NBA Playoffs: Favorites, Contenders, and Dark Horses

michael hellerCorrespondent IMarch 24, 2008

March is always a big basketball month.

However, usually most of the madness is around college hoops and the NCAA tournament.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t watch it. On the contrary, the tourney can be extremely exciting.  But if it's excitement you’re looking for:  watch the NBA. 

Although the NBA has lost some interest as of late, 2007-2008 has brought intense competition the league has not seen in years.

Thanks to a boatload of major deadline deals, the NBA’s Western Conference is considered one of the strongest ever. It is so deep, that if the season ended now, the Denver Nuggets would be out of the playoffs with two All-Star starters and a .600 winning percentage. 

There is not as much depth in the East, but its top teams are up there with the West. However, the East cannot be considered in the same class as the West when a team with a sub .400 winning percentage still has a chance at the eighth seed.  

Here is my list of teams from each conference that can win it all in the playoffs. 


Eastern Conference

The Favorites

1. Boston Celtics: Hold the NBA’s best record; the "big three" have taken Boston by storm.

2. Detroit Pistons: Second best record in the NBA; have been mainstays in the conference finals this decade.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James.  Need I say more? 


The Contenders

4. Orlando Magic: Dwight Howard is having a career year, Hedo Turkoglu has become an All-Star caliber player, and the addition of Rashard Lewis has propelled them to a third-place record in the east.

5. Washington Wizards: They stayed afloat without Gilbert Arenas; they will be a force to be reckoned with when he returns.

6. Toronto Raptors: They have a good young group of players and now have playoff experience after their first round exit at the hands of the NJ Nets.

7. Philadelphia 76ers: They are one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now, but need at least the sixth seed to have any hope of advancing past the first round of the playoffs. 


The Dark Horses

8. Atlanta Hawks: If Mike Bibby gels with the rest of the offense, they may have a shot.

9. New Jersey Nets: They are a streaky team; could they get streaky at the right time?

10. Indiana Pacers: If Jermaine O’Neal comes back healthy, they could make a playoff push. 


Western Conference

The Favorites

1. LA Lakers: The Pau Gasol trade was a steal, Kobe Bryant is playing at an incredible level, and once they get Bynum and everyone else back and healthy, they will also be the deepest team in the NBA.

2. New Orleans Hornets: David West is having a great season, but than again I’d look like an all star too if I had Chris Paul on my team.

3. San Antonio Spurs: The defending champions: have won 4 NBA titles in the last 9 years, so how can they not be amongst the favorites? 


The Contenders

4. Houston Rockets: Their 22-game winning streak rocketed them up in the standings, but how will they fare against the best in the west in a seven game series?

5. Phoenix Suns: Just when we thought that the Shaq experiment failed, Phoenix is back to only a half a game out of first place in the west!

6. Utah Jazz: They seem to fly under the radar a bit, but they are just as good as the rest of the top teams in the west.

7. Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki out for two weeks!!! The Mavs have to hope that Jason Kidd can step up his game and keep the Mavericks in the playoffs until he gets back. 


The Dark Horses

8. Golden State Warriors: Maybe they have some magic left over for another upset, but first they have to fight to keep their playoff spot.

9. Denver Nuggets: With so much talent, how can they not be in the playoffs? It proves how wild the West really is.

10. Portland Trail Blazers: They probably won’t make the playoffs, but this was a promising season for them. They will have Greg Oden next year as well as a lottery pick, so the future looks bright. 


The NBA is so exciting that if I did this again next week, there would probably be drastic changes. Let's just hope that this carries over into the playoffs!