Updated 2013 Title Chances for Every NBA Team Midway Through Round 2
A new favorite is rising to the top as the NBA's postseason bracket narrows.
No longer obstructed by the what-ifs and puzzle of scenarios, the identities of the remaining playoff teams are becoming more clear.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls are too shorthanded without their superstars, and the New York Knicks look ready to settle for clanging jumpers and a second-round exit.
Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors remain alive on the bad ankle of the postseason's most exciting star.
The Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies are exhibiting the value of defense and rebounding, while the San Antonio Spurs continue to rely on three veterans with more championship credentials than any remaining team.
But can any team top the Miami Heat?
8. Chicago Bulls (0.1 Percent)
Inevitability doesn’t always come in an instant, but it’s here now for the Chicago Bulls.
Playing on crutches through the postseason, down much of its core and relying on the heavy scoring of Nate Robinson only plays for so long.
The Bulls fell behind 3-1 with their Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 4 loss to the Miami Heat on Monday. Robinson was 0-of-12 and scoreless in the loss.
What would it take for the Bulls to come back and win a title? At this point, Derrick Rose had better return and bring Michael Jordan in his prime with him.
While that may seem like an overstatement, it’s really not. This Bulls earned a Game 1 victory off the rust of the Heat and some unsustainable passion.
However, without Rose, Luol Deng or Kirk Hinrich, Chicago doesn’t have enough to battle the league favorites.
Now that things have settled, the Heat are having no problem handling Chicago’s dwindled roster.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder (3.9 Percent)
The difference is Russell Westbrook.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have suffered three close losses against the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Kevin Durant has been everything, but it’s not enough.
By “enough,” that’s the additional 24 points and seven assists that Westbrook averaged in two games this postseason before being injured against the Houston Rockets.
Reggie Jackson has been better than expected, and he had 15 points and eight assists in the Thunder's Game 4 loss.
There’s a stark difference, however, between him and Oklahoma City’s injured superstar, namely Westbrook’s ability to blur down the court and create easy shots for everyone, including guys like Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin.
Westbrook’s loss changed everything for the Thunder.
Once the favorites of the West, the Thunder now look ready to make a second-round exit.
6. New York Knicks (5 Percent)
The New York Knicks sure look smooth when those jumpers are falling.
When they aren't, New York has no other offensive options. Teams that settle for jump shots also often settle for early postseason exits.
Facing a tough Indiana Pacers defense, the Knicks hit another low in Game 3 Saturday night when they shot just 35.2 percent in the 82-71 loss. They were also 3-of-11 from three-point range.
In Game 3, the Knicks’ leading offensive players—Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert—combined to shoot just 30.4 percent (14-of-46). The four combined for just five total assists too.
According to Al Iannazzone of Newsday, Tyson Chandler said after the Game 3 loss, "I think we need to do a better job of allowing the game to dictate who takes the shots and not the individuals. Good teams win basketball games. Unless you're a great, great, great, great individual, and we've only had a few of those come through."
Anthony is not the same efficient scorer as Kevin Durant. The center is right, and the Knicks can’t go on much longer without moving away from the ineffective "hero ball" that has them down 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
If New York rallies behind another hot-shooting streak, the Miami Heat’s offensive outpouring won’t be so kind as to wait around in the Eastern Conference Finals.
5. Golden State Warriors (9 Percent)
The Golden State Warriors seemed done.
Trailing 2-1 in their series against the San Antonio Spurs and down by double digits in the third quarter of Game 4 on Sunday, the Warriors were in trouble. Then, as the Warriors have done all season, they completed the unexpected.
Klay Thompson opened the Warriors’ second-half scoring with a three-pointer, and Curry followed with two of his own. Suddenly, the Warriors were back in a game that they would ultimately turn into an overtime win.
That’s how it goes. When Curry is hitting, the Warriors are winning.
Golden State has already shown it is capable of winning at San Antonio. The Warriors were blowing out the Spurs in Game 1 before blowing the lead and losing. In Game 2, the Warriors controlled the game and won.
