5 NBA Teams That Must Not Be Counted out of Championship Hunt

Kyle Ramos@Kyle_RamosCorrespondent IDecember 5, 2012

5 NBA Teams That Must Not Be Counted out of Championship Hunt

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    It's early in the 2012-2013 NBA season, but it's never too early for fans and analysts alike to start counting teams out of the championship hunt.

    Slow starts or injured players are often the cause of a less-than-desirable record in the beginning parts of a season, but these reasonable explanations can often be bypassed by those who would rather jump to conclusions after just a few weeks of games.

    So instead of being too hasty with predictions, let's slow down a bit and take a look at five teams in the league that should not be written out of the championship hunt despite a slow start to the season.

5. Dallas Mavericks

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    There's been plenty of attention about the Chicago Bulls having to try and survive without their main superstar, but the fact that the Dallas Mavericks are having to do the same has been more overlooked.

    Mavs star forward Dirk Nowitzki is still recovering from an October knee surgery to repair a bothersome injury, so they have had to make do without him.

    The results for their makeshift team haven't exactly been stellar with their 8-9 record thus far, but there's still reason to believe that this team can thrive with a healthy Dirk Nowitzki. In Dirk's absence, Dallas guard O.J. Mayo, who the team acquired this past summer in free agency, has been playing notably well averaging around 20 points, three rebounds, and three assists to go with his 18.91 PER.

    When Nowitzki does return sometime in the coming months, he will hopefully be refreshed and revitalized, giving this team full of veterans a boost during the long season. With Dirk back in the lineup, the Mavs will also boast some quality depth off of the bench with guys like Darren Collison, Vince Carter, Elton Brand and Jae Crowder.

    There's work to be done with the chemistry of this team, but once they get their superstar back and maybe start winning some more games, this group of talented guys are bound to mesh a little quicker. When the team unity starts to form, the rest of the NBA should be aware that this Mavericks team could end up surprising a lot of people as the season progresses.

4. Boston Celtics

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    Even with the deflating loss of starting guard Ray Allen to the rival Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics were still widely considered to be one of the legitimate threats to the Heat's Eastern Conference crown coming into this season.

    It's been a rough start, however, for the Celtics as they have been leapfrogged in their own division by the Knicks, Nets and 76ers, leaving them sitting at a modest 9-8 and fourth in the Atlantic. This team so far doesn't exactly scream contender but don't let the slow start fool you too much.

    This Celtics team has a great core of veteran leaders in Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett who all have experience in bringing Boston to the championship promise land. Even with Ray Allen leaving, Boston made great moves to sign guards Jason Terry and Courtney Lee to fill the scoring void he left behind.

    Now with solid reserve guard Avery Bradley nearing his return to join other bench guys like Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger, the Celtics have a pretty deep team. Depth and experience are two significant factors in contending teams and Boston has a surplus of both of these. 

    The championship window is closing for Pierce and Garnett as they reach the twilight of their careers, so they should be extra motivated to make one last run at the gold this season in Boston.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    It's been a few seasons since the Minnesota Timberwolves were actually a relevant team in the playoff hunt, let alone a championship hunt. 

    A poor start at 7-8 is not really reflective of what this team is capable of, especially when they are at full strength.

    Once Minnesota gets star point guard Ricky Rubio back from his ACL injury and onto the court to run the team, there will be a noticeable change in the fluidity of the offense. You also can't forget two-time All-Star big man Kevin Love who has recently returned from a broken hand and wasted no time getting back into form (21.7 PPG, 15.3 RPG, 22.13 PER). 

    Though starting shooting guard Brandon Roy's troublesome knees continue to haunt him, the Wolves have gotten a lot of help from rookie Alexey Shved (10.4 PPG and 15.19 PER) and his fellow international players Andrei Kirilenko (13 PPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.8 BPG, 18.3 PER) and Nikola Pekovic (14.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 17.39 PER).

    With Rubio, Love and Roy all in the lineup and fully healthy, this team is dangerous on both ends of the ball and could make the leap from possible playoff team to contender faster than you'd think.

2. Indiana Pacers

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    After an impressive showing in the postseason last year against the Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers started to build a reputation as a possible force in the Eastern Conference going into the offseason.

    Unfortunately, the Pacers have fallen to the middle of the pack (9-9 through December 4th), showing signs that they miss their star and leading scorer, Danny Granger. Granger injured his left knee early in the season and is set to miss around two more months as a result. Without him, the Pacers have been forced to adapt and improvise, making do with what they have.

    While they aren't left completely empty-handed without Granger, thanks to Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill, his scoring presence is missed in the starting lineup.

    With Granger, Indiana is a very threatening team filled with depth and weapons to take down even the best of teams. It may take a little while for Granger to come back, so the Pacers will have to hold on tight until then, but when he does return, you can definitely count the Pacers amongst the top contenders in the East.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

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    The expectations are almost always sky-high for the Los Angeles Lakers, but the pressure to win another championship was bearing down extra hard coming into this season.

    We all know by now how productive the Lake Show was in the offseason (acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash), but as of right now, they don't have a lot to show for it other than an injured Nash and 8-10 record.

    Considering that the Lakers are loathed almost as much as they are loved in the sports world, many basketball fans have been enjoying L.A.'s slow start and are already counting them out of the Western Conference championship hunt in favor of the much stronger looking Oklahoma City Thunder.

    The turnaround from this start won't be an easy task for the Lakers, who already replaced head coach Mike Brown with Nash's former head coach, Mike D'Antoni. If they can learn anything from the Heat two seasons ago, it's that building a championship team, even with a bundle of superstars, takes time. Time, though, is something the Lakers don't have a lot of since Nash and Kobe are reaching the twilight of their careers and Howard is only locked in to his contract for the rest of the season.

    Even with these odds against them though, the talent alone on this team makes the Lakers very dangerous regardless of chemistry or contract negotiations. Once Nash heals up and the Lakers get back to full strength, we can finally get a good, reasonable look at this team and see just how good they may actually be.