The 2010 NBA Championship: Five Teams with the Best Chances To Win
With the All-Star Game this weekend and the trade deadline about a week later, some player movement is bound to take place, but some teams are ready to win a championship now.
Inside, there are five teams that I believe currently exemplify the necessities to come on top and finish the playoffs with a win.
The order in which the teams are listed is based on personal opinion, but an in-depth study of each team's personnel strengths that give them an edge in their own way.
These five groups and several others desire to hoist the coveted Larry O'Brien trophy in June. Find out who has the best chance and why.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers stand atop the list of the most competitive contenders fighting for the 2009-2010 NBA crown.
Let's discuss five reasons the Lakers have the best chance to win it all again:
1. Kobe Bryant
Few players possess the drive and determination Byrant displays each and every game. The 14-year veteran continues to play with a passion and love for the sport at the highest level.
His intensity and focus rubs off and influences his teammates. For a man who lives and breathes basketball, Kobe doesn't settle for less than the best.
Dealing with nagging injuries, which would keep the average player on the sidelines, Bryant fights through pain and understands the importance each game beholds. Kobe has sat out the last two games due to injury, snapping his 253 consecutive games played streak.
2. Phil Jackson
The awe of spectacular NBA athletes and their skill-sets tend to overshadow the man on the bench who coaches them.
Phil "the Zen Master" Jackson might be a different case because he owns an NBA championship ring for every finger and both thumbs.
Jackson's work in practice and in the locker room go beyond just the triangle offense we hear so much about. His philosophy, motivation and success encourages his players to reach their highest capacity.
3. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum
Tim Duncan and David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs. Together they posed a problem for many opposing teams and it led to two NBA titles.
Gasol and Bynum look like the closest thing since the towers in Texas, but with a different dynamic.
Both players stand over seven feet tall with even lengthier wingspans. However, it's been argued whether or not they play better together; the Lakers play their best with both guys on the court.
4. Ron Artest
Last summer when the news came out that Ron Artest would agree to sign with Los Angeles, basketball fans were surprised and confused. You just won with Trevor Ariza; why make a change?
Owner Jerry Buss and GM Mitch Kupchak saw something they favored in Artest over Ariza, which eventually led to both players swapping area codes in separate signings for the mid-level exception.
Some skeptics and fans thought the Lakers, despite winning, were soft and lacked a gritty edge. They solved that problem with the addition of Artest. His aggressive nature serves them well both defensively and offensively.
5. Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher
Here's the luxury this Lakers' team beholds. They bring in Lamar Odom, who would start on almost every other team in the league, off the bench.
Gifted with one of the better all-around games since Scottie Pippen, Odom leads the charge for an average bench crew. His talents come in bunchesm and they bring versatility to the team.
Mr. Clutch, or Derek Fisher, isn't the flashiest point guard. He doesn't blow by the opposing guards with waterbug speed. He simply handles his role in the offensive schemes and waits for his opportunities.
Fisher provides the Lakers with a second go-to guy late in games. He has proven time and time again, he hits big shots. It's vital to have a player like Fish—someone to count on besides Bryant to hit every buzzer-beater.
Everyone else must go through the defending champs, the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Cleveland Cavaliers ride in with the second-best shot towin and bring the Larry O'Brien trophy to Ohio for the first time.
Let's focus on three parts of the Cavaliers' team that gives them as good a shot as anyone to win the 2010 NBA title.
1. LeBron James
LeBron James exemplifies and characterizes Cavalier basketball today. Everyone knows he's the reason Cleveland challenges Kobe Bryant and the Lakers as the hottest ticket wherever they play.
Many NBA commentators, analysts, and writers make the case for James as the most well-built and ferocious athlete the game has ever seen. He features a Ben Wallace-like frame, but plays with the grace and skill of the finest players we've seen.
James dominates games. When competing for an NBA championship, it's essential to have a player with the ability to take over and control the game. The Akron product knows the game very well, evidenced with a high basketball I.Q.
