We’re close to halfway through our lockout shortened season and the cream is beginning to rise to the top. I’ve always been a big fan of the NBA because almost every year the best team wins the title. In others sports you usually just have to get hot at the end of the year to win it all and the regular season doesn’t mean a whole lot. That could possibly change this year due to the condensed scheduling, but I doubt it. Let’s take a look at 13 top teams and if they are legit title contenders or frauds.
Philly: Doug Collins has his young team in first place in the Atlantic division with a 4 game lead over both Boston and New York. The Sixers are playing great defense and are currently leading the league in points allowed. Philly has a solid, balanced team but lack a go to scorer who can carry the team when the game slows down in the playoffs. Some people are going to compare this team to the ’04 Pistons, but that’s silly. While this is a very good defensive team, they’re not even close to as good as that Detroit team. Therefore the 76ers are a Fraud.
Boston: The Celtics are a veteran squad. They’re playoff tested, battle hardened and experienced. These are just nice ways of saying that they’re old. We’ve seen this the past few years from this team. They sandbag it during the season only to come out strong once they reach the playoffs, but it’s not going to work forever. Rondo is playing maybe the best basketball of his career, but Pierce, Allen and Garnett just can’t do what they used to. The window is closed in Boston and it’s time for Danny Ainge to blow this thing up. Fraud.
New York: I could very easily write the Knicks off as a serious title contender, but there’s just so much change going on in New York right now. We all know about Jeremy Lin by now, but JR Smith debuted yesterday and did exactly what he was brought in to do, make shots. Melo is supposed to return tonight and Baron Davis should be healthy soon too. There are certainly chemistry issues to work out, but this team could be really dangerous by the end of the year. Teams won’t be able to double team Lin once Anthony gets back and Baron Davis should help to prevent the huge offensive lapses we’ve seen when Lin goes to the bench. Then there’s Amare and Chandler down low and the team’s defense is steadily improving. I can’t call these guys legit just yet, but they’re also not fraudulent either. To Be Determined.
Chicago: This one is pretty easy. The Bulls went to the Eastern Conference Finals last year and have improved since then. The addition of Rip Hamilton is a big one as he takes some of the scoring pressure off of Derrick Rose. Speaking of the reigning MVP, he’s missed some games lately and these guys are still finding ways to win games. This is not a one man team. Legit.
Indiana: Please. I can’t believe you even asked. Fraud.
Miami: Another easy call. The Heat are my favorite to win it all this year. They’ve added some depth and have gotten much more production from the point guard position this year. They still play stifling defense and are terrifying in transition. Legit.
Orlando: The Magic are hot as of late and have shaken off a woeful start to the season. There is enough talent in Orlando for these guys to make a playoff run, but I don’t think the Dwight Howard drama is over yet for this season. If Howard isn’t extended by the trade deadline I expect this team to fall apart. If Howard is traded by the deadline, well then I know this team will fall apart. The only way this team does anything come playoff time is if they end this soap opera. I don’t think that happens. Fraud.
Atlanta: Maybe if Al Horford hadn’t been lost for the season…oh, who am I kidding? It’s the Hawks. We all know how this story ends. When you pay Joe Johnson max money, your team is doomed from the start. Fraud.
Oklahoma City: The young Thunder are starting to grow up. Kevin Durant is one of the two best players in the NBA right now and Russell Westbrook is a heck of a #2 option for any team. James Harden has improved dramatically this season, giving the Thunder a legitimate “Big 3” of their own. Add in the defense of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka and OKC is in great shape for the playoffs. Legit.
L.A. Clippers: Lob City is the most exciting team to watch this year in the league, but can they be a serious title contender? While the Clips can get up and down the floor, the game slows down in the playoffs and their defense can be suspect at times. However, Chris Paul always plays big down the stretch and should be able to provide a steady hand for the young guys. I feel really uneasy about doing this since it is the Clippers, but in the weak Western Conference I think they’re Legit.
L.A. Lakers: Any team with Kobe Bryant is dangerous, but this version of the Lakers has a lot of issues. Point guard is a glaring weakness, as is outside shooting. Mike Brown lack of offensive creativity means Kobe shoots it 30 times a night and the biggest strength the Lakers have (two skilled 7 footers) usually gets forgotten. Ron Artest is starting to get frustrated with his role and if he blows up even Kobe won’t be able to keep this team together. Fraud.
San Antonio: I’m going to honest here. I haven’t watched the Spurs play once this year. I really just find their style of play incredibly boring, so unless they’re playing another team I enjoy watching I usually pass. I see they’re in 2nd in the West despite only three guys averaging double figures (did I mention I hate watching them play?). Popovich apparently has them playing really good defense, but I’m not buying it. Fraud.
Dallas: The defending champs have shaken off a slow start and are starting to return to form. Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, who also started very slow, looks to be back to his ice cold ways as well. The losses of JJ Barrea and Tyson Chandler definitely hurt, but newcomers Vince Carter and Lamar Odom are starting to find their roles. I worry about their defense in the playoffs without Chandler, but this team is definitely Legit.
Finals Prediction: Thunder vs. Heat. I don’t see anyone being able to stop Kevin Durant and the Thunder out West. In the East I expect Chicago and Miami to give us a classic series, but ultimately I don’t think the Bulls have enough firepower to keep up with Miami.