Splitting in Oakland, including grinding out a win against the league’s most experienced grinders, proves Golden State has enough resolve to move past San Antonio.
The Warriors need continued standout shooting from their trio of guards (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Jarrett Jack). Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes have also stepped up their output in the postseason, and Andrew Bogut has been a presence down low.
Still, closing out games remains an issue for this young squad.
4. Indiana Pacers (10 Percent)
The Indiana Pacers have a beautiful way of making things ugly.
So what if defense and rebounding don’t sell? Superstar-level scoring is on the ropes.
The Pacers are left out of NBA conversations because they’re not what the spotlight desires. Instead, they roll out a tough interior and a balanced offensive attack.
No 30-point nights. No Reggie Miller-type scoring runs.
The Pacers boasted the highest defensive efficiency in the regular season (96.6). That starts with the lane-clogging presence of Roy Hibbert and extends to the perimeter with Paul George.
It’s no wonder that Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith can’t hit a shot.
The Pacers are on track to keep New York cold, leading to a meeting with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. If that’s the case, the bullying style of Indiana could be a tough matchup for the Miami Heat.
However, success in the conference finals requires an additional element—scoring. The Pacers' current 41.9 percent shooting will hinder them moving forward.
3. San Antonio Spurs (12 Percent)
The San Antonio Spurs entered the postseason with some mystery.
San Antonio rested players down the stretch and lost seven of its last 10 regular-season games before walking over the injury-riddled Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
Against the Warriors, the Spurs have been just as enigmatic.
The Spurs looked outmatched by Golden State for seven-and-a-half quarters in San Antonio for Games 1 and 2. Then they improved to at least a level of equality at Golden State. The Spurs took Game 3 behind Tony Parker’s elite play and found a defensive answer to limit the hot-shooting Stephen Curry.
With another shift late in Game 4, however, the Spurs lost a double-digit second-half lead to leave the series tied at 2-2.
Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have far more impressive resumes than any trio left in the playoffs, and it isn't even close.
The deeper down the road the Spurs go toward the NBA Finals, the more of a value guys like Duncan, Ginobili and Parker bring to the team.
2. Memphis Grizzlies (15 Percent)
It’s not an insult to say the Memphis Grizzlies are the current Western Conference champions by default.
The most complete team in the conference, Memphis has the old conference favorites on their heels with a 3-1 series advantage over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Grizzlies defense locked down the Thunder in the second half of Monday's 17-point comeback victory in Game 4. After allowing 56 points in the first half, Memphis allowed just 41 points in the second half and overtime.
The interior of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph is a steady force both defensively and offensively, and Mike Conley's offense will be the difference, good or bad.
If the Grizzlies finish off the Thunder and move into their first-ever conference finals, it will be against either the Spurs or Warriors.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph outmatch the Warriors inside, and perimeter defender Tony Allen would be a tremendous asset when Stephen Curry catches fire. The Spurs, always a milestone juncture for any West playoff team, haven’t looked nearly as complete as the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies can accomplish something similar to what the Indiana Pacers would attempt in the conference finals by bullying the Heat with physical interior play. The thing is, the Grizzlies can do that while also scoring.
1. Miami Heat (45 Percent)
The Miami Heat are back.
Perhaps all you need to know is that the Heat are 44-3 in their last 47 games. The Game 1 loss to the Chicago Bulls looks like it will amount to as much of a scare as a mosquito bite.
After shaking off the rust, the Heat have delivered three consecutive wins, and it looks like they are ready to take the next step toward a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.
The Heat are already tough to outlast in a seven-game series, but with the bench performing at a high level, it becomes that much more difficult. Miami entered Game 4 with the highest-scoring bench of the remaining teams, averaging 38.6 points.
Miami will finish off the Bulls and wait for the series winner between the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks.
The Pacers offer a tougher conference finals matchup because of their physical interior nature, but offense could be an issue for Indiana.
The odds dropped slightly for Miami because the physical play of the Grizzlies out West will prove a difficult test for Miami.
The Heat are still the heavy favorites but moving through the Pacers and Grizzlies, both teams that have moved up, lessen their odds.