The Projected Top Five Teams Favored to Bring Home the Trophy Come June
The 2012 NBA Playoffs are on the way to the 10th day. After nine great days of emotional and exciting playoff games, here are my top-five projected favorites to winning the Larry O’Brien trophy come June. The top two teams I favor from the Eastern Conference are the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. The top three teams I favor from the Western Conference are the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Boston Celtics are currently leading their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, 3-1. In the first day of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, point guard and the face of the Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the final moments of the first game in their series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Due to Rose’s injury, the window of opportunity to the championship opened for the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics are playing very well against the Atlanta Hawks. Boston is led by their veteran leader in Paul Pierce who has done a superb job stepping up, as he always does, in the playoffs. Kevin Garnett has averaged double-doubles in the first three games against the Hawks. Ray Allen, having not played since April 10th, has come back to help the Celtics win in the last two games.
The Celtics are doing very well because of Rajon Rondo. Rondo is still on his streak of recording 10 or more assists per game and he has been remarkable with his scoring. The Boston Celtics are a very experienced team, reaching the NBA Finals in 2008, both against the supreme Los Angeles Lakers.
The Celtics were able to beat the Lakers in 2008, but fell in a Game 7 against the Lakers in 2010. Though the Celtics’ Big 3 are getting old, their hope is literally in the hands of Rajon Rondo and I believe Rondo will get them as far, as this might just be the last run for a championship for this current Boston Celtics team. Granting they reach the Eastern Conference Finals, they might face the torching Miami Heat.
The Miami Heat took an early 3-0 lead against the New York Knicks, but fell two points short in Game 4. Dwyane Wade has been playing at the great level he is used to playing, but it is argued LeBron James might have taken over the team.
LeBron James is arguably having the best time of his career. Throughout the season, he has led the Miami Heat to having the second best record in the Eastern Conference. Chris Bosh has been much of a role player for the Miami Heat, but his production helps the Heat a big deal.
Currently, the Miami Heat are averaging 94.5 points per game and their defense has held the Knicks to only 80.0 points per game. The Miami Heat bench has gotten better with the addition of the defensive maestro in Shane Battier, the early-in-the-season rookie sensation, Norris Cole, and a post presence in Ronny Turiaf. The Miami Heat reached the 2011 NBA Playoffs, but fell short to the Dallas Mavericks. The Heat must and will take their experiences from last year’s playoffs and they seem to be trying to play better than their best to reach the NBA Finals, once again.
LeBron will have to lead the Heat, like he did last season, and he must focus on winning a championship ring. The desire in his eyes for the diamonds and gold has given the Heat a great chance of taking it all this season. Whoever they face in the next couple rounds, LeBron will have to be the superior and take over each and every game. Maybe by the end of June, he will finally silence his critics and add one championship to his resume.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder, in my opinion, had their breakout season in the shortened 2011-12 NBA Season. The Thunder finished with the second best record in the Western Conference, only behind the San Antonio Spurs. In this year’s playoffs, the Thunder managed to sweep the defending champions, Dallas Mavericks. Statistically, in NBA history, the team that sweeps the defending champions have won the championship four out of seven times. The statistics give the Thunder a roughly 57% chance to win this year’s Larry O’Brien trophy.
The Thunder have four key players to make this all happen. Serge Ibaka came second in voting for Defensive Player of the Year, falling short to New York’s Tyson Chandler. Serge Ibaka is not a supreme defender, but averaged 3.7 blocks in the 2011-12 NBA Season. He has a total rebound average of 7.5 and although he does not average double-digit scoring, he has potential to score. His hard work needs to continue on and it will help the Thunder a great deal of paving the way to a trip to the NBA Finals. James Harden, who is in the running for Sixth Man of the Year, has improved a whole lot. He was the reason the Thunder swept the Mavericks in Game 4 with a 29-point outing. The man is a terrific shooter and he can make plays for his teammates. While he can score off the ball, he can also create shots for himself.
Russell Westbrook is a score-first point guard and when he gets it going, the Thunder are rolling. He has improved his jump shot and he is very quick, making him hard to contain in both transition and half-court offense. The key for the Thunder is the three-time scoring champion, Kevin Durant. Durant has made it known that he is a prime superstar and can perform in the clutch. Durant struggled in the first two games against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, but picked himself up, and led the Thunder to a sweep.
This Thunder team has great playoff experience, but has not reached an NBA Finals, after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round in 2010 and losing to the Dallas Mavericks in last year’s Western Conference Finals. With the team they have this year, they are a favorite to reach the NBA Finals, but will have to go through an obstacle in the San Antonio Spurs.
San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs tied the Chicago Bulls for the best record in the shortened NBA season at 50 wins and 16 losses. The Spurs are a veteran team and they sure know how to win. The Spurs have a great coach in Gregg Popovich, who won the Coach of the Year award for this past season. Popovich is a coach who is famous for the classic-style brand of basketball and his coaching methods are great. The Spurs are said to be old and Popovich has managed his players’ minutes well.
