Entering this season, most experts reduced the amount of teams thought to be actually capable of making the NBA Finals to a very select group. In the West, the Lakers were the run away favorites with the up and coming Oklahoma City Thunder as a trendy sleeper pick, while teams like the Mavericks and Spurs were thought to be to old to really contend. In the East, the Heat and Celtics were the clear favorites while the Magic were the only other real alternative.
Well, halfway into the regular season, I think it’s safe to say that the group of contenders has expanded in both conferences. So, with that in mind, who realistically does have a chance of making the NBA Finals this year?
Los Angeles Lakers – 32-13
Nothing I have seen this season has done anything to dissuade me from my opinion that the Lakers are THE team to beat in not only the West, but in the entire league. The only way I do foresee that that could change is if Kobe Bryant’s inevitable decline that he has somehow avoided in the post-season every year actually does come to fruition.
San Antonio Spurs – 37-7
37-7 is really good. Yeah, they’re old and the second half doesn’t figure to be quite so kind to the Spurs, but Manu Ginobili is playing like an MVP candidate and Tim Duncan is still Tim Duncan. They also have some young pieces that could allow them to improve in the trade market.
Oklahoma City Thunder – 28-15
When you have two stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook plus a very solid third guy in Jeff Green, you’re a threat in any series. Their defense has taken a bit of a step back this season, but they showed they can compete on a high level in last year’s first round match-up with the Lakers.
Dallas Mavericks – 28-15
Yeah, I know they’ve slowed down substantially from a hot start and the loss of Caron Butler hurts them both on the floor and in the trade market, but they still have one of the best 10 players in the league and an owner who is highly motivated to make them better in any way possible. They’ve made it to the Finals before and I wouldn’t count them out now.
Teams like the Hornets, Jazz, and Nuggets are going to safely make the playoffs and could win a series, but I’m not buying their chances to advance to the Finals.
Boston Celtics – 33-10
The C’s came out firing this regular season after last year when they took an 82 game vacation before turning it on in the playoffs. They have braved injuries to stars, but are still playing at a high level. Rajon Rondo is clearly an elite point guard and is running his team as well as anyone in the league. They remain the favorites in the East.
Miami Heat – 31-13
The Heat are going to push the Celtics for home court all year, which will make a big difference if the two do match up in late May. Miami has holes, namely in their lack of a true five and their inability to defend a dynamic point guard, but if Mike Miller plays like he did this weekend, they are as tough an out as there is in the league.
Orlando Magic – 29-15
Picking up Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu was a coup, but the jury is still out on their move to get Gilbert Arenas. Outside of Dwight Howard, their rotation is very suspect defensively, but Superman can cover up a lot of mistakes in the paint.
Chicago Bulls – 30-14
Yep, I’d say Derrick Rose has made the leap. The player that John Calipari had to tell to shoot instead of pass every time is gone and Rose is scoring nearly 25 a game. The Bulls have dealt with injuries to Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, but have played well all along. If they’re healthy come April, look out.
If you’re a Hawks or Knicks fan, sorry, but it’s not happening.
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