The Los Angeles Lakers shook up this week's NBA Power Rankings after a crucial pickup of former Cleveland Cavalier point guard Ramon Sessions. While Oklahoma City remains the powerhouse of the West, the Lakers are quickly gaining ground since filling what was a glaring void at the PG position.
Sessions is not just any PG—he is a reliable, speedy ball-handler with terrific court vision and a progressing jump-shot; he notched 17 points and nine assists last night against Dallas, just to give you a sense. Sessions will provide Kobe with another—and heavily needed—level of support, which before was coming from the Lakers' two towers, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. L.A. just silenced the naysayers and became a viable threat for a Western Conference championship run.
But when you talk about the West, you ultimately have to consider two big questions.
First, is this San Antonio Spurs squad sustainable for a playoff run? Think about both the ages of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli as well as the Spurs' epic collapse against Memphis in the first round last year.
And second, will Oklahoma City play with the same intensity and consistency in the playoffs that has earned them the top spot in the West all season?
My chief concern about the Thunder, should they go far in the playoffs, is what happens when a solid defensive unit shuts down Westbrook and Durant? Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are defense-first players with average offensive games. James Harden is definitely an offensive threat, but not the kind of player who will dominate or win you games down the stretch (and neither will Daequan Cook nor Thabo Sefolosha).
No one would deny this team has a variety of effective pieces, but it's about being able to put those pieces together on a consistent basis—especially when the pressure is on—that will distinguish them when the NBA Finals are on the horizon.
The East poses a rather bizarre situation. There's an array of truly talented teams,—Orlando, Philadelphia and Indiana—but the level of play by the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls is simply, and rather obviously, overpowering. NBA fans and analysts alike would be stunned to see a team other than the Bulls or Heat reach the NBA Finals, and understandably so.
Both Miami and Chicago have been phenomenal this season. The Bulls boast the best record across the NBA at 39-10. The Heat are just three games behind, but they also own a ridiculously impressive 20-2 record at home.
It will ultimately come down to whether or not the Bulls can use their speed and craftiness to subdue the Heat's trio of superstars. Unfortunately for the Heat, I don't see them winning one, or two, or three, or four, or five, or six championships any time soon; rather, I see a Bulls team led by Derrick Rose winning their well-deserved championship.
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