This is the time of the year when elite NBA teams start to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. While some teams are in relax-mode, saving their bodies for a deep playoff run, others are vying for seeding and emerging.
Even though there are so many teams in the playoffs, many experts are looking to just a few to be threats to win in June.
The Chicago Bulls have kept the one seed for a large percentage of the season. Having a winning record is a plus, but the Bulls have been hampered by the injury bug. It seems every week the team is updating fans on a player’s injury status.
Derrick Rose has missed a lot of time. His aggressive type of play ala Allen Iverson is probably one of the reasons for that. Then, you have an older veteran like Rip Hamilton, who should be called “one-ply” because he breaks so easily. Tom Thibodeau has to be an automatic for Coach of the Year. He has accomplished so much with so little star power. The Bulls have the deepest bench in the league, but will that be adequate to win a title?
The Miami Heat are probably the best team in the Eastern Conference, but they are in auto-pilot currently. When you have the talent pool that they have, its easy to turn the button on and off at any moment. The Heat probably have the best transition offense in relation to steals and defensive rebounds.
Fans have seen so many highlights of full-court passes and half-court alley-oops this year you would think they are playing in a NBA 2K12. While last year the Heat had chemistry issues, the roles of each player have been more ingrained and enforced, which has made them the dynamic power to be reckoned with in the 2012 playoffs.
Best chance of winning their conference?
The young and determined Oklahoma City Thunder are on a roll. Behind the offensive machine of Kevin Durant, they are outscoring teams at will. There was talk of Thunder trading Russell Westbrook early in the season because he wants to be the go-to-guy of a team. It was a wise choice by management to keep him, because he found his niche within the team.
Oklahoma City has kept their foot on the pedal since the All-Star break. The team has one of the highest rankings in points per game, and it leads the NBA in blocks per game. Ever since the L.A. Lakers had their problems internally, from trade rumors to dealing with the youth of other teams, the Thunder have become the perennial favorites in the Western Conference.
Las Vegas has these three teams on the radar to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Heat opened up at 5/2, and now are at 6/5. The Bulls opened at 13/2, and are not at 5/1. The Thunder opened at 7/1, but now are at 6/1.
Unless you are betting on a long shot, the smart money should be on one of these three teams.