes on or after July 1st, there are quite a few big name players that will also have a big decision to make. The one player that will be getting a lot of attention during this free agency period besides LeBron James will be superstar guard Dwyane Wade.
Despite Dwyane Wade claiming that his “heart” is in Miami, and who can blame him with that weather, he was asked recently if he would consider signing with the Chicago Bulls. Much like the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers, the Chicago Bulls will most likely be looking to add one of these big name players in the offseason as they are arguably one player away from becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference once again.
Personally, I believe that Dwyane Wade would be the perfect fit in Chicago as he would compliment center Joakim Noah and point guard Derrick Rose perfectly! The combination of these players would without a doubt in my mind be a winning combination, but Wade still says despite his love for Chicago that he will most likely be staying in Miami.
Ever since the Miami Heat won the NBA title in 2006 with a brilliant NBA Finals series against the Dallas Mavericks, Dwyane Wade and company haven’t been able to get back to that championship caliber.
After the 2006 season, future hall of fame center Shaquille O’Neal went from one of the most dominant players in the league to nothing more than a glorified role player.
Ultimately, Shaq was traded to the Phoenix Suns and the Miami Heat replaced him with Jermaine O’Neal.
Unfortunately, much like Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal is on the downside of his career and is turning out to be a bust for the Miami Heat. With Jermaine’s body quickly breaking down and the future not looking very bright for the former All-Star, the Heat will almost certainly look to upgrade the position in the offseason through a very talented free agent class.
Miami Heat president and former head coach Pat Riley has already stated that his first priority this offseason is to re-sign Dwyane Wade. This is no surprise, but Riley has also said that he will do everything within his power to sign big name players in order to surround Wade with the talent he needs and create a possible dynasty in Miami.
There are three teams this summer with a lot money to spend in free agency with the New York Knicks leading the way followed by the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat. All three of these teams will almost certainly looked completely different next season, but the question is who will be going where?
Dwyane Wade has already said that he wants to stay in Miami, but if the team can make considerable upgrades this summer I won’t be surprised to see him go elsewhere and play for a team like the Chicago Bulls.
Wow, the Cavs already won Game 1 without much of a hiccup. Stop the presses. Is this surprising to you? Well, it shouldn’t be. The Cavs played great with Shaq back in the lineup. O’Neal looked like he didn’t miss a beat after sitting out most of the second half of the season. His performance was reminiscent of the Shaq of old rather than old Shaq. The testy but valiant Bulls may actually catch the Cavs asleep and steal a game but that seems like wishful thinking. Did you see how focused LeBron James was? He finally has the fire in his belly to compete for a championship. James learned a thing or two from Kobe Bryant during the Redeem Team’s Olympic run – talent isn’t everything, it’s inner drive that makes you a great basketball player and wins you championships.
Confidence will not be enough for the Chicago Bulls. Cavs advance to the second round in four games.
Orlando Magic vs (7) Charlotte Bobcats
This is probably the most intriguing match-up in the playoffs. The versatility of the Bobcats against the new look, but still motivated Magic. Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis against defensive minded Gerald Wallace and the unpredictable Stephen Jackson. With so much focus on how Vince Carter will perform in the playoffs, the Magic’s real key to success is Jameer Nelson. Nelson wasn’t close to a hundred percent in the Finals against the Lakers, this year he’ll get the chance to prove how valuable he is to Orlando’s title hopes. He needs to attack the rim and hit his threes, similar to what Rafer Alston did for the Magic last year.
Orlando is a deeper team with Matt Barnes, Ryan Anderson, Jason Williams, Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat as their bench players. They also have bigger and more athletic players – expect them to outmuscle Charlotte in the paint. Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown will keep things interesting, but his team lacks the fouls to use on Dwight Howard.
Dwight Howard’s size in the middle will be too much for Charlotte. The Magic advance to the second round in six games.
Atlanta Hawks vs (6) Milwaukee Bucks
The Hawks came out the gate and blitzed the undermanned Bucks in the first half – they scored 62 points and held the Bucks to 40 points. A ton of blocks and defensive stops paved way for the Hawks fast break points.
Atlanta’s first half performance was nearly perfect, but they almost wasted it with a lackluster second outing. The Bucks outscored the Hawks 52 to 40 in the second half. Rookie Brandon Jennings carried most of the scoring load with Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd suffering season ending injuries. Jennings scored 34 points and there was not one Hawk who could guard him. Jennings may have to score 55 points again for the Hawks to even have a chance in the series.
Jamal Crawford scored 17 points in his playoff debut. All five of the Hawks starters scored in double digits.
The Hawks inability to close out opponents almost haunted them in Game 1. The Bucks might actually steal a game before succumbing to the deeper and more talented Hawks. Hawks in five games.
Boston Celtics vs (5) Miami Heat
Dwyane Wade had a great game against the Celtics in Game 1 of their playoff series. He scored 26 points on 11 of 18 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists. Despite throwing the ball away seven times, he was efficient both ways of the floor. That’s the main problem why the Heat lost. Only Wade had a great game. Quentin Richardson was the other Heat player who scored in double figures. Miami’s other starters, Carlos Arroyo, Jermaine O’Neal and Michael Beasley combined to make nine of their 27 shots for 20 points.
