Biggest Pretenders and Contenders in the NBA

Trevor LowryContributor IFebruary 3, 2012

Biggest Pretenders and Contenders in the NBA

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    There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder are serious NBA contenders this season.

    However, some people can be quite crazy.

    With that said, it is useless to talk about those three as contenders because the whole world knows they are. Instead of talking about the three best teams in the NBA, let's pass the ball to some of the other teams.

    Although the season is still early, it is late enough for contenders and pretenders to prevail.

    Read on to find out the top 10 contenders or pretenders in the NBA. 

Los Angeles Lakers

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    It did not help the Lakers in any way, shape or form to lose Lamar Odom in the offseason, but that is something that Los Angeles will have to live with.

    Without Odom, the Lakers still have a really good starting lineup. The same cannot be said about the Lakers bench, where they practically have no one.

    The Lakers could also use a new starting point guard.

    Put all of that aside, and Kobe Bryant is still one of the best players in the league (30 PPG this season) and as long as he is in a Lakers uniform, they are going to compete every year for an NBA title.

    Contender 

Philadelphia 76ers

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    The 76ers are one of the biggest surprises so far this year. They are currently leading the Atlantic Division and by a large margin. 

    Philadelphia is one of the most complete teams in the NBA, but it is missing the one key ingredient, which is a star. Philadelphia does not have one single player averaging 20 points or more per game.

    Although this does not define a team, it certainly goes a long way when your team is down by 10 in the fourth quarter of the Eastern Conference finals and you do not have a go-to guy.

    The 76ers are going to find out how good they really are when they start playing some tougher competition in this new month.

    Don't get me wrong—the 76ers are a great team, but it is hard to see them competing with teams in the East like the Bulls and Heat in a seven-game series.

    Pretender 

Denver Nuggets

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    Ever since Carmelo Anthony went to the New York Knicks, the Denver Nuggets have actually become a better team.

    Just like the 76ers, the Nuggets are a very well-rounded team. Denver currently has six players averaging double-digit points, which has helped it to be the No. 1 scoring team in the NBA.

    That is a pretty impressive stat considering the Nuggets do not have any real go-to guy on their team. Ty Lawson is really becoming the leader of this team, though, and his 15.5 PPG and 6.4 APG is proof of that.

    Although Denver was good with Anthony on the team, it looks much better without him. Don't look for the Nuggets to falter at any point in the season.

    Contender 

Indiana Pacers

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    The Indiana Pacers are a very young and talented team to say the least. Once these players develop their game more, the Pacers are going to be an elite team in the NBA. They are not at that level yet, though.

    Indiana made great strides last season, making it to the playoffs and playing very well against the Chicago Bulls, but the Bulls did win the series 4-1. Indiana definitely battled in every game of that series, but it had only one win to show for it, and that is what it's all about.

    Playing a team tough is one thing, but winning is another. The Pacers do have a better team than last year, and the addition of David West helps out a lot, but the Pacers aren't quite there yet.

    The Pacers are beating all the teams that they should be beating, but can they beat teams that are actually above .500?

    Pretender 

Dallas Mavericks

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    It is hard to believe that this was the Dallas Mavericks team that won a championship over the Miami Heat just a season ago, but you better believe it.

    Even with a horrible start for Dallas standards, the Mavericks are still one of the best defenses in the league. This is even after the fact that they lost Tyson Chandler in the offseason.

    This Mavericks team definitely did lose its fair share of players, but they gained people as well, one of them being Lamar Odom, who is not yet playing to his full potential.

    The problem with Dallas revolves around the offensive side of the ball, and a lot of that can be credited to Dirk Nowitzki's poor start. Once he gets going, Dallas is really going to step up its game and return to championship-caliber status.

    Contender 

Portland Trail Blazers

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    LaMarcus Aldridge is playing just as well as anyone this year, and he should finally make his first All-Star game. 

    Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton were great additions to this team in the offseason. This Blazers team certainly has its fair share of talent, but it is hard to say that they have enough talent to make a deep run in the playoffs this year.

    IF—and this is a big if—Portland can stay healthy, then it may very well be a contender, but as of right now I just do not see it contending for an NBA title.

    Pretender

New York Knicks

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    The New York Knicks had very high expectations entering this season, as they should have, but those expectations have meant nothing. 

    The Knicks are playing horribly. They are average on both sides of the ball, and they don't seem to want it as badly as the other team.

    The biggest reason for all of this chaos on the Knicks team is due to the fact that New York does not have a point guard.

    Let's be honest—the Knicks have some of the best talent in the league with Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony alone. Add Tyson Chandler to the equation and you have a great team, or so everyone thought.

    Back to the point guard issue. The Knicks desperately need one, and once Baron Davis comes back from injury this is going to be a completely different team. Davis is going to run this offense and get everyone back on the same page.

    Contender 

Atlanta Hawks

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    Why the Hawks got rid of Jamal Crawford remains a mystery to me. Crawford is an amazing player, and he was more than capable of starting on this team. Don't get me wrong—Jeff Teague is a great point guard, but Crawford is simply better.

    Besides that issue, Joe Johnson and Al Horford are the present and future of this team, not Josh Smith. Smith is an amazing player, but he is not a good fit in Atlanta. This mixed with the fact that Horford is injured makes the Hawks no better than they have been in the past year.

    The Hawks always make it to the second round of the playoffs just to get beaten by a better team year after year. What makes this season any different?

    Pretender 

Los Angeles Clippers

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    When the Clippers landed Chris Paul, Los Angeles became a true two-team NBA city. There has been so much hype on who the best team in L.A. is after the Paul trade, and there should be. 

    Now being called "Lob City," the Clippers are the new sheriffs in the town called L.A. 

    The Clippers easily have the best backcourt in the NBA with Chris Paul, Mo Williams and Chauncey Billups. All three of these men are having terrific seasons to say the least. There is more than enough depth in the Clippers backcourt.

    Caron Butler and DeAndre Jordan are two players who cannot go without being mentioned, and don't forget about Blake Griffin. There is no question that Griffin is the best dunker in the league, but he has so much more to offer than that. Don't be surprised when he is an MVP in this league. 

    Put all of these players together and you have the makings of a team that can challenge anyone in the NBA for a championship.

    Contender   

Orlando Magic

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    With Dwight Howard on the team, the Orlando Magic are just as good as anybody. Take Howard away and this team would not even compete. 

    Howard is easily the best center in the game today, but he is not the only good player on Orlando. The Magic also have Ryan Anderson, who has been putting up great numbers so far, and J.J. Redick, who is finally starting to play like he did at Duke.

    It took long enough, but Redick is just as good of a shooter as anyone in the NBA, and he is finally starting to show off his talent this year.

    The Magic need Jason Richardson to be healthy if they have any chance at a NBA championship, but the season is still young, and Richardson has plenty of time to heal.

    If Howard gets traded—which all signs are pointing to—who knows what Orlando will look like?

    Contender