Five NBA Teams Poised to Return to Playoffs Next Season
Fourteen of the 16 teams that made the playoffs this season also made it the season before, but don't expect that number to be as high in 2013.
While there is a huge gap between the best and worst teams, the NBA gives the league's worst teams multiple chances to improve throughout the year.
Some teams, like the Charlotte Bobcats and Detroit Pistons, are still multiple pieces away from being a playoff contender. Fans can safely presume that both teams will be in the lottery again next year.
However, that isn't the case for all the teams that missed the playoffs last season.
The condensed season made last season unique, and we will likely see a few teams that are more efficient over the span of a normal regular season.
For new teams to make the playoffs, some of last year's participants will have to miss out.
A prime example of a team that isn't likely to make the playoffs is the Orlando Magic, who have made the playoffs in each of the past six seasons. They are facing an uphill battle if they hope to make the postseason for the seventh straight time.
In the Western Conference, the Utah Jazz are far from a sure thing to qualify for the playoffs.
Here are a handful of teams that are poised to make a run at the postseason.
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The Brooklyn Nets have had a busy offseason. Prior to opening the Barclays Center this fall, the Nets convinced Deron Williams to re-sign and traded for stand-out shooting guard Joe Johnson.
While Johnson does have a horrible contract, if trading for him helped to convince Williams to re-sign, then he is worth every penny.
Without Williams, the Nets would have moved to Brooklyn as a team destined to miss the playoffs. With Williams and Johnson, the Nets should be a playoff team next season.
Brook Lopez is one of the best big men in the league on the offensive end of the court, even if his play on the defensive end of the court and on the glass is lackluster.
Kris Humphries, who will start at power forward, is a beast on the boards. He will be expected to lead the team in rebounding while trying to make up for Lopez's lack of production on the glass.
Small forward Gerald Wallace, who also chose to re-sign with the Nets, is among the best wing defenders in the league and will be asked to shut down the opposition's best forward.
There is no reason that the Nets should finish worst than sixth place in the Eastern Conference next season. Williams is one of the better players in the Eastern Conference and has already led a playoff team when he played for the Utah Jazz.
Head coach Avery Johnson led the Dallas Mavericks to the 2006 NBA Finals where they were overcome by the Miami Heat.
The Nets haven't reached the playoffs since 2007, but that needs to change next season.
If the Nets hope to threaten the Knicks' hold on New York, then they must outplay them on the court.
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Last season, the Minnesota Timberwolves finished with a 26-40 record which was good for 12th in the West.
The year end win-loss total doesn't tell the whole story, because the Wolves were in playoff contention until rookie sensation Ricky Rubio went down with a knee injury.
The Wolves also have arguably the best power forward in all of basketball in Kevin Love.
Love's dominance on the glass and ability to consistently hit shots from behind the arc make him one of the most valuable players in the NBA.
As long as the Wolves have Love, they will be worth watching as he is a franchise changing- caliber player.
During the offseason, the Wolves signed Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko to go with Rubio, Love and breakout center Nikola Pekovic.
While Roy is coming out of retirement, there is no lack of optimism that he will be able to play at a high level. If he is able to reach anything near his previous level of play, then the Wolves would have gotten a complete steal.
Before Roy's knees forced him to retire, he was one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA. He also made the All-NBA Second Team in 2009.
No one should expect Roy to average the 19 points per game that he did during the first part of his career, but anything he brings to the table will help supplement what Love and Rubio will be sure to contribute.
In Kirilenko, the Wolves will be getting an excellent defender at the forward position who has played in the NBA for 10 seasons. While he may not be worth the $10 million he will be getting in each of the next two seasons, he should help improve Minnesota's defense.
Last season, the Wolves finished 25th in the league in points allowed. They need to improve on the defensive end in order to make the playoffs. Kirilenko should contribute on defense immediately, and if he aids in a playoff run, then he will be worth the money.