San Antonio has arguably the best bench in the NBA. With the late additions of Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, and Stephen Jackson, the Spurs cannot only expect huge scoring, but also well-played defense. DeJuan Blair is a proven big man in the NBA and can produce very well for the Spurs. He can score effectively on the block and he is a hustler on the rebounds. Tiago Splitter has proven to be a great role player for the Spurs. Splitter knows his role and takes it to heart, which is why his play is very effective. Gary Neal and Danny Green are terrific scorers when they get hot; they can be very streaky and will cause trouble for both the opposing starters’ and bench defenses.
The Big 3 for the Spurs have been terrific all season. Manu Ginobili can still score the ball, both off the ball and for his own shot. Ginobili is very crafty and can pass like a great point guard. He can also hustle on the defensive end by grabbing steals and from time to time, he can block some big shots. Tim Duncan is playing close to the days of his prime. He has the ability to put up 20 points on any given night and can still grab rebounds in the double digits. Duncan is also still doing pretty well protecting the basket. Tony Parker is definitely playing at an MVP level and he has shown it in both the regular season and this year’s playoffs. He is an outstanding scorer and will definitely create for his teammates.
The Spurs are a very experienced team and are a strong caliber team on both offense and defense, which will be able to lead them to their 4th NBA championship since 2003.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers are currently leading 3-1 against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs. The Lakers started off the shortened season horribly, but have picked up the pace and hustle. They ended up as the third seed in the Western Conference and have been phenomenal in the first round.
The Lakers are said to have a very weak bench, but their bench production has helped the team to winning the last couple games in the regular season and has put in beautiful effort in the playoffs. Early in the season, Steve Blake’s play was going downhill. He injured his ribs and was forced to miss a portion of the 66-game season. Currently in the playoffs, he has magically turned on his jump shot and started making his favorite, three pointers. The improvement has also come from shooting less three balls and more of layups and mid-range jumpers. From time to time, Steve Blake will also step up and create shots to his teammates and is a big reason as to why the Lakers are leading the league in alley-oops. Steve Blake will also give the Lakers some hustle on defense as he is sneaky at grabbing steals.
Devin Ebanks has been beneficial for the Lakers. He has shown the fans of Los Angeles that he can play like Trevor Ariza. Though his defensive clutch is not like Ariza’s, Ebanks will defend his assignments very well. He can contest shots and come up with important steals. Devin Ebanks can score the ball. He might not score in double-digits every game, but if he can get in rhythm, he will score doubles. The trade deadline addition of Jordan Hill has helped the Lakers on the rebound game. Jordan Hill has the ability to score, but he definitely will give all his energy on grabbing rebounds. With the exception of one game, since he has been receiving minutes, he has been in the double-digit numbers in rebounds. Jordan Hill has made a difference and the rebounds will help the Lakers will more possessions and second chance opportunities.
Matt Barnes has played great towards the end of the season, but he has not shown up in the first round of the playoffs. I am not sure what is going on with him, but if the Lakers hope to get past the Oklahoma City Thunder, his effort needs to be at the highest he can place it. Metta World Peace is still serving his seven-game suspension and is expected to come back by either the next round or if the Lakers and Nuggets play a Game 7. He will be very important in the run for a ring as he has shown he can still defend very well and he has improved his scoring. Ramon Sessions has to be considered a blessing for the Los Angeles Lakers.
After acquiring him before the NBA’s trade deadline, the Lakers have become a much faster team. Sessions can be a huge scorer, but he will only score when he needs to. The Lakers were lacking quickness at the point guard position, but the problems have decreased as Ramon Sessions is quick on his feet. The good thing about him is he can make plays for his teammates. He has the ability to get his teammates hot and record double-digit numbers in the assist column.
Pau Gasol is looking for his third NBA ring. Gasol is a point guard in a big man’s body. What’s great about Pau is he will, not can, but will score in double-digits. He can score on the block as well and he can also hit the outside jumper. Gasol has the great ability of grabbing rebounds and he will need to try for double-doubles in the later rounds. Pau can pass the ball very well and he is a great compliment for Andrew Bynum.
Andrew Bynum has been a beast this season. He can be argued for Most Improved Player of the Year. The big man can defend the basket and paint, as well as score a tremendous amount of points. Bynum is also Kevin-Love-like as he can grab a monstrous amount of rebounds.
Kobe Bryant is going for his sixth NBA championship and he has been on a tear on the offensive end. There is no sign of Kobe getting old, other than his shot percentage, but the guy can still score. The Los Angeles Lakers are as experienced, if not the most experienced team with Kobe Bryant leading the way.
In order for Kobe to grab his sixth ring, the Lakers must help him out by creating more possessions and rely less on Kobe to score. The Lakers showed great potential to win games without him and Kobe must trust his teammates. As the cliché says, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” I believe in this Lakers squad and they seem determined to win bring the Larry O’Brien trophy again since 2010, after getting swept out of the playoffs by the eventual-champion Dallas Mavericks in last year’s playoffs.
These five teams all have great players and great supporting casts. With this shortened season, anything can happen. It is even possible none of these teams make it to the NBA Finals, but this is why these are only my projected favorites. The only thing to do now is to watch how these teams perform throughout the rest of the playoffs. Whichever two teams make it to the NBA Finals will definitely create a lot of buzz and it will, and in no doubt at all, will be a great fight to bring the Larry O’Brien trophy to this NBA season’s rightful, well-deserved owner.