Written by Joe Gabbert
Most NBA seasons, one or two teams separate themselves from the rest of the pack by the time the playoffs roll around. This season, that is definitely not the case. The first placed Spurs are a mere three games ahead of the Thunder, and the heavy favorites, the Miami Heat, aren’t even first in their conference, so this very unpredictable playoffs is worthy of its own breakdown.
The Miami Heat, the reigning champions, looked for much of the season as if they were coasting. Dwyane Wade even sat out for nearly half of their games, not with any real injury but as a “preventative measure” to try and keep him healthy for the playoffs. On paper, they should be better this year than last. They added Michael Beasley, who is having his best season since he was originally drafted by the Heat in 2009. They also added the oft injured former first draft pick Greg Oden, who is their first real center in years and lost no one of importance. Despite all this, their defense still looks weak, in part because Lebron seemed to rarely give a full effort on that end, and they’re a worse rebounding team than ever.
The Thunder, home of the likely future MVP Kevin Durant, are statistically the most impressive team in the NBA. They are ranked sixth in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency and have the largest rebounding differential in the league. In other words, they look like a champion on paper. However, they have a few big holes. More so than any team in the playoffs they’re reliant on a few players. Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook are their only real offensive assets, and Westbrook is known for his inconsistency and poor decision making.
The Pacers, who sputtered out as the season progressed, are still the best defense in the league (and by far) but every part of their game has still fallen off heavily. Their offense, which in its best form was mediocre, is at this point ranked 23rd in the league in efficiency and the rebounding that they so heavily relied on has fallen off too, though it still ranks among the best in the league. The cause of this all is unclear, though there have been rumors of an ongoing dispute between their two best players, Paul George and Roy Hibbert. However, if they can raise their play to what it was a few months ago, they could easily win the championship.
The Spurs are a bit of an enigma. They’ve popped out about 60 wins since 2011, with a wide variety of results in the playoffs. They aren’t really all that different from last year, but they were not exactly the most talented of teams in the first place. Their success these past few years can in large part be attributed to Greg Popovich, arguably the greatest coach ever. Whether they have enough to scrounge together a title is really tough to say, but they surely shouldn’t be discounted.
The Border teams:
The Houston Rockets have been all over the place this season. At their best, they looked like they were probably the best in the league, and at their worst looked like they did not deserve of a playoff spot. A lot of this can be attributed to their severely inconsistent defensive effort. They have the pieces for an elite defense, and at times put it together, but also can fall victim to their “star” James Harden’s pathetically poor defensive capabilities.
The Los Angeles Clippers kind of had a breakout year. They already were considered a great team, but after losing their best player in Chris Paul for 20 games, Blake Griffin achieved a new standard of play, and since then their offense has been outstanding. They do however have problems with rebounding and defense. While they are not bad at either by any means, they definitely aren’t of the caliber of most title teams. Their late game offense still seems like it might be questionable as they have no real ball handlers other than Chris Paul and Jamaal Crawford. However their problems seem small compared to some of the teams that are considered favorites by most.
The rest of the pack:
Most of the rest of the playoff teams are fodder for the teams previously mentioned. The Trailblazers are noteworthy, as they face a mercurial Houston team, but lack the defense or inside presence to win a championship. The Nets really pulled things together after an awful start to the season, but without their best player Brook Lopez, it’s hard to see them making it farther than the eastern conference finals, and even that might be a stretch.