The biggest non-surprise you will ever read on this Web site is in this post: The Cavaliers and Lakers are our picks to make it to the NBA Finals, and they sit atop our final regular season power rankings.
What may be surprising, though, is how the rest of the league falls after the top 2.
30. Sacramento Kings—Before the season began, if you said the Kings would move both Brad Miller and John Salmons during the season, and have their best player, Kevin Martin, battle nagging injuries during the season, you would know this would be the Kings' fate. Next up for Sac-town? Blake Griffin, if they’re lucky.
29. Los Angeles Clippers—The Clippers severely underachieved this season, given the fact that ownership actually spent big time money on free agents last summer. With Baron Davis owed $65 million dollars, and their front court flooded with injury prone big men, it’s tough being a Clipper fan these days.
28. Washington Wizards—The Wiz finally can begin to forget the 2008-09 season, and hope that the re-emergence of Gilbert Arenas next year will get them in playoff contention again. The signing of Flip Saunders is a good move, and if they draft correctly, fans in D.C. should have something to cheer for quickly.
27. New York Knicks—As much as people expected from the Mike D’Antoni new look Knicks, they finished with nearly the same record as former coach Isiah Thomas had led them to before being ousted. Are the Knicks going to re-sign David Lee and Nate Robinson? If they don’t, Knicks management may be positioning themselves to take the biggest gamble in recent NBA history, which is hoping LeBron, Wade, or Bosh want to play in MSG after next season.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves—Kevin Mchale did a decent job with the young Wolves this year, and before Al Jefferson went down with a season-ending injury, he was having an All-Star year. Better luck next year.
25. Memphis Grizzlies—The young combination of Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, and Marc Gasol are only a few pieces away from being a threat. If the Grizz can shore up their bench, and bring in a veteran or two, they will be fine.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder—My personal favorite losing-team to watch currently, the OKC Thunder will be much better next year. Kevin Durant will be an All-Star, and rookie Russell Westbrook will have another year of adjusting to NBA play under his belt. Imagine if the Thunder land another scorer in the draft?
23. Golden State Warriors—Golden State just didn’t have any type of plan or direction this year. They traded Al Harrington for Jamal Crawford, and early on, Crawford was lighting up the league. Then, Don Nelson decides to sit him down. The Warriors have young talent, and if they continue to develop them, should get better fast.
22. Milwaukee Bucks—Michael Redd going down ended the Bucks playoff chances, and swingman Charlie Villanueva may be headed out of town. The Bucks, though, aren’t that far out of the East playoff race, and this year, they saw the emergence of Ramon Sessions as a legit scoring threat.
21. Toronto Raptors—The Raptors seemed to gel too little too late this year, and wound up winning games they needed to after they were eliminated from the playoff race. Chris Bosh enters his final season under contract next fall, and the hearts of Raptors fans everywhere will be in their throats until Bosh agrees to a contract extension. If he doesn’t…
20. New Jersey Nets—The Nets and Vince Carter could be parting ways this offseason, and if they do, New Jersey will continue to rebuild. Devin Harris and Brooke Lopez are a good foundation for this team, but they are a ways away from winning.
19. Charlotte Bobcats—Charlotte flirted with making it’s first playoff appearance ever this year, but fell short at the end. Free agent Raymond Felton isn’t expected to be back, and other players could be on the way out as well. One player rumored to be on the way in has a storied relationship with coach Larry Brown, but I am not certain that Allen Iverson will be The Answer to Charlotte's playoff woes.
18. Indiana Pacers—Danny Granger had a breakout season for Indiana, and the young Pacers could be one team that surprises many people next year.
17. Detroit Pistons—A team makes the playoffs with a losing record, and they go up against a team that went 39-2 at home. Detroit won’t be around long this postseason, and their stretch of six consecutive conference final appearances will definitely be ending. GM Joe Dumars took a one year loss in hopes of a long-term win (Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire), but only time will tell the outcome.
16. Philadelphia 76ers—The Sixers saw Elton Brand go down, but still kept their core together, and was able to secure the number six seed in the East this year. Their big question will be if they re-sign Andre Miller, or go in a different direction at the point. If Miller goes elsewhere, Philly could look at Felton, or potentially an Iverson reunion.