Most importantly, James understands this is a team game, and he makes certain his teammates remain active and involved. His skilled passing and court awareness makes life easier.
2. Shaquille O'Neal
For anyone who thinks Shaquille O'Neal no longer has an impact on an NBA game, think again.
The Cavaliers sought out O'Neal this summer in a trade. They knew a force in the paint was mandatory to battle with big men on other contenders.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas puts up suitable numbers, but produces more with his shooting touch.
O'Neal no longer dominates down low as he used to. But flops aside, he still has the ability to overpower his opposition for easy scores in the paint.
A tradition of winning comes with the big man. Cleveland lodged that thought process when they acquired Shaq. He's been blessed to have played with superstars in Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade and now James.
3. Mo Williams and the Role Players
Mo Williams provides LeBron with his best point guard partner on an NBA team. Ever since Williams has been a Cavalier, the team has drastically improved. The point guard play elevated in comparison to the likes of Eric Snow, Jeff McGinnis or the failed Larry Hughes experiment.
The former All-Star can light up the scoreboard at an efficient rate when it's needed, but he also excels at making plays for the team.
The aforementioned Ilgauskas gives the Cavs versatility at the center position because he and Shaq present different looks. It's tough guarding a 7'3" player who consistently knocks down jumpers with range.
Additional guard play from Delonte West, Anthony Parker and Daniel "Boobie" Gibson keeps other teams guessing with a variety of lineups coach Mike Brown puts on the floor.
Cleveland has a team built to win a championship— something LeBron, Shaq and the city of Cleveland hungers for. This could be their best chance, because no one knows where James will be next season.
Last season, the surprise Denver Nuggets fell short to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
As it stands now in the wild wild West, Denver remains the Lakers' biggest threat.
Here go three pointers that give the Nuggets a fair chance to knock the Lake Show off their throne:
1. Chauncey Billups
People in Michigan still wonder what made Joe Dumars deal Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson.
The state of Colorado isn't complaining, but rather rejoicing in the return of a hometown legend.
The Nuggets landed a gem in Billups when they made the swap early last season. He has changed the identity of the team and lifted them into true title contenders.
A literal champion and one at heart, Billups delivers for his native city in several aspects of the game. He leads, scores, defends snd is clutch.
Billups is the Nuggets' most valuable player.
2. Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony and scoring go together like peanut butter and jelly. He's an elite scorer in this league. The most fascinating part is how graceful and smooth he makes it look.
Anthony receives multiple praises, and his name is constantly in league MVP discussions. That alone explains his importance.
Billups has allowed Anthony to evolve into an even better offensive force. Anthony learns from Billups how to lead and be effective when not scoring.
Carmelo ranks near the topinscoring this season. Denver feels confident offensively, and if Anthony plays vigorous defense consistently, he'll only help his chances to win.
3. Team Defense
Offensive juggernauts. Denver has showcased some of the best offense and highest scoring affairs in league history.
Two years ago with Iverson, the Nuggets were no different. Solid offense, but lacked defense.
One player, Billups, changed that philosophy and the rest of the players bought into the system.
The result showed offense entertains, but in the end defense wins the game.
This Nuggets group includes some superb individual defenders in Billups, Kenyon Martin, Chris "Birdman" Andersen, Aaron Afflalo and Anthony. However, it's not an individual game, it's about team defense.
Denver has it. Watch out Lakers, last year's challenger got better.
After the Orlando Magic were ousted in the NBA Finals last season by the Lakers, off-season decisions were lurking.
The result after a summer of reminiscing, Orlando watched Hedo Turkoglu sign and trade to Toronto. Otis Smith then went ahead and worked a deal with New Jersey, acquiring Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson for Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston.
Orlando hasn't improved the way they might have envisioned before the season began, but this is still a very talented team with title aspirations.
Here's three reasons why the Magic have an opportunity to win in 2010 what they lost in 2009:
1. Dwight Howard
Superman is arguably the best center in the game right now. He's a force to be reckoned with, and Howard looks like a 20-20 threat every night, similar to how Jason Kidd was a walking triple-double in his prime.
