NBA Playoff Predictions: Analyzing Each Team's Biggest Strength
There are sixteen teams getting ready to head into the playoffs in just a few weeks, and each of them has their own plan to take out the competition.
Some teams rely most heavily on their star power. You know these teams by their "big three's" or gruesome twosomes. Their supporting cast may not be all that bad, but at the end of the day it's going to be the big money maker that's their best shot of them moving on to the next round.
Some teams rely more on veteran leadership than their powerhouse players. Between the coaches on the bench, and the savvy veteran players coming off of the bench, there is much playoff experience. These teams will have to band together, and utilize this valuable experience they have, if they want any chance of defeating the power house players in their prime.
Still there are other teams who go by what I like to call the "Pistons of 04' route". They have talented players, the coach is knowledgeable, but their real strength is how well they play together as a complete team. These teams rely on chemistry to pull them through at the end of the day, and get wins together.
No matter which playoff hopeful you're a fan of, I'm hear to let you know what your teams biggest strength is going into the post season. Every hopeful team has something special to offer, so look no further to find out exactly what that is.
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No Rudy Gay? No problem Memphis.
It's no secret at this point in the season that good old Z-bo is the key to the Grizzlies success. While many would have contended earlier that it was more Rudy Gay, it's hard for people to argue with how the team has done in his absence. The truth is, Randolph is the spark plug that drives Memphis forward. His insatiable hunger to rebound and score single handily earns W's for the Grizz on many a night. His versatility is what truly makes him a dangerous player come playoff time, and opposing squads will have to have a game plan for him, or suffer the consequences.
Don't look for Memphis to go far this post season, but with a strength like Zach Randolph, it's not inconceivable that they pull a first round upset. One thing is for sure, don't sleep on these Grizzly Bears.
Danny Granger may not be having the season that Indiana expected from him, but luckily Tyler Hansbrough is breaking out just at the right time.
Hansbrough has established himself on the Indiana roster as a fierce rebounder and scorer, and he could end up being the key to Indiana's playoff hopes. He seems to be coming into his own toward the latter half of this season, and if he can carry it into the post season, the Pacers could very well ride him into the next round.
My main concern for him is that he has no playoff experience. That being said, he represents the Pacer's largest strength at this junction, and could end up surprising people who haven't seen too much of his game thus far.
New Orleans Hornets
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Who were you expecting, Marco Belinelli?
Chris Paul is still arguably the game's best point guard, and he's also still the Hornet's largest strength. His amazing court vision, ability to score in bunches, and unparallelled ball thieving skills, Chris Paul can turn into a one man wrecking crew on any given night. If his game is on, you can expect the Hornet's to give you a heck of a fight.
While Paul lacks a group of reliable scorers to pass to, he's so good at what he does that on most nights he can still create the opportunity to come out victorious. Look for the Hornets to rely heavily on his play making skills come playoff time, as all eyes will surely be on him.
New York Knicks
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The Knicks have been struggling mightily as of late, and they have to look to Amare if they want to get out of this funk any time soon.
All the talk in Manhattan has been about Carmelo Anthony for some time now, but people need to remember that the Knicks were doing much better when the team belonged to Amare Stoudemire. He stepped into his role as a leader very well, put up huge numbers across the board, and gave this franchise a new reason to believe in the future.
All this being said, Stoudemire is the Knicks largest strength moving forward. They need to find a way to make him the centerpiece of not only the offense, but of the team. He seems to thrive while in the spotlight, and if the Knicks want to make a splash in the post season, that's where they need him.
This is not to say that Carmelo Anthony is chopped liver, but more to say he works better as a side dish.
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This Portland team has been shaken up quite a but this year, but in the end, they will have to come together as a team if they want to make any noise in the post season.
They have a scorer/rebounder in Lamarcus Aldridge, a slashing swing man in Gerald Wallace, and a recovering superstar in Brandon Roy, but none of them can carry the weight of this team by themselves. One thing that Portland does have going for them is depth. They have a variety of skilled role players who can and do take charge on different nights, taking the pressure off of the teams stars.
At this juncture it doesn't seem as if Roy will be back in top form in time to play the star, so it will be absolutely essential for Portland to utilize it's chemistry to topple it's opponents. They are going to need to trust each other, and believe that as one unit they can do what is necessary to pull out the victory.
The good thing for the Blazers, is that this is very possible. The bad news, is that injuries may end up getting the best of them, even with their best effort asserted.
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Barely over 500, but still in the playoffs, the 76er's hopes of playoff success rest in the hands of a one time rising star Elton Brand.
Jrue Holiday may run the point in PA these days, but his production as of late has been worrisome to say the least. The one man on the Sixer roster that has played consistently all season long, is also the one no one expected to. Elton Brand came into this season with no expectations from the fans, staff, or even himself. While this does not work for everyone, it seems to have done wonders for Brand.
