The National Basketball Association gave us a 66 game treat this winter. The league's suits pieced together a collective bargaining deal in time to allow millions of Americans (not to mention the increasing global audience) to see the game they love most.
And here comes the finale. With March looming and the madness ending, the NBA postseason is on the horizon. 30 teams will grind and hustle in order to be a part of the most highly anticipated postseason in recent memory.
Will Lebron James win his first ring? Will Kobe match Michael Jordan with six of them? Are Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook going to prove that they are mature enough and prepared enough to win a title?
We know those are just a few of the big teams in the running for the Larry O'Brien Trophy this Spring, but what about some of the teams that haven't gotten as much attention? Can other rosters among the league make a Dallas Maverick-esque splash in the upcoming 2012 postseason?
Here are three rosters playoff teams and fans alike cannot afford to count out of the playoff scramble.
And the scariest thing about this roster is that even if they maintain their stance as the number two ranked team in the Western Conference everybody will still write them off because of their age. They might be one of the first number two seeds in an NBA postseason going into the playoffs with a pseudo-underdog mentality.
Despite the lack of respect, this team has a familiar core, with undeniable veteran leadership. They could even be called the Anti-Thunder. They're easily 8-deep, as their roster features Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal, Stephen Jackson, and Boris Diaw.
With an influx of youthful talent, and a very familiar foundation of experienced veterans, this is not a team to take lightly come the playoffs. Coach Gregg Popovich has regularly rested his vets throughout the season in preparation for the looming postseason. Plus, 'Pop has been in this position before, and has picked up four championship titles along the way.
This team is in it for the long haul.
Memphis can wreak havoc for a second straight postseason due to their above average defense and pure athleticism. This team can match up against the athleticism of both of the Los Angeles rosters (who currently sit at the third and fourth seeds).
Tony Allen, 30, is the premiere perimeter defender the association has to offer. The shooting guard has the postseason experience and athleticism to match up with Kobe Bryant, if needed, and can serve in his role beyond expectations.
Along with Allen, the Grizz boast a solid roster that includes Mike Conley, O.J Mayo, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Rudy Gay. Zach Randolph is the oldest of the core, at 30 years and 8 months of age, which could present a problem for aging teams (like it did for San Antonio last postseason).
Not only could the Memphis pack match the Lakers' personnel, but it could also keep up with the Clippers' athleticism. Both Conley and Allen could slow down Chris Paul, and Marc Gasol (part of the upper echelon of shot-swatters this season) could protect the paint from the likes of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
They say that defense wins championships, and while I know that this probably won't hold true entirely with the Grizzlies, they certainly have the potential to at least match what they did last April and May.
The Sixers emerged hot at the start of the 66 game schedule, cooled off once Spencer Hawes got hit by the injury bug hiding in the locker room at the Wells Fargo Center, and have started to hit their stride once again. They stand above the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks in the Atlantic Division.
Despite the Big 4 Boston employs, and the Linsanity that New York underwent, Philadelphia still stands atop the division, and they did it through hustle, limiting mistakes, and good ol' team-ball basketball.
Nobody on the team averages above 16 points a night, but five roster members average double digits. They lead the league in TOPG (Turnovers Per Game), with a phenomenal 11.0 TOPG. They have arguably the best defense in the league, as they hold their opponents to just 87.6 PPG as team. That's not only the best mark in the conference—its best in the league.
Coach Doug Collins has definitely succeeded in getting this team to play the way that he did as a player: smart, well-rounded, and energetic on both ends of the floor.
This team is not an easy out at a current fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.