NBA Playoffs Preview: Tough Competition in the West
Back in early November, there were 30 NBA teams with the hopes that they would be contending for an NBA Title this season. The early favorites, Miami, Dallas and Phoenix, got off to slow starts, and it did seem like it could be anyone’s year. However, as the season progressed, early season predictions started to round into form. With the playoffs less than a week away, there are only a dozen teams with a legitimate chance at this year’s title.
I say a dozen because of the lack of success from the bottom two seeds of each conference over the past 20 years. Only once, the 1999 New York Knicks, has a seven or eight seed gotten past the second round of the playoffs. That team actually lost in the finals, but the odds are in my favor when I say that no seven or eight seed will greatly impact this year’s playoffs (my apologies to any Lakers’ fans).
Here is a look at the top six seeds from each conference:
Detroit Pistons – Should be the favorite to come out of the East. They have the best defense in the conference and plenty of scoring options on offense. They also have loads of playoff experience on their roster. The one team that could give Detroit problems is the Chicago Bulls, who they are only 1-3 against this season.
Chicago Bulls – Their strengths lie in playing harder than their opponents and finishing games strong. The Bulls will have to work extra hard to out hustle teams in the playoffs. Tyrus Thomas has emerged in the past month as a threat on both ends of the court and could be a major factor. They have to rely on outside shooting for the majority of their scoring and don’t have a constant inside threat which could prove problematic.
Toronto Raptors – The surprise team in the NBA this season, the Raptors play best when they are working the offense through big-man Chris Bosh. Rookies Andrea Bargnani and Jorge Garbajosa provided solid support this season, but Toronto will need to find other options as Garbajosa will miss the playoffs with an injured ankle and Bargnani is just now returning from an injury. This team’s inexperience in the playoffs might hurt them.
Miami Heat – After a poor first half of the season, Miami has looked much better this second half. Shaq and D-Wade are back on the floor together after injuries limited both of their action during the regular season. The big question will be whether or not the Heat can once again mesh with one another given their lack of time playing together this season. Regardless, they have the superstars and the experience to make another run at the title.
Cleveland Cavaliers – This team can be summarized by one player, LeBron James. As he goes, so do the Cavs. LeBron guided Cleveland to a first round series win last year before falling to the top-seeded Pistons. They will lean heavily on King James this post-season but could be in trouble if some role players don’t step up. Look for the supporting cast to play a big role if Cleveland wants to advance deep into the playoffs.
Washington Wizards – Could be the Nets, I know, but I am making a prediction on this one. Anyways, here is simply a team headed in the wrong direction. Injuries to superstars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler have left this team without their top two scorers. That will be a problem in the playoffs considering they surrender the most points in the Eastern Conference. Antawn Jamison and DeShawn Stevenson will need to pick up the slack, but it still looks like an early exit is inevitable for the Wiz.
Dallas Mavericks – They are undoubtedly the team to beat in this year’s playoffs with all of the right pieces to take home the title. Dirk Nowitzki leads a balanced attack that can beat you in the half court or in transition. Dallas needs to develop the killer instinct that they lacked last year. If they are able to finish out both games and series, it could be the Mavs hoisting the trophy.
Phoenix Suns – Phoenix is one of the most fun teams to watch in the NBA. Steve Nash and company lead the league in scoring and play the run-and-gun game better than anyone else. They are fast at every position and usually leave teams in their dust. Defense has always been the question mark with this team. Playing solid defense will be necessary for this team to advance out of the tough Western Conference.
San Antonio Spurs – This team is all about the fundamentals. They play together and have years of experience at grinding out solid possessions on both offense and defense. Tim Duncan may be the leader of the team, but Manu Ginobili is going to have to step up and carry some of the scoring load as he has done at times this season. When he plays well, so do the Spurs.
Utah Jazz – Deron Williams has emerged as one of the league’s best point guards. His play ignites the Jazz and had them playing some of the best basketball most of the season. They have struggled of late to keep up the pace, but the return of Carlos Boozer should help to rectify that. Like some of the other teams, inexperience might come back to haunt Utah.
Houston Rockets – The Rockets are thanking their lucky stars that Yao Ming has finally turned out to be the player than thought he could be. The scoring combination of Ming and Tracy McGrady is one of the best in the NBA. Keeping their two superstars on the floor and healthy will be vital for
Houston. If Yao plays tough and his teammates continue to feed him the ball, the Rockets could be a tough match up.
Denver Nuggets – After all of the speculation of whether or not Allen Iverson would be able to coexist with Carmelo Anthony, it seems as though they can. The Nuggets enter the playoffs as one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Scoring will not be a problem, but Denver needs to continue to work together and play on both ends of the court to be successful.