2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: The Most Dangerous Lower-Seeded Teams To Avoid
Everybody knows the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls are the top teams in the NBA and the favorites to compete for an NBA championship.
But just because they are favorites doesn't necessarily mean they will end up in the finals.
Just last year, the Bucks pushed the Hawks to seven games, the eighth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder gave the Lakers all they could handle in six games and the Portland Trail Blazers gave the Phoenix Suns a nice challenge.
All this happened while the Utah Jazz upset the Denver Nuggets and the seventh-seeded Spurs took down the second-seeded Mavericks.
Needless to say, being a higher seed doesn't guarantee either a ticket to the second round or even an easy road along the way.
Every year it seems at least one team near the bottom of the playoff bracket makes a run at one of the higher-seeded teams.
This year, quite a few teams look like they could make runs at any one of the top teams in the league, putting a scare into the fans of teams dreaming of championships.
So here I have the ranking of lower-seeded playoff teams or teams that look like they could find their way into the playoffs in the final weeks of the season based on their abilities. I also have which teams it looks like they would be matched up against.
There are 11 teams here. I don't know why I picked 11, but I did, so just deal with it.
11. Charlotte Bobcats
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The Charlotte Bobcats are currently a game-and-a-half out of the eighth seed in the East.
Regardless of whether they are able to remarkably make the playoffs after trading away their best player, there isn't much they can do once they make it in the playoffs.
The best the Bobcats can hope for at this point is the eighth seed, which means they would be matched up against either Boston or Chicago. Neither of those teams will be beatable in the first round of the playoffs.
Charlotte did beat Chicago twice this season, but both of those wins came when Chicago was without Joakim Noah and Charlotte still had Gerald Wallace.
They then lost a game with Wallace still in the lineup and lost again last week.
Against the Celtics they are 1-2 and they have looked exceptionally bad at times against such a good defensive team.
Charlotte has about as much of a chance of winning a series against Chicago or Boston as I do of becoming the head coach of the Miami Heat next season (but that doesn't mean that I won't do it, Pat Riley, if you are out there reading).
10. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers seemingly came out of nowhere this season to come back from a series of mediocre seasons since 2006, when they finished slightly out of the playoff race.
This year they have Darren Collison running the offense remarkably well, Roy Hibbert holding down the defensive end and Tyler Hansbrough playing like he's in the NCAA tournament all over again.
The biggest problem, however, is the fact that they are just not that great of a team yet. They haven't got that star player to get them over the hump and take them to the next level.
Because of that, they have next to no chance of beating the Celtics or Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.
9. Milwaukee Bucks
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Last year, the Bucks won 46 games to nab the sixth seed in the East and put an enormous scare into the Atlanta Hawks.
This year they are struggling to swing their way into the playoffs, and they are looking like an easily-sweepable team if they do make it in.
However, it is hard to ignore what the Bucks did a year ago.
Milwaukee has roughly the same rotation as last year, only with Corey Maggette thrown in the mix.
The Bucks have struggled this season but they have started to come on as of late, winning five of their past eight games.
8. Houston Rockets
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The Houston Rockets are starting to come on strong late in the season.
They could end up wriggling their way into the playoffs depending on what the Grizzlies do over the last few seasons, so their ranking here could go up as the season winds down.
Over the past few weeks they have won 11 of 14 games, with wins over the Jazz, Celtics, Blazers and Hornets.
They could end up being more dangerous than once thought.
Houston has a very explosive offense that could do the same thing the Suns have over the past few years—give teams fits trying to keep up.
But their defense needs to improve if they want to win.
It's likely that the only team they could possibly face in the playoffs would be San Antonio, which is seemingly a death sentence for any team. This is another thing that is keeping them low in the rankings.
They probably could give the Lakers or Mavericks a run for their money, but against the Spurs they won't be able to do much.
7. Memphis Grizzlies
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Once again, this is a team that could end up being more dangerous if it ends up with a higher seed. But with the Grizzlies lined up to play the Spurs, nothing will probably happen in terms of an upset with this series.
The Grizzlies are rapidly improving and could be a higher seed next season with another good player. But this year, eighth seems as high as they can go.
They do have good individual players in Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, but as a unit they are still looking for an identity.
Playing the Spurs would be public execution for this team, so they better hope some teams above them struggle and they continue to win.
Otherwise, the playoffs will just end up being an extra four games tacked onto the end of the year.
6. Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers seem to be a much rejuvenated team from a year ago.
They started the season much like they did last year when they finished with 27 wins, but suddenly something clicked when they were eight games below .500 at the beginning of January.
Now they are 36-34, sixth in the East and a half-game ahead of the struggling New York Knicks. They have won 10 of their last 15 games.
The most dangerous thing about the 76ers is their much-improved defense, as they went from a defense that was in the bottom third in the league to one in the top third in just a year.
They don't have to rely on Andre Iguodala quite as much. Elton Brand, Lou Williams, Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young all have PERs over 15, with Brand, Williams and Young over 18.
The 76ers are a terrific, cohesive unit, but if teams are able to isolate one player and attack then they can easily be beat.
However, they still shouldn't be taken lightly.
5. Atlanta Hawks
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Is anyone else out there as completely down on the Hawks as I am?
It is a foregone conclusion that the Hawks will be the five-seed in the East and will end up playing the Orlando Magic in the playoffs, so right now we can start dissecting this series.
They beat the Magic twice already this season, but both times it was the pre-trading-frenzy Magic, so there isn't much stock you can place in those victories.
The biggest problem for the Hawks here is that they are basically the same team they were a year ago, with Kirk Hinrich in place of Mike Bibby and a much less-productive Jamal Crawford.
Meanwhile, Orlando has switched things around, putting an endless number of offensive weapons around Dwight Howard, who anchors the defensive end.
Atlanta will probably be able to pull off a win or two, but realistically, I see almost no way for them to win this series.
4. New Orleans Hornets
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The biggest things that make the Hornets a dangerous team are obviously Chris Paul and David West.
They have one of the slowest paces in the league, forcing teams to slow down and play a half-court offense.
If they come up against a team that is more fast-paced, they can usually slow it down to where they are comfortable.
It is because of this that they are a low-scoring team, but they also allow the fourth fewest points in the league.
With Chris Paul and Marco Belinelli both boasting 41-percent three-point percentages and David West and Emeka Okafor planted down low, they have one of the best inside-outside attacks in the NBA.
With Paul up top and West and Okafor down low, the Hornets also have one of the best pick-and-roll combos in the league, which accounts for 21 percent of the offense.
The Hornets are an extremely cerebral team, and that can usually spell fits for unsuspecting teams.
3. New York Knicks
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As of right now, the New York Knicks are struggling to put their new pieces together. They have lost six of their last seven games and are 7-8 since the trade.
Their recent struggles have even led Carmelo Anthony to say that the Knicks might not get any better this season.
They are having trouble trying to mix the run-and-gun style offense with Anthony's slow-down style that forces him to make a move on his man.
There hasn't been a lack in production statistically from Carmelo or Amar'e Stoudemire, but the rest of the team has had trouble fitting in.
Against Boston, the team that they are currently slated to face in the playoffs, Anthony, Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups accounted for 68 percent of the offense, with only five other players even scoring.
So needless to say, the Knicks are having their problems.
But if they are able to get their act together, they can easily become a dangerous team to play, which is why they had to be ranked so high.
2. Denver Nuggets
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The Denver Nuggets should have the biggest chip on their shoulder of any team in the playoff race right now.
Denver had to endure months of Carmelo Anthony rumors, which constantly reminded the Nuggets that he didn't want to play there anymore.
Even if he wanted to go to New York because that is his hometown, the message he sent was that he wanted to play with a better team in a better city.
Aside from that, the Nuggets are actually thriving since Anthony left the team. They are 8-4 since Anthony was traded to the Knicks, and they seem to be incorporating their new pieces quite well.
A team that is both thriving without its superstar and has a chip on its shoulder is dangerous when the playoffs roll around.
1. Portland Trail Blazers
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The Portland Trail Blazers have everything going right for them at exactly the right time.
They have Brandon Roy working his way back into the rotation and they have Gerald Wallace fitting into the lineup as easily as they could have hoped.
With Roy, a former All-Star, Marcus Camby, one of the best defensive big men in the West, and Rudy Fernandez, a guy who would be a borderline All-Star given a starting role, they have three of the best bench players any team could ask for.
Because they have had to deal with relentless injuries in the past, they have a roster full of playoff experience.
With the arrival of Gerald Wallace, they also have one of the best defenses in the NBA, giving up only 90.75 points per game since he came over from Charlotte.
Any team at the top of the NBA should be on its toes if it has to face the Blazers in the first round of the finals.