Howard protects the basket and forces opponents to think twice about driving the lane.
The only knock on Howard comes at the offensive end. He doesn't keep defenses honest with a short or mid-range jump shot. His foul shooting needs to improve, because he's at the line so often.
At day's end, Orlando revolves around "D12" and the team will go as far as he'll take them.
2. Vince Carter
Teams will occasionally term a specific player their "X" factor. This year, Carter is the Magic's "X" factor.
The Magic brought him in for his ability to create his own shot. For most of the season, Orlando fans will agree Carter has not lived up to the expectations.
He won't do it every night, but if Carter's 48-point explosion against the New Orleans Hornets situates him into a groove, the Magic fan base ought to breathe easier.
3. Three-point Shooting
Check the Orlando roster. It's designed for the outside shot. Aside from their three centers and Brandon Bass, every other Magic player can hit from beyond the arc with confidence.
When the three-pointer is falling for this team, they are extremely tough to defend. One might argue that is the case for mostly any team, but even more so for Orlando.
Opponents are usually in need of double-teaming Howard when he clears real estate for himself to work in the post. In several scenarios, Orlando provides Howard with four shooters who space the floor.
As soon as the other team commits a second defender to Howard, he knows where to pass. He hits his man and the ball swings as many times necessary based on the defensive rotations to find the open shooter.
It's a game plan Orlando uses often and teams know this, but yet it remains difficult to contain. They beat Cleveland last year and will be right there again.
Ladies and gentlemen, the last team with the best chance to win this year, the Atlanta Hawks.
Rather than defend why the Hawks got the nod over other contenders, let's stick with what gives Atlanta hope.
1. Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson represents a stud; his game is smooth and his demeanor likewise. He leads by example and proves critics wrong all the time. The Hawks' franchise invested in Johnson, climbed from the league's basement and became winners.
Johnson's name gets mentioned in terms of top free agents this summer, but it still seems like he doesn't always get the notoriety he rightfully deserves. The best part, Johnson doesn't let it phase him.
His game handles the talking. It's no fluke Johnson has averaged 22 points, five assists, four boards, and a steal over the last five seasons.
2. Jamal Crawford
Here's a guy who has scored 50 points for three different teams. Say what? Yes, Crawford, known for his electric handle and crossover dribble, has the uncanny ability to score with the best.
Last season, the New York Knicks shipped Crawford to the Golden State Warriors. A free-flowing, up-tempo offense seemed an ideal fit for the Seattle native. However, his relationship with coach Don Nelson didn't gel, and he was traded to Atlanta.
Now comfortably situated in the role as the Hawks' star reserve, Crawford's performance this season almost certainly has locked up Sixth Man of the Year honors.
The addition of Crawford brings new life and swagger to the team. His presence alone has impacted several games this season, including a season sweep of the Boston Celtics.
Each year when experts preview a playoff series, they list categories in which each team holds an advantage. One of those categories are the intangibles a team possesses.
Three intangibles come to mind when thinking of Atlanta: athleticism, attitude and youth.
This Hawks team has youth. Al Horford, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague are four players under 25 and part of this team's present and future.
In comparison to other Eastern conference contenders, the Celtics and Magic have an average roster age of almost two years older than Atlanta. That span holds more importance that it would appear.
Age is catching up with some of the Celtics' veterans.
Athleticism never really was an issue for the Hawks. It was a matter of when will it be tamed and used in a productive manner.
Smith defines athleticism. His skill and ability makes him a nightly roto-wire monster. He does a little bit of everything for you and at an efficient rate. His deep ball isn't his forte, but he's realized that and focuses on better shot selection these days.
The attitude and mindset for the Hawks differs from the Cavs, Magic, or Celtics. The Hawks don't ever break the barrier in terms of title contention. They get mentioned as a tough playoff opponent, but no one expects much more.
In a way, it can benefit this team; no pressure sits on them, there's no monkey on their back. They just want to keep winning basketball games and have fun doing so.