15. Chicago Bulls—The Bulls GM John Paxon saved his job with the midseason deal that brought John Salmons and Brad Miller to Chicago. The team is loaded from top to bottom with talent, and while they are young, they should be able to give the Celtics all they want in the first round. Rookie of the Year candidate Derrick Rose is getting better with each game, and Chicago’s biggest question after the season ends will be if they can re-sign Ben Gordon.
14. Phoenix Suns—Ranking a non-playoff team this high is a bit of a reach, but considering the type of season the Suns franchise had, they fit right around here. The Suns saw a coaching change at midseason, two stars almost get traded, one star goes down with a season ending injury, and a lot of unrest from fans. There will be some big decisions that Suns management have to make, some of which we touched on here.
13. Utah Jazz—The Jazz haven’t been able to put it all together this season. Injuries took this team out of a rhythm early on, and when everyone seemed to get back on the floor, the rotation never really synched. Jerry Sloan complained of exhaustion earlier this year, and that was before he knew his team would be playing Kobe Bryant in the first round.
12. Miami Heat—MVP candidate Dwyane Wade took his team from winning 15 games to 43, and a playoff berth. The play of rookies Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley was key in the Heat's success, and the pick-up of Jermaine O’ Neal proved to be huge.
11. Atlanta Hawks—The Hawks flew just below the radar for much of this season, though they quietly secured home court for the first round. The team that caught the league by surprise last year made moves up the ranks this season, and show no signs of going backwards anytime soon.
10. New Orleans Hornets—Chris Paul’s Hornets could be ranked quite lower if the deal that would’ve sent Tyson Chandler to Oklahoma City had went through. It was reversed, and New Orleans went on to make an impressive second half run. CP3 will put up his numbers this postseason, however, it's still questionable whether his supporting cast is strong enough.
9. Houston Rockets—There is only one question in Houston this time of the year: Can the Rockets win a playoff series? The answer has been "No" in the T-Mac and Yao era, and if this season's group can advance past the Blazers without McGrady, the biggest Rocket of them all may enter the final season of his contract as prime trade bait.
8. Dallas Mavericks—Fans of the Mavs have to be optimistic based on the late season play of their team. I will be the first one to admit that when Dallas struggled out of the gate, I called for a break up of the core of their team, thinking they were past their prime.
7. Portland Trail Blazers—The most dangerous young team in the NBA is one year away from really challenging Kobe and the Lakers for the Western Conference title. This season, though, has been a very good one for the Blazers, and the entire country will get a chance to see Brandon Roy take the step into superstardom on the biggest stage.
6. San Antonio Spurs—The Spurs have struggled with nagging injuries for the entire season, yet still managed to secure the number three seed in the West. The addition of Roger Mason Jr. appears to be a steal, and the development of their younger players has been good to see. How much does Timmy have left, though?
5. Orlando Magic—The Magic had a great season, even though they lost starting point guard Jameer Nelson with a season-ending injury in January. Magic GM Otis Smith made an amazing deal to save their season, and secured Rafer Alston, who has since fit in just fine. With Kevin Garnett hobbled, can the Magic take the next step and get to the NBA’s Final Four?
4. Denver Nuggets—The Nuggets had one of the more surprising seasons of any team this year, posting 54 wins, and securing the number two seed in the West. Making the trade of the year very early in the year, Chauncey Billups not only became a positive influence on the court, but became the leader in the locker room.
3. Boston Celtics—The defending champs started this year on fire, and at one point had a 19-game winning streak. Yet the past two seasons took it’s toll on the champs, and the tendon injury to Kevin Garnett is proof of that. Boston enters this postseason without any signs that KG will be able to join them, yet Ray Allen and Paul Pierce won’t go down without a fight.
2. Los Angeles Lakers—When you win 65 games in the regular season, you can’t say the season has been a disappointment. Yet, after losing in the 2008 NBA Finals, Phil Jackson’s group has had only one goal, and that is to return to the Finals and finish the deal. Anything short of a NBA title will be a failure in the eyes of Lakers management, players, and fans.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers—As good of a season the Lakers had, Cleveland’s was even better. Their 66-16 record overall was a franchise record, and their 39-2 mark at home was tied for the second best in the history of the league. The NBA MVP will go to LeBron James this year, but will the NBA title? If you are a betting man, you would be hard pressed to go against the Cavs.