Each year, there are a handful of teams in the league that are considered to be contenders for the title. But each year, there are also squads that fly under the radar or exceed expectations.
Last year’s teams included the 50-win Thunder; the overachieving, Scott Skiles-led Bucks; and the Grizzlies. This year could yield more unexpected playoff berths from annual cellar dwellers. Let’s check out some of those squads.
The Sixers have been pretty busy this year. They have hired a new coach, the defense-oriented Doug Collins. They acquired the No. 2 draft choice, Ohio State standout Evan Turner, whom I believe could have went No. 1 in the draft as well (I know… shocking!). They also shipped Sam Dalembert to the Kings for Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes.
I like their chances to make a spirited run for the seventh or eighth seed in the East. They’ve got a promising core in Turner, Iguodala, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Jrue Holiday. If only they knew what they were getting in Elton Brand, they’d be set. It should be an interesting year for this bunch.
If Chris Paul can stay happy and healthy and if new head coach Monty Williams can successfully coach all of the new guys and if newcomers like Trevor Ariza can make a big enough impact, then the Hornets are in good shape. That's a lot of ifs, but I like their chances to sneak into the playoffs.
Paul is driven to succeed on whatever team he stars for, and it won’t be any different with the Hornets. Marcus Thornton is sure to improve on his surprising play from last year. The frontcourt tandem of David West and Emeka Okafor should continue to gobble up rebounds and produce effectively. A lot of people are claiming this team is dead in the water, but I like their chances to sneak in with the eighth seed in a suffocating Western Conference. I don’t know about that Darren Collison trade, though.
The Nets have done the best they could possibly do this offseason without landing LeBron James. Derrick Favors should be a nice, developing young talent for them this season, with Troy Murphy likely getting the start. Brook Lopez will likely duplicate his production last season, as will Devin Harris.
The difference is: They have more scoring options this time. Three-point shooters Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw, and Troy Murphy should make them more of a threat on the offensive end.
I love the hiring of Avery Johnson as coach. He was great as a player and a great coach for the Mavericks. Mark Cuban shouldn’t have let him go in the first place. And let’s face it, the Nets were the best 12-win team in NBA history last year. They will surely win more games this year, especially if guys can stay healthy, which was one of their problems last year.
In the top-heavy East, the Nets have a great chance at the eighth seed. And who knows what’s going on these days with the Carmelo Anthony trade talks?
While there are other surprise-eligible teams, I picked these three. The Clippers, Kings, and Rockets are others that have been pegged as such. I like the prospect of Blake Griffin, but don’t know if he can stay healthy. And there’s always the Baron Davis conundrum. The Kings have the 2010 Rookie of the Year in Tyreke Evans and a young promising talent in DeMarcus Cousins, but we’ll have to see how they develop. The Rockets are never easy to predict due to the fact that Yao Ming can never stay healthy, but Rick Adelman puts a very competitive group on the court regardless.
We’ll see how it all pans out. This year should be a good one, though, for teams looking to cash in on their higher-than-usual expectations.
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