1. Los Angeles Lakers
Better pray, L.A. Sorry, Laker fans, there will be no three-peat repeat.
Kobe Bryant. Yup, he turns 33 in August, in human years, but turns 63 in basketball years. He is finally starting to show his age by exhibiting fewer heroics, fewer fierce attacks on the rim and a career-low shooting percentage.
Nope, he will not be the savior this season.
Ron Artest, as Walt Frazier might say: "His defense is slipping and his interest is dipping." He won’t stay focused long enough to harass the likes of Durant, Nowitzki, James, etc. He is still playing last season’s Game 7 in his head.
No home-court advantage. In both the 2009 and 2010 NBA Finals, the Lakers had home court. They can certainly thank the Staples Center for last year’s title being "finalized" in L.A.
This year, even if they make the Finals, they almost certainly won’t have the home-court edge.
It appears that they may have to be "road warriors" for the second, third and fourth rounds of the playoffs. That sounds pretty difficult to overcome.
L.A., I won’t bother to stick a fork in you because I already know you’re done. The mere discussion of a potentially big trade (Andrew Bynum for Carmelo Anthony) in the middle of a season is a harbinger of doom.
It implies that even Laker management doesn’t believe they’ll be able to flip the "on–switch" when the playoffs begin. Yes, the Lakers do have an “on-switch,” but it’s in the Laker locker room, and it only works for the overhead lights, not for Ron Artest’s, Shannon Brown’s and Steve Blake’s games.
People have often called me a Laker-hater, but I'm simply angry, bitter, jealous and…absolutely correct about them.
2. Boston Celtics
They are everyone's favorite to come out of the East. Unfortunately, those squeaking noises you hear are the creaking bones of their so-called Big Three. Though none are actually old, they are truly up there in NBA minutes.
Kevin Garnett is becoming a bit more susceptible to injury after being an iron man (and an iron head, at least, according to Charlie Villanueva) for most of his career.
Oh sure, the Celtics are the NBA’s deepest team, but can they really afford to lose any of their top three or four players any more than, say, the Lakers, Spurs or Heat can? No, they can’t.
Having long playoff runs in two of the last three seasons adds a considerable amount of mileage to those limbs. Unless their sixth man is Ponce de Leon, they’re done too.
Incidentally, KG, there is a group of people who think you’re a jerk for telling Villanueva he looks like a "cancer patient" and for sinking just that low with your brand of trash talk. It’s called everyone.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Nah, no title for you. What's that? Those other squeaking noises you hear won't go away?
That sound is also coming out of the Western Conference, and it’s not the sound of those Texas swinging bar doors stereotypically represented in the Old West.
Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess are doing a fine job for now, and Gregg Popovich (bless him, for even Edward James Olmos is dying to tease him about his skin) is doing an excellent job of trying to preserve their bodies by limiting their minutes.
Sorry, so, so, sorry, but in the playoffs you can’t play your best players 28 minutes. That won’t get it done, and neither will the Spurs.
Yes, I’m aware that the Spurs were on pace for 70 wins at the halfway mark, but look for the Spurs to finish the season with 65 wins and, while you’re at it, take a peek through the glass window at their local Denny’s and you’ll be able to watch Duncan and McDyess enjoy the senior citizen’s 4 p.m. dinner special when June rolls around.
Also, and pardon me if I’m out of line here, NBA championship teams don’t have 6’4” starting centers with two legs, two arms and zero ACLs (yes, I’m talking to you, DeJuan Blair).
4. Miami Heat
Heat will eventually have the best record in the East, but seriously, they really, really, ought to be ashamed of themselves.
They have a loaded team with two Hall of Famers in their prime, with another All-Star tossed in, and yet they still get punked by the Senior Celtics for three straight games?
Really, Miami? You bite it hard even when Paul Pierce shoots "oh for 10" and ends up with one point for the game? Even Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cavaliers, can manage a smile at that fact.
Eric "Why do I feel a need to shout 'Go, Diego, Go!' when you’re on camera?" Spoelstra needs to figure out the Celtics pronto; otherwise, Pat Riley leaves his AARP-GQ meetings to coach the Heat throughout the playoffs.
And they really ought to be ashamed for that “Glee”–inspired pre-game dance performed by LeBron James and Mario Chalmers. Guys, I happen to have a cup of humility at my house so please take a sip and continue to sip on it until you actually win a title.
I know you don’t quite have all of the perfect pieces in place, but you’ve got enough to, with apologies to Larry the Cable Guy, "GIT 'ER DONE!"
So why will they have the best record at year-end? It’s called logic.
They are, currently, only one game behind the Celtics in the loss column (in a virtual tie in the standings), but have played five fewer home games and seven more road games than their "Big Brother," as Wade referred to them.
That could, and should, cause a flip-flop in the standings.
5. NBA Finals 2011
It’s a rematch, you betcha, but not last year’s rematch. The rematch of 2006: the Miami Heat vs. the Dallas Mavericks.
I can hear you snickering. Stop it.
These two teams, barring any last-minute trades, are already among the top five teams in the league and stand to gain the most from their respective injured reserve lists when the playoffs arrive (Heat: Udonis Haslem, Mavericks: Caron Butler).
Also, both teams have enough key individuals with plenty of playoff experience, so they won’t fold under the enormous pressure of the playoffs (Nowitzki, Kidd, James, Wade).
The NBA championship total count will remain at 17 for the Celtics and 16 for the Lakers. Have some of that.