Power Ranking the Top 16 NBA Finals Contenders If Playoffs Started Today

Nathaniel UyFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2010

Power Ranking the Top 16 NBA Finals Contenders If Playoffs Started Today

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 08:  Teammates Tony Parker #9 and Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs walk onto the court against the Charlotte Bobcats before their game at Time Warner Cable Arena on November 8, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO US
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Power Ranking the NBA's top 16 teams if the playoffs were to start right now is always a hard task. 

    Some teams are big regular-season standouts and turn out to be postseason duds, while teams that somehow underachieve during the regular season are able to turn it up when everything is on the line.

    Am I talking about any specific teams? Well, the Dallas Mavericks come to mind. 

    If the playoffs started today, here's a power ranking of the NBA's best 16 teams.

16. Milwaukee Bucks (10-13)

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    ATLANTA - MAY 2:  Guard Brandon Jennings #3 of the Milwaukee Bucks gets set to shoot a free throw during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on
    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    Are East Coast teams that much better than West Coast teams? The Bucks won conference bragging rights today as they defeated the red-hot Mavericks. 

    The same Mavs squad that has run off 12 straight wins was dealt a loss by the Bucks. Young Brandon Jennings could be the guy that leads this team to the playoffs this season.

15. Portland Trailblazers (12-13)

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    PHOENIX - DECEMBER 10:  Brandon Roy #7 of the Portland Trail Blazers looks to pass the ball during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on December 10, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Trail Blazers defeated the Suns 101-94. NOTE TO USE
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    With a spotty 12-13 record, this Portland squad will just make the playoffs if it started today. But didn’t we expect more out of Brandon Roy and company? 

    Memphis looked like a much better squad in their most recent loss. Give it another week and the Grizz could take their place in this ranking.

14. Indiana Pacers (11-12)

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    ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 11:  Danny Granger #33 of the Indiana Pacers reacts after not drawing a foul from the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on December 11, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadin
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Meet one of two sub-.500 teams that qualify for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference if the postseason started right now. 

    Since the start of December, the Pacers have now lost five of their last seven games. They’re slumping, to say the least, but are fortunate enough just to make the cut. 

13. Denver Nuggets (14-9)

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 07:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the Denver Nuggets watches on against the Charlotte Bobcats during their game at Time Warner Cable Arena on December 7, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Is Carmelo in, or is he out? One way or the other, someone better make a decision because this is turning out to be a distraction for this basketball team. 

    The Nuggets are underachieving because of it. It’s time both parties made up their minds. 

12. New Orleans Hornets (14-10)

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    DENVER - FEBRUARY 07:  Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets lays up a shot between Carmelo Anthony #15 and Allen Iverson #3 of the Denver Nuggets as the Hornets defeated the Nuggets 114-112 in overtime during NBA action on February 7, 20
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Nine fourth-quarter points against the Miami Heat just ain’t going to cut it for the Hornets. 

    This is a solid defensive team with Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza in the lineup, but their offense can’t be stagnant in big moments if they expect to do well in the playoffs.

11. New York Knicks (16-9)

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    NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30:  Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks on the court against the New Jersey Nets on November 30, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    It’s only December, and we’re already hearing a lot of Amar’e Stoudemire for MVP talk. 

    We all know that it’s going to be a long season, but the Knicks do look a lot better than they did a season ago. And Amar’e has been a big part of that improvement. 

10. Oklahoma City Thunder (17-8)

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 10:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder dunks the ball over D.J. Mbenga #28 of the New Orleans Hornets  at New Orleans Arena on December 10, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.    The Thunder defeated the Hornets 97-92.
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    The undersized and slender Thunder overcame big rebounding games by Minnesota’s Kevin Love, New Orleans’ David West and Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao to still come away with wins in those respective games this past week. 

    But the truth is this team can’t continue to be outrebounded by their rivals this season and will need a big rebounding presence to help them if they want to make noise in the playoffs. 

