Breaking Down the NBA Title Chances of Each Top Contender
The NBA season concludes today with just about every team locked into their position in the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, Chicago and Atlanta can swap between the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds.
In the West the Grizzles and Clippers are still fighting for home-court advantage with the No. 4 seed, and the Utah Jazz can still sneak into the eighth spot with help from the Kobe-less Lakers.
However, the leaders of each conference are set and that’s where the true championship contenders are.
Here’s my breakdown of the top NBA teams and their chances for a title this postseason.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers are playing great basketball at the perfect time of the year. Lob City has won five straight, including victories against the Lakers and Grizzlies.
Chris Paul is one of the best point guards in the league and the frontcourt combination of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin has shown to be highly effective.
When the Clippers are playing at their highest level they can run with any team in the league. If they make a run to the finals it will be a very difficult stretch. They’ll face a hard opponent in each round, starting with Memphis.
The Indiana Pacers will try to continue the postseason success they had last year when they narrowly lost to Miami.
Indiana has locked up the No. 3 seed in the East, which should provide at least one easy series for them.
Despite the absence of Danny Granger, Paul George has picked up the leadership role to help the team to a Central Division title.
If the Pacers’ defense can contain people like they did all season then they'll have an outside chance.
The Denver Nuggets have been one of the best teams in the league the second half of this year. They reeled off a 15-game win streak last month and have won eight of their last 10.
One thing not going well for the No. 3 seed in the West is the injury bug. Denver lost Danilo Gallinari a few weeks ago to a season-ending knee injury.
Even with health being an issue, the Nuggets have one of the best all-around teams in the league. If guards Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala are in rhythm, Denver is tough to beat.
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks are one of the most improved teams from last season. For the first time since 1994, the Knicks are Atlantic Division champions and have high expectations heading into the playoffs.
Carmelo Anthony has shown that he belongs in the elite class of players in the NBA. If LeBron James wasn’t playing this year, Melo would be one of the favorites to take home the MVP.
He is averaging 28.7 points per game, which will be good enough to earn Anthony his first scoring title since entering the league.
The Knicks bench has also been a key part of their success. J.R. Smith has grown into a new player that is much more reliable in 2013.
With Carmelo hitting on all cylinders, New York has a chance to knock off Miami and get a ring.
San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs have been one of the most consistent teams all year. The group of veterans, led by head coach Gregg Popovich, are back for another playoff push after a very good season.
Even though the Spurs have one of the best records in the league, things are not looking so great.
They’ve lost six of their last 10 and stars Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are battling injuries. In order to go deep in the postseason, they’ll need quality play from role players Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter.
If the Spurs can get things together, they’ll show they have enough in the tank to fight for another title.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City put together another fantastic season after making it to the finals last year. They wrapped up the West’s No. 1 seed by picking up their 60th victory of the season this week.
The Thunder are also playing well lately, winning eight of their last 10, including four-straight.
If they are going to win the West then they’ll need to continue to do what they’ve done all season. Controlling the tempo is key for OKC as they try to get the most out of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The only way I don’t see the Thunder back in the Finals is if they figure out ways to beat themselves.
The Miami Heat are undoubtedly the best team in the NBA. After putting it all together last postseason, LeBron James finally got the monkey off of his back and won his first championship ring.
The soon-to-be MVP James has had his best year as a pro, making the game look incredibly easy at times. He’s averaged 26.8 points, eight rebounds and seven assists this year while shooting at a ridiculous 56 percent.
Role players such as Chris Anderson and Ray Allen will need to play well to make things easier for James and Wade. Nonetheless, if LeBron is playing at the level he’s capable of, every opponent will need some luck to beat the Heat.