The NBA regular season is officially within the final month of play. NBA postseason fever is upon us, and fans will soon have a better idea of which matchups will be featured next April.
There are many teams that will cause a threat in the postseason in different ways. Here are some of the teams no one will look forward to facing in the 2013 NBA playoffs.
You probably noticed the asterisk next to the Chicago Bulls' name on the title of this slide. You probably also noticed the picture of superstar point guard Derrick Rose shooting off of one leg while rehabbing from his torn ACL injury.
This, of course, is the biggest factor in what to make of the Bulls' playoff chances. With Rose, Chicago was one of the most dominant teams in the Eastern Conference last season.
Without Rose, Chicago was upset by the No. 8 seed Philadelphia 76ers as the Bulls lost their leading scorer in Game 1 of the opening round of the 2012 NBA playoffs.
Rose has not played since last April, and although the Bulls are not the same team without him, they have been capable of securing a potential playoff birth as they currently hold the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The speculation of Derrick Rose's return automatically makes Chicago a much larger threat for opponents in the postseason if, of course, he can play up to his full potential. Nate Robinson has played well in Rose's absence, and forcing a less-than-healthy Derrick Rose onto the court would not be a wise decision in any way.
However, if you get the same Derrick Rose who just two seasons ago became the youngest MVP in NBA history, Chicago will definitely be a team that no one will look forward to facing and could end up pulling off a major upset while holding a lower seed.
The Los Angeles Lakers have been nothing short of a Hollywood drama this season. The Lakers entered the season with high expectations and a starting lineup that had a former All-Star at every position.
However, the Lakers were terrible out of the gate. Head coach Mike Brown was fired after just five games and a 1-4 overall record.
Mike D'Antoni was hired in a controversial decision that left fans scratching their heads when former coach Phil Jackson showed interest in coming out of retirement. Dwight Howard's relationship with Kobe Bryant has been magnified, analyzed and scrutinized all season and team chemistry has been questioned.
But the biggest problem for Los Angeles has been injuries. The injury bug has plagued the Lakers all season.
Steve Nash was injured in the Lakers' season opener and didn't return until late-December. Backup forward Jordan Hill is believed to be out for the remainder of the season, although Mark Medina of InsideSoCal.com reported on Sunday that he may be back sooner.
Pau Gasol has missed a major part of the season, and although he is scheduled to return soon, the exact date is unknown. Dwight Howard has played through injuries all season and some less-than-stellar play at times has been apparent. However, Howard looks to finally be closer to 100 percent and has played like the Howard of old as of late.
But the biggest injury may have come last week as Los Angeles finally looked to be back at full strength. Kobe Bryant, who has had one of his best individual seasons of his Hall of Fame career, suffered an injury to his left ankle in the Lakers' loss to Atlanta.
Never one to miss playing time, Kobe has played through injuries and put off surgery for the majority of his career. The problem is: How healthy will The Black Mamba be by the postseason?
The Lakers have won six of their last seven and finally look like the team many expected entering the 2011-12 season. With a healthy Kobe, Dwight Howard and the rest of their starting lineup, the Lakers may be much better than their No. 8 seed suggests.
Don't look now but the Memphis Grizzlies are 15-6 since trading Rudy Gay to Toronto. Memphis currently owns the No. 4 seed and trails San Antonio by just six games for the Southwestern division lead and best record in the Western Conference.
Not bad for a team that many people believed to be written off when they traded the player many regard to be its "one true superstar." But that's what the Grizzlies are.
They're a team of many great under-the-radar players like Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, who make up one of the best frontcourts in the NBA. Memphis has gained some playoff experience the last few seasons, but its lack of success closing out a series may cause skepticism.
But the Grizzlies are a grit-and-grind basketball team, earning the FedEx forum—a place where the Grizzlies have a 25-8 home record—the nickname "The Grindhouse." Memphis will bully weaker teams under the boards and will definitely be a tough matchup for teams lacking a dominant post presence.
The Grizzlies also gained playoff experience with the acquisition of former NBA champion Tayshaun Prince in the Rudy Gay trade. Prince brings a veteran presence to a young Memphis team and will definitely be a positive factor moving into the postseason.
Teams will not look forward to facing Memphis come playoff time. This is a team that can do some serious damage in the postseason if it plays up to its full potential and may surprise fans unfamiliar with Grizzlies basketball.