The Western Conference isn't easy by any meaning of the word, but Minnesota has the talent to fight for one of the final playoff berths.
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In the two seasons since Bosh left, the Raptors have gone 45-103 and haven't even sniffed the playoffs.
That could be about to change due to savvy moves made by GM Jerry Colangelo.
Lowry was in the midst of a breakout season before injuries and differences with head coach Kevin McHale derailed his campaign.
While the Raptors originally tried to sign the league's best Canadian, Steve Nash, Lowry is an excellent consolation prize. If Lowry continues to progress like he did last year, then we may look back and view the Raptors as fortunate for not signing Nash and trading for Lowry.
Andrea Bargnani, who the team took with the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, was having his best season in the NBA prior to suffering a calf injury.
In the games that he was able to play, Bargnani averaged 19.5 points, 5.5 rebounds on 43.2 percent shooting. His long-range game makes him difficult for big men across the league to guard because most of his assignments prefer to play in the paint.
The Raptors will also welcome their last two first-round picks when Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross join the team this fall. According to Chad Ford of ESPN Insider via Beckley Mason of ESPN.com, if Valanciunas had been in this year's draft, he would have been the second pick after Anthony Davis.
The Raptors defense improved dramatically last season under Dwane Casey, and they should get even better in year two.
One thing is certain, the Raptors will be better than the 23-43 record that they finished with last season. If Toronto isn't in contention for one of the last seeds in the Eastern Conference, then I would be surprised.
Golden State Warriors
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The Golden State Warriors will field one of the league's most complete starting lineups next season.
Stephen Curry may be the best shooting point guard in the NBA and is a solid defender. While he did struggle with injuries last season, that could be written off as an abnormality due to the condensed season.
Klay Thompson, who averaged 20 points per game in the last five games of last season, will be expected to continue to make strides in year two.
In the draft, the Warriors were fortunate enough to see Harrison Barnes fall to them at the seventh spot.
Barnes will start the season for Golden State at small forward thus filling their biggest need.
A strong argument could be made that the Warriors have the best shooting backcourt in the NBA. For them to make the playoffs next season, they will be dependent on their three-point shooting.
David Lee and Carl Landry will form one of the better power forward tandems in the league and will ensure that the Warriors have a solid rebounder on the floor at all times.
Prior to the trading deadline last season, the Warriors traded Monta Ellis to the Bucks for Andrew Bogut.
Bogut is one of the better centers in the league. When healthy, he is a clear advantage in today's game, where there is a lack of quality big men.
In order to make the playoffs, the Warriors will have to play better defense. Last season, they finished 28th in points allowed, which simply won't cut it for a playoff team.
While high-octane offenses are effective, there comes a time that successful teams need to make stops on the defensive end of the court. The Warriors have to prove that they are capable to do so this season if they want to take the next step.
If everything clicks for Golden State, then they will be in contention for a playoff spot. Their offense has the potential to be good enough to score with anyone, but there are questions on the defensive end.
Head coach Mark Jackson will have his players competing hard and could have them playing into the playoffs in 2013.
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The Washington Wizards are by far the most controversial team on this list because they have been bad for a long time, including last season.
Earlier in the offseason, the Wizards traded for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. They will join Nene to form a veteran frontcourt that should be solid.
While nobody is going to be afraid to pound the ball inside against them, the Wizards figure to be consistent inside and on the glass. That is something you couldn't say about their team at the start of last season.
With the third selection in this year's draft, Washington selected Florida guard Bradley Beal.
Beal is expected to be the shooter and playmaker to complement John Wall. But we shouldn't forget that Beal is a rookie and only shot 33.9 percent from behind the arc last year at Florida.
The Wizards will go as far as Wall takes them this season, and I could see it going either way. But at the end of the day, I think the Wizards have enough talent to at least compete admirably this season.
If head coach Randy Wittman plays his cards right, then the Wizards may find themselves in the playoffs for the first time in the Wall era.