Top 10 Title Contenders
1. The Los Angeles Lakers can win it all if…
Kobe Bryant can rise to occasion in the NBA finals and Andrew Bynum can continue to become a more assertive player. Kobe has got to do better than shoot .404 percent from the field in the NBA Finals, which he did last year.
Kobe seemed to start off games in the NBA finals hot, cool down, and never get his stroke back. Since Kobe is supposed to be the Lakers so called "closer," he has to do a better job of taking over games than he did in last years NBA finals; especially in the fourth quarter.
However, if Bynum played in last year's playoffs, the Lakers might not have needed Kobe to shoot better. Bynum has played well so far this year, but he still hasn’t come close to tapping his potential.
If Bynum continues to improve and build his confidence, the Lakers will be hard to beat.
2. The Cleveland Cavaliers can win it all if….
LeBron plays similar in the playoffs to the great all-around game he played against the Celtics on Friday night with statistics of 38 points, three treys, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals, and three blocks.
LeBron underperformed in the playoffs last year, and it cost the Cavaliers. If LeBron could have improved his .411 field-goal percentage and .257 three-point percentage in the playoffs last year, the Cavaliers probably would have beaten the Celtics in the second round.
Against the Celtics, LeBron shot consistently well inside and outside, and dominated defensively. LeBron has taken his defense to a new level this year, but what still cautions me is LeBron’s tendency to take too many three pointers.
When LeBron’s shot is on like it was Friday, LeBron should be shooting perimeter shots. However, there are too many times when LeBron shot isn’t on, yet he continues forcing up three-pointers.
If LeBron settles for three-point shots in the playoffs on nights when his perimeter shooting is off and doesn’t attack the basket, the Cavaliers won’t win a championship.
A quick solution to this would be for LeBron to improve his three-point accuracy, but that’s unlikely to happen this year.
The Cavaliers are playing defense at a championship level, but they're only going to go as far as King James can take them offensively.
3. The Boston Celtics can win it all if….
Their reserves play better, Rajon Rondo finds a way to consistently play at an all-star level, or if they find another point guard to take some pressure off of Rondo—Stephon Marbury perhaps?
I always felt as though last year the Celtics' bench overachieved and this year they are proving that to be true. Besides missing James Posey, the Celtics bench players just aren’t playing good enough right now.
The Celtics need to add a couple veteran pieces before the playoffs this year in order to win. In the Celtics' recent poor stretch, the one obvious problem has been Rondo’s play.
Earlier in the year, he seemed more confident and in command, and many thought he was playing at an all-star level. When Rondo doesn’t play well, he tends to be a liability for the Celtics as other players tend not to play well either.
When his shooting is off, teams tend to shy away from him defensively and dare him to shoot, making it harder for the other Celtics to find openings. Rondo is a very streaky player who thrives on confidence and the Celtics can’t afford for him to be inconsistent in the playoffs.
Rumors of Marbury going to the Celtics seem to be going around and while many might not agree with this possibility, I believe that Stephon Marbury can help the Celtics out on nights when Rondo is off.
Not to mention, Marbury’s ability to score from the perimeter will help spread the floor and keep defenses more honest than with Rondo playing. Getting Marbury can’t hurt the Celtics because they can always cut him if he becomes a problem.
However, I believe since this is Marbury’s last chance and he will be playing on a championship team full of veterans, he won’t be turn out to be a problem.
4. The San Antonio Spurs can win it all if…..
The younger teams in the West don’t surpass them. The Spurs seem to win the title every other year, so they are on schedule to win it this year.
Unlike the other contenders, when the Spurs are healthy, we know what we're going to get from them almost every night. The Spurs have gotten older, but they are still the No. 2 seed in the west so far, and they look like they could to go far in the playoffs.
Ultimately, the Spurs seemed to have reached their peak already, and I fear that other younger teams in the west are only going to get better and surpass them if they haven’t already (See Lakers above).
5. The New Orleans Hornets can win it all if….
Their bench improves and they find some consistency. The Hornets have been a very inconsistent team all year. On some nights they look like an NBA Championship contender, and others night they play poorly.
Their four games last week from Saturday to Thursday were a microcosm of there season. On Jan. 2, they beat the Blazers by 15, but the next night they lost to Denver by five.
Then on Jan. 6, they beat the Lakers, who are arguably the best team in the NBA, by 11; however, the next night they lost to Utah by 26.
The Hornets desperately need their bench players to improve or they need to make a trade and find another couple players.
If the Hornets' bench can improve, it will also go along away in making them more consistent as well.
6. The Phoenix Suns can win it all if….
Their offense continues to find that perfect balance and their defense continues to improve. In their 128-100 victory against the Mavericks on Friday night, the Suns showed what kind of team they are capable of being.
Their execution was almost perfect on Friday night as their offense and defense was working on all cylinders. Their inside and outside offensive game was excellent all night and everyone played their role well.
Their defense seemed to be more intense in the second half as they only allowed 42 points, but they still need to improve on playing good defense for a full game.
Shaq’s been playing at an all-star level and appears to have rolled the clocks back a few years. When playoff time comes, his toughness should be very useful for a so-called “soft” Suns team.
However, the two main things the Suns need to improve are their pick-n-roll defense and their failure to stop committing turnovers on a regular basis.
In the beginning of the year, it seemed as though Porter’s new offense was too slow and many of the Suns’ players were being under utilized.
However, since the Jason Richardson trade, the team seems to have found that perfect balance between a fast and slow pace offense.
The team is 8-3 with Richardson and could be 11-0 if not for three last minute break downs against the Blazers, Spurs, and Pacers.
7. The Houston Rockets can win it all if….
They can stay healthy, continue to improve there team chemistry, and rise to the occasion in the playoffs. A team with Ron Artest, Tracy McGrady, and Yao Ming is too talented not to contend.
However, all three of these players have been banged up at some point this year, and they haven’t been able to develop great team chemistry yet.
My other concern is that these three players also haven’t been known for rising to the occasion in the playoffs, especially Yao and McGrady; so we never know what to expect from them.
8. The Detroit Pistons can win it all if….
Their veterans and youth mix well enough by playoff time. Allen Iverson is still trying to find his role on the team, and the Pistons right now don’t have good enough team chemistry to make it out of the second round.
They clearly miss Chauncey Billups, but it’s not as if they were a true championship contender with him the last three years anyway. There is no doubt that the Pistons have a lot of talent, but they don’t seem to play hard or be on the same page every night.
Although right now they aren’t a top-eight team in the league, if somehow the Pistons can figure out a way to put things together, their ceiling will be much higher than many other teams who might be playing better than them right now.
9. The Orlando Magic can win it all if….
Howard can develop a better post game. The Magic are a great team, but I believe that they are a couple years away from truly being able to win a championship.
They have a great record, but last year the Magic showed that a regular season record doesn’t always prove to mean that much. As great as Howard is, he has the potential to be even better.
He still relies more on his athleticism than fundamentals and when he does reach his prime, the others teams in the NBA are going to be in trouble.
10. The Portland Trail Blazers can win it all if they….
Wait 'til 2011. They have a lot of young talent, but they are still two years away from contending. If they somehow age quicker than expected and become serious contenders, I will be shocked.
Sorry Mavericks, Nuggets, Jazz, and Hawks fans...
I don’t think these teams have any chance of being true contenders this year. They have talent on their teams, but I don’t see any championship potential from these teams this year or next year.