Much like Memphis, the Denver Nuggets not only have a talented core of young players, but also have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA as of late. Denver is currently riding an 11-game winning streak and sits in the No. 5 seed in the West.
Ty Lawson has emerged as a superstar this season, and people are starting to take notice. The former national champion has played his best basketball since his days as a UNC Tar Heel.
Lawson leads Denver with 16.8 PPG and 7.0 APG. Kenneth Faried is also an explosive young talent who continues to develop into a great player.
Faried leads the Nuggets with 9.8 RPG and trails Lawson with an average of 11.8 points per game. The young Nuggets team has also benefited from the presence of veteran swingman Andre Iguodala.
The 29-year-old is the most experienced player on the Nuggets starting five and trails only 13-year veteran Andre Miller amongst the entire Nuggets roster.
Denver is a well-rounded scoring threat with four of their five starters averaging in double figures. The Nuggets bench is also capable of impressive performances, with the athletic JaVale McGee and Wilson Chandler giving the Nuggets a spark and solid playing time.
It will be interesting to see how the Nuggets' season plays out. If Denver continues its winning ways, it may end the season with a higher seed. However, this is a dangerous team regardless of where it ranks entering the postseason.
Gregg Popovich manages to do it every year. Somehow the Spurs continue to age and—much like a fine wine—seem to improve doing so.
San Antonio currently holds the No.1 seed in the Western Conference and are tied with Miami for the most wins in the NBA. And yet, the Spurs have done it as quietly as ever.
Think about it. How much national attention have the San Antonio Spurs gotten this season, minus Popovich's decision to bench his starters coming into question? Little to none.
While the Heat, Lakers, Thunder, Clippers, Knicks and speculation about Derrick Rose's return dominated the media coverage, the Spurs continued their dominance of the Western Conference with a 51-16 record.
With all the talk of the Heat's 22-game winning streak, is it not shocking that San Antonio currently has the same number of wins?
Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have continued their legendary careers by dominating much younger players. The Spurs are like the old guy in rec league basketball with the "John Stockton shorts" who somehow hits every open shot and takes charges from 20-something opponents.
Experience will not be a problem for this team. The core of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker have won multiple championships since before many of today's elite superstars were even out of high school.
No one doubts that this San Antonio team can win another championship, however it will have two major obstacles to overcome if given the opportunity.
And then there's the Oklahoma City Thunder. Many believe that despite San Antonio's current hold of the No.1 seed, the conference is once again theirs for the taking.
Kevin Durant will likely be the NBA scoring champion and up for consideration for the regular-season MVP award once again. Russell Westbrook has continued to prove that he is an elite scorer and superstar, despite criticism from many for taking too many shots and not looking for Durant enough.
Even without the presence of James Harden off the bench, Oklahoma City still looks to be the favorite to win the Western Conference this season. The Thunder match up better against the Spurs than any other contending team may, with the big advantage being their youth.
The Thunder's only flaw in recent years was their lack of experience in the postseason. But after becoming a traditional presence in the playoffs and making it all the way to the NBA Finals last season, Oklahoma City can no longer have that burden hanging over its head.
Youth and experience benefit this Thunder team heading into the playoffs. It will be one of the most feared teams to face, ahead of all but one team come postseason.
What else is there left to say about this team that hasn't already been said? It has the best record in the NBA, two MVP candidates in its starting lineup and are the defending NBA champions.
Did I mention that it's on a 22-game winning streak, which ties the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for second-best in NBA history?
Miami has dominated the NBA this season and has not lost a game since February. As the Heat continue to look stronger, the Eastern Conference seems to be theirs for the taking.
All serious threats to Miami's reign as the dominant force in the East seem to have injury problems. Indiana has been without Danny Granger and are unsure when he'll return. New York has experienced injuries to Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire. And, of course, Chicago has been without Derrick Rose all season.
Adding to the Heat's easier road to supremacy, LeBron James finally silenced the doubters who questioned his postseason abilities by winning his first NBA championship last season. LeBron has played with even more confidence and will not have the same chip on his shoulder this postseason.
Miami is the favorite to once again win the NBA championship. No one will want to face the Miami Heat in the NBA playoffs.