Kevin Garnett and the Celtics are primed to perform in the playoffs.
With the 2012 NBA playoffs upon us, it is time to brace ourselves for the most exciting basketball of the year.
The playoff lineups are almost set, with just a few games left in the regular season. The 2012 NBA season saw the rise of the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers, the media frenzy about Jeremy Lin, the MVP debate between LeBron James and Kevin Durant, and let's not forget the Dwight Howard saga.
But almost all of that is past us, and it's time to look ahead to the playoffs, and to who will have a shot at winning the NBA Championship.
Who will be this year's Dallas Mavericks and advance deep into the playoffs? Who will be the San Antonio Spurs of last year and fizzle out to a lower seed? Which teams with regular season success will struggle in the postseason?
It's time to look at the contenders and pretenders in the 2012 NBA playoffs.
Read on to find out which teams will thrive or die down in the 2012 postseason.
One of the teams that benefited most from making a move at the trade deadline was the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers moved longtime point guard Derek Fisher to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and they brought in younger point guard Ramon Sessions from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Kobe Bryant is one of the game's best, as he leads the league in scoring by a significant margin at age 33. He is far and away the game's best closer. However, Kobe is recovering from a shin injury, and he would need to be at 100 percent for the playoffs.
Los Angeles has two top-10 big men in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Bynum has developed into the dominant center that the Lakers were hoping for when they drafted him 10th overall. He is averaging 18.9 points per game and 12.1 rebounds per game. Bynum also tacks on nearly two blocks a game. Gasol is averaging about 17.4 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game.
The Lakers have the key pieces in their starters, but their bench is sorely lacking in effectiveness. As of late, however, the bench is starting to improve a little bit.
If the Lakers can stay healthy, and the bench produces a little more, Los Angeles could see some success in the postseason.
The Orlando Magic are done.
Even though Orlando has clinched a playoff spot, they have almost no shot at advancing in the postseason. The Magic are projected to play the Indiana Pacers in the first round, who have been surprisingly good this year.
The Magic lost star center Dwight Howard for the year, who is widely considered the best big man and the best defensive player in the league. After Howard, there is very little on the bench and among starters.
Orlando ranks 21st in points per game and 21st in assists per game. The former should go down, as Howard was the Magic's leading scorer. The Magic rank 11th in rebounds and seventh in points allowed. Both ranks should go down—Howard led the team with 14.5 rebounds per game and 2.1 blocks per game.
Glen Davis has taken over the starting role at center, but he hasn't done much to prove that he deserves it.
Orlando's management is also dealing with the fact that Howard is upset with current head coach Stan Van Gundy and said that he wouldn't play for Van Gundy any more. There is way too much going on in the Magic front office.
The forecast doesn't look bright for the Orlando Magic in the postseason. I would be shocked if they won more than two games in the first round.
The Memphis Grizzlies are possibly the most dangerous under-the-radar team going into the playoffs.
When Zach Randolph partially tore his MCL on New Year's Day, it looked like the Grizzlies would need to fight hard to keep their footing in the Western Conference. But now, Randolph is back, and the Grizzlies are primed to make a deep postseason run.
Last year, Memphis surprised everyone by squeaking into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed and upended the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs in six games. In the second round, the Grizz took Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City to seven games before losing in the last game of the series.
Memphis has a very solid core of players this year, including Randolph, Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay and Tony Allen. The Grizzlies are getting solid point guard play from Mike Conley. Z-Bo and Gasol add size in the front court. Gay is a proficient scorer, and Allen is one of the best defensive players in the league.
Memphis is locked into the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference, and they have a very good chance of making it deep into the later rounds.
Last year, everyone forgot about Memphis. This year, everyone is forgetting about Memphis. That's just the way they like it.
The Grizz will win their first-round matchup against (most likely) the Clippers.
The Los Angeles Clippers, while exciting and exhilarating, are a weak team that won't hold up in the playoffs.
The glaring issue with the Clippers is their defense. Los Angeles is way too inconsistent on the defensive side of the ball to stifle any sort of half-decent offense. Their defense is far from playoff-caliber. The Clippers often seem to show no desire to keep their opponent from scoring points.
Head coach Vinny Del Negro has been on the hot seat since mid-season. His offensive game plan is too predictable; the Clippers either run isolation with Blake Griffin, high ball screens with Griffin and Chris Paul, or they let Chris Paul work his magic. If opposing defenses shut down Paul and Griffin, the Clippers don't have too much offense left. The Nick Young trade hasn't worked out yet, and DeAndre Jordan has yet to develop into a dominant center.
The Clippers lack veteran leadership on the roster, as the lone player with serious playoff experience was Chauncey Billups, who is lost for the year to injury. Los Angeles is too young and inexperienced to win in the playoffs.
The Clippers have done a good job of ridding the franchise of the cellar-dweller reputation, but, as fun as it was, Lob City will come to a painful end in the first round.
Once written off at the All-Star break, the Boston Celtics are back with one thing in mind: winning a championship before the Big Three disband.
There were many concerns about the age of the Celtics and the ability to close out games. The Celtics are a rejuvenated squad with a vengeance. They want to prove everyone wrong about them being "old" and "washed-up."
The Celtics have used a well-timed run and an incredible defense to launch themselves into first place in the Atlantic Division and into the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Kevin Garnett, who seemed to be playing just for the sake of playing in January and early February, has rebounded to become the emotional leader for this team. Garnett's production on the floor isn't bad either, as he averages 16 points per game, 8.3 rebounds per game and about a block per game.
Rajon Rondo has cemented himself as one of the best point guards in the NBA, and he has dished out double-digit dimes in 23 straight games that he's played in. Rondo is one of the better rebounding point guards, and his scoring has improved over the course of the season. He has also recorded an NBA-leading six triple-doubles.
Paul Pierce is an excellent scoring option, and he is clutch late in games. Ray Allen is recovering from an injury, but he should be back for the postseason. His replacement, Avery Bradley, has been outstanding in a starting role, averaging about 15 points per game. The Boston bench, once thought of as a liability, is now an asset, with players like Allen, Greg Stiemsma and Mickael Pietrus.
The Celtics will benefit from having a spread-out schedule in the postseason and a very strong defense. With the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls banged up, the Celtics might have a shot at the conference title.
The New York Knicks are uber-talented, but they will struggle in the tough playoff atmosphere.
Last year, the Knicks signed big man Amar'e Stoudemire to a mega-contract during the free agency period that saw LeBron James go to the Miami Heat. At the trade deadline last year, the Knicks pulled off a deal that brought Carmelo Anthony to New York. Over this past offseason, the Knicks signed center Tyson Chandler, who is known as one of the best centers in the league.
However, this mix of All-Star players hasn't worked out for the Knicks. Despite incredible talent, the Knicks sit tied for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. A slip-up could land them the last seed in the playoffs.
The Knicks have experienced the phenomenon that was Linsanity, the firing of head coach Mike D'Antoni and patches of frustrating inconsistency. The Knicks have too much drama and off-the-court attention to advance in the postseason.
The "three-headed monster" that was supposed to be Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler has turned out to be a bad mix of egos and ball-hogging. The Knicks just don't have the chemistry that a championship team needs to have.
The New York Knicks are certainly one of the most talented teams in the league, but will struggle to win games in the playoffs until they find an identity.