If I were D-Wade, I’d already be asking if LeBron James is willing to go to New York with me. Miami has failed to surround Wade with the supporting cast he has been asking for all season. If Miami gets swept, there’s no doubt that Wade will bolt to another team this summer.
Kevin Garnett scored 15 points, grabbed nine rebounds and threw one elbow that hit Richardson’s jaw. Things got chippy after Paul Pierce fell in front of the Miami bench. Richardson stood directly above Pierce and Garnett took it as disrespect.
With Wade doing everything for Miami except the laundry, the Celtics will likely wear him down in a seven game series. O’Neal and Beasley will have two big games to keep Miami from getting swept. Other than that, the Celtics will beat Miami in six games and win their last playoff series with the Big Three.
The sand in the hour glass is starting to empty much quicker than anticipated for the Boston Celtics as they have gone from NBA superpower that won an NBA title a couple of years ago to a team full of aging veterans desperately holding on to title contender status.
Even though many people believe we are witnessing the end of a short era in Boston, the Celtics believe they still have a solid shot at competing for an NBA title and it would be hard to disagree with them.
When this season is all said and done with an NBA title back in Boston or not, the Celtics will almost certainly look very different next season as sharp shooter Ray Allen will be a free agent and Boston might go dipping into the talent packed free agent market starting July 1st.
With most teams in the NBA looking to upgrade in the offseason through free agency, the league might look drastically different next season and with that being said this could very well be the last time the Big Three (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen) will be able to compete for an NBA title with the team still intact.
Kevin Garnett’s career and in the NBA is quickly coming to an end as is become more obvious that this body cannot hold up for an 82 game season anymore. This is a harsh realization for the Boston Celtics as they knew this time was coming even when they acquired it from the Minnesota Timberwolves a few years ago.
With that being said, the Boston Celtics will probably do all they can in the off-season to improve their roster in order to compete at the likes of the best teams in the East next season. One big change that might happen in the Atlantic division would be the New York Knicks becoming a superpower in the NBA once again if they can get their hands on LeBron James and another big name free agent like Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire.
If that happens, the future for the Boston Celtics will look drastically different as they will have to compete within their division all season long with the potential best team in league. Obviously this is something to think about in the summer starting July 1st, but in the meantime the Boston Celtics will put all their energy into figuring out how to beat the Miami Heat in a seven-game series.
Last season the Miami Heat looked like they could be a dark horse in the Eastern Conference as superstar guard Dwyane Wade had arguably his best season as a Pro.
Unfortunately, the success of the Miami Heat was short-lived and Wade and company went home early once again.
This season the Miami Heat played better than they did in this season previous as they were able to clinch a higher seed and look like they might be able to compete with the Boston Celtics in a seven-game series.
Personally, I still believe the Miami Heat are a couple pieces of the puzzle away from competing with teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics, but they might be able to make a series of this and win a couple of games.
The Thunder will make their first playoff appearance in its young existence. Oklahoma City is currently the sixth seed in the west but are locked in a three-way battle with the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs. Well, it doesn’t really matter what seed they will end up in because the Thunder are young, athletic and skilled, which makes them a very dangerous first-round opponent.
Obviously, their success can be attributed by the sudden explosion of Kevin Durant. Durant went from rising star last season to an MVP candidate. He will likely win his first scoring title this season. Forward Jeff Green is averaging 15 points a ball game and Russell Westbrook is having a career year. These three young guns are a big reason why the Thunder find themselves in the playoffs.
It’s their offense that gets a lot of recognition, but its actually the Thunder’s defense which makes them dangerous. The Thunder allows only 97.6 points a game, which is good enough for 11th in the league. There’s not one individual on Oklahoma City that is a great defender. But as a team the Thunder are a cohesive, effective defensive unit.
Against the highest scoring team in the league, the Phoenix Suns, the Thunder held them to their lowest scoring output in the second half – the Suns scored only 34 points. The young Oklahoma City Thunder also held the Suns under 100 points. Two-time MVP Steve Nash and All-star Amar’e Stoudemire were forced into committing five combined turnovers.
All you need to know about what the Thunder defense did to the Suns offense is this: the Suns shot 58 percent in first and second quarters. After that, Phoenix shot only 31 percent. Durant and Green had seven steals – amazing considering they are both forwards.
This years Thunder reminds us much of last seasons Portland Trail Blazers. Exciting crowd, budding superstar in Durant (in the Blazers case Brandon Roy), and a core group of young talented guys. All of this resulted in first-round fodder.
Durant, in particular, had no turnovers on his way to scoring 35 points. It’s been a joy to watch Durant this season. There are already talks that is he the second best player in the league – yes, in front of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard. This statement might be a reach considering Durant has played at this level for only one season. Plus, greatness can’t be measured during the season, it is seen where it counts – in the playoffs.
Durant and the Thunder will get the opportunity to prove exactly that as they make their first playoff appearance in history.