9. Orlando Magic (16-8)

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    ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 06:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic attempts a shot against  Zaza Pachulia #27 of the Atlanta Hawks during the game at Amway Arena on December 6, 2010 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Size, rebounding and defense become even more important during the playoffs, especially in the Eastern Conference. That’s exactly what this team has in Dwight Howard.   

    Big Dwight is having the most productive season of his career on offense. Now, if only the rest of his team can help him consistently carry the workload. 

8. Atlanta Hawks (16-9)

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    ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 11:  Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks stands during player introductions before facing the Indiana Pacers at Philips Arena on December 11, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by do
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Without injured star player Joe Johnson, the Hawks have held strong. They fended off the upstart Indiana Pacers over the weekend and even took down the Orlando Magic early last week. 

    Once Johnson comes back, they could be even better. 

7. Utah Jazz (18-8)

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    ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 12:  Deron Williams #8 of the Utah Jazz against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 12, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User i
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    In a battle for Western Conference bragging rights, the Jazz fell to the streaking Mavericks this week. 

    But they’re still top in the Northwest Division, and their biggest threat to the division title are the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    The Jazz rank No. 2 in the league with an average of 24.0 assists per game.   

6. Chicago Bulls (15-8)

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    CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 10: Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls looks to pass against the Los Angeles Lakers at the United Center on December 10, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Lakers 88-84. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    We already know that this Bulls team has the endorsement of Barack Obama, and this week, they kept on their dominance of Western Conference teams by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers. 

    With Boozer leading the frontline, this team has a balanced offensive attack.

5. Miami Heat (18-8)

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    SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 11:  Chris Bosh #1, Dwayne Wade #3 and Lebron James #6 of the Miami Heat stand on to the court during the shooting of a technical foul during their game against the Sacramento Kings at ARCO Arena on December 11, 2010 in Sacrament
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    With nine straight wins, there’s silence now from several skeptics who were already counting the Heat out at the start of the season.  

    So what can we say about them? LeBron and Dwyane seem to have found a way to successfully play with each other on the basketball floor.

    Oh, and Erik Spoelstra appears to have escaped the hot seat, for now.

4. Dallas Mavericks (19-5)

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    NEW ORLEANS - NOVEMBER 17:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks shoots the ball over Emeka Okafor #50 of the New Orleans Hornets at the New Orleans Arena on November 17, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Hornets defeated the Mavericks 99-97.  NOT
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    The Mavs were hot and streaking with a recent 12-game win streak and have been playing excellent defense. But there’s one thing that we know about this team: They’re regular-season wonders and are playoff chokers. 

    That’s right, I said it. If the playoffs started tomorrow, the Mavs get a considerable downgrade for their recent history of postseason letdowns. 

3. Los Angeles Lakers (17-7)

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    WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 13:  (AFP OUT) U.S. President Barack Obama (Bottom row 4L)) poses for photographs with members of the 2010 NBA Championship Los Angeles Lakers during an event at the Boys and Girls Club at THEARC   December 13, 2010 in Washington
    Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Which NBA team has won the last two NBA championships? That’s right—the Lakers have. 

    Normally, the Mavs would have a rightful claim to this spot in the rankings, but IF the playoffs did start right now, that’s when the Lakers know how to turn things up. 

    The combination of Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and a team full of talented veterans makes them hard to ignore as serious three-peat contenders.

2. Boston Celtics (19-4)

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    BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 08:  Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics consoles teammate Glen Davis #11 after Davis got in scuffle with Arron Afflalo of the Denver Nuggets on December 8, 2010 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeated the
    Elsa/Getty Images

    They’re loaded with veteran talent, play very good defense and distribute the ball quite effectively. This team is very good and is definitely built for the playoffs. 

    If the playoffs were to start right now, this is the Eastern Conference team everyone should be scared of.

1. San Antonio Spurs (20-3)

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 01:  Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs pauses with the ball in front of DeAndre Jordan #9 of the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center on December 1, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackn
    Harry How/Getty Images

    That’s right, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker may be older now, but this aging Spurs team is the best team in the NBA so far this season. 

    The funny thing is, people don’t seem to take notice of this basketball team. Well, one thing's for sure—Gregg Popovich is a great head coach.