NBA Power Rankings: Grading Each Title Contender's Starting Lineup
The NBA is unlike other professional sports. It boasts dominant teams at the top that 95 percent of the time will not be knocked out the playoffs early by an average, "barely got in" team. Will the defending champions hold on to the crown? Will the hated Heat overcome the odds? Or will an unknown rise above the rest?
Those questions will play themselves out on the hardwood and will be answered. Until that time, it is pure speculation for the millions and millions of NBA fans. But, it is interesting to look at the starting five that each team starts to get an idea who has that talent to make a run.
San Antonio Spurs
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The Spurs have shown throughout the season and, for that matter, the last decade, that they can play with anyone, anytime, anywhere. This season has been one of the best thus far for Pop's boys, as they have been especially dominant at home.
Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been a championship backcourt on a couple of occasions and continue to play well. Richard Jefferson is a wily veteran that may have lost a step, but remains a competent player.
Tim Duncan will go down as one of the best power forwards to play the game and still is a top 30 player in the NBA. The young guy in this group is DeJuan Blair, who is a solid, yet undersized center in the middle.
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The Mavs have had impressive fantasy basketball teams in the past, but have only made one underwhelming NBA Finals appearance. Dallas is one of the best in the West this year and could be the team that represents the conference in several months.
The backcourt for the Mavs is somewhat disappointing. While Jason Kidd is one of the best point guards of all-time, he is also in his 16th season and is not at the top of his game. DeShawn Stevenson and Rodrigue Beaubois are reliable players, but are they title-worthy shooting guards?
The forwards are their strength, as they have MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki, along with often-injuried Peja Stojakovic who, when healthy, is an elite talent. The same could be said for Tyson Chandler at center, who, when healthy, is one of the best rebounders in the league.
Los Angeles Lakers
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The defending champs are going for the ever-historic three-peat. Not many teams have been able to say they accomplished that kind of dominance in a generation. While still a top team in the standings and reputation, the Lakers have had their share of struggles this season.
The inconsistent play at the point guard position have some in "La-La" Land wondering if Derek Fisher or Steve Blake will take the starting job for good. Kobe is still Kobe and will keep the Lakers in the hunt til the end as one of the game's best.
The forwards are still top-level players with championship pedigrees at this point. But this year, Ron Artest have started to frustrate Phil Jackson. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have been good this season, but not as good as years past.
The team that most think will be the champion in the Eastern Conference, Boston will be the team if healthy that every other team is going to try to beat. This season they have played extremely well, including some dominance over the Heat.
Rondo and Allen continue to show that they are among the best at what they do. Rondo has gotten into the conversation as the league's best point guard. Ray Allen set the record for all-time three pointers this season.
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins, are as tough as it gets in the East.
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The Heat came into the season with more hype than any team that has ever taken the court. And, for the first few weeks of the season, they were disappointing. Since that time, though, they have marched their way to the top of the standings at the All-Star break.
Mario Chalmers still has to prove that he is the point guard that will take the "Heatles" to a title. Dwyane Wade has begun to fit nicely into his role on the new look Heat, and is trying to win his second ring in South Beach.
Lebron is perhaps the most talented athlete that the game has to offer, but the "No-Ring King" still has much to prove. Chris Bosh is an All Star, but he has to prove he can be tough enough in the playoffs. Big "Z" at center may have been really good six or seven years ago, but at this point in time, he really doesn't bring that much.
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It took more than a decade of awful and mediocre basketball before the Bulls could say they had rejoined the elites of the league in hopes of perhaps getting a seventh championship. This season, the Bulls continue to disprove doubters as time goes on.
Derrick Rose has emerged as a frontrunner for MVP with his inspired play and incredible effort every night. Keith Bogans and the shooting guard position will be the weakness for Tom Thibodeau's team offensively.
Luol Deng has been an underrated player for Chicago this season. No one has had as many doubters as Deng, but he has responded beautifully. Carlos Boozer has come back from injury and is a factor inside. Joakim Noah will be returning after the All-Star break to add to an already loaded Bulls squad.
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The Magic are the team that you don't want your team to face in the playoffs. More specially, a matchup against Dwight Howard is a mismatch for any team.
The trades earlier this offseason definitely affected the Magic in one fashion or another. Jason Richardson is a veteran of the post-season, but has never made the Finals. Jameer Nelson is a solid point guard who can play with the best of them.
Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass have started throughout the season, but that is not a group that scares most teams. Dwight Howard certainly does, though, as he is perhaps the most dominant force in the game today. Turkoglu is another player that has a lot of deep playoff experience that could come to help the Magic in a few months.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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The Thunder may have the worst record at the All-Star break of any team on this list of contenders, but let that not be construed as thinking that they are not one of the best teams. Oklahoma City is on a rise unlike any team (at least in the West).
Russell Westbrook continues to show why he is a reasonable candidate for MVP. Thabo Sefolosha is a perfect player to match up against the great shooting guards of the NBA.
Kevin Durant can easily be described as the best scorer in the league, and Jeff Green is getting better and better. Krstic is tough on the inside and will never lose them games.