He has put up great rebounding and scoring numbers all year long, while also managing to snag a few steals on most nights. The Sixers will rely on these abilities come playoff time to keep them in the game.
I would not expect the Sixers to make it far this post season, but seeing a player like Brand having such a career resurgence has to be enough to put a smile on the faces of Philadelphia fans.
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Remember when this was Carmelo Anthony's team? Neither did we.
The Nuggets have been thriving since they shipped Melo' to New York, after they acquired depth and versatility in return. This post season the Nugget's largest strength lies in their ability to play as a team. No longer do they have one player that the offense must be run through, but instead they have numerous scorers that seem to come alive just at the right moments.
This team has responded very well to what has transpired, and they have molded into one cohesive unit that is hell bent on proving to people that they never needed Carmelo in the first place. The most dangerous thing about this team now, is that they can hit you from all angles. With unpredictability, comes great power. The Nuggets will certainly prove that they can hang with the superstar driven teams in just a few short weeks.
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The secret to the Hawk's Success lies not in one player, but in the versatility of all their players.
Josh Smith is a perfect example of this, but not the only person on the roster that fits this description. He's a hyper athletic forward, who consistently contributes to every single stat column. He plays hard nose defense, creates extra possessions, scores in bunches, and cleans the glass. The special thing about the Hawk's roster, is that they are chalked full of players just like Smith.
This includes players like Al Horford, Joe Johnson, Kirk Hinrich, and Marvin Williams. Each one of these players knows that in order for their team to come out victorious, they are going to have to pitch in on many levels. What the Hawks lack in terms of a leading superstar, they make up for in terms of vital versatility. With a roster like theirs, they are always a threat to upset even the most powerful of teams in the Eastern Conference.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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There's no other way to slice it, the Thunder need Kevin Durant to play like a Superstar.
While the Thunder have an amazing point guard in Russel Westbrook, and a budding shot blocker in Serge Ibaka, their true strength is the man who hits shots with the game on the line. Kevin Durant has established himself as one of the games best scorers, and he's also proven that he relishes the chance to make the game winning play.
The reason that the Thunder could not overcome the Lakers last year, was because Kevin Durant's performance suffered when they needed it the most. I'm not so sure that will happen again this year. Durant looks more focused and dangerous than ever moving toward this years post season, and I highly doubt he will let nerves get the best of him two years in a row.
You can talk about how well rounded or coached this Thunder team is, but at the end of the day everything hinges on Kevin Durant. It will take every bucket he can muster for the Thunder to make waves against the best teams of the Western conference.
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It may seem like the Orlando Magic have been all about Dwight Howard for some time now, but have you seen how he has upped his game lately?
Howard is playing like a man on fire, to state it plainly. His shot blocking and rebounding has been out of control, and he's found a way to provide more consistent offense all at the same time. Howard has been the franchise player for years, but he seems to actually be playing like one now.
The Magic sure shook up their roster this year getting Turkoglu back in blue, and acquiring Gilbert Arenas, but their real strength has always been Dwight. The Magic will need him to be a dominant force in the paint if they expect to beat the powerhouses in the Eastern conference, and this year he appears to be up to the challenge.
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The Mavericks have shocked the NBA community again this year by putting together one of their best seasons since Dirk Nowitzki joined the team. Most of this can be attributed to the fact that Dirk has had another MVP caliber season.
While veteran leadership definitely plays a role in the Maverick's success this year, it's trumped by the talent level of their power forward. Either way you look at it, it's a good thing for the Mavericks. They have the battle tested mind of Jason Kidd combing with the scoring prowess of Dirk Nowitzki, combing together to form a deadly one two punch out on the court.
When Caron Butler went down earlier in the season, fans all over Dallas were worried that the season could be lost. Fortunately for them, their superstar has not let age slow him down. Going into the post season, this Maverick squad has a great chance of going deep. They have depth, a great coach, player leadership, and one bad man in Dirk Nowitzki.
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If you were expecting "the big three" or even just "Lebron James", then we have differing opinions here.
I, like anyone else, am amazed by the numbers that Lebron James puts up on a nightly basis. Sometimes I don't even know how it's possible. But it's not the key to Miami's success. When it comes to Chris Bosh, well just don't get me started there. He may have had a decent run lately, but I would not count on him when it really matters.
The answer to what is the Miami Heat's strength this year, is once again Dwyane Wade. He also puts up great numbers like James, but the main difference is that he's clutch. Don't even start with the 82games.com numbers, because frankly I don't care. Stats never tell the whole story. There is something about Wade that just allows him to get the job done when it really matters.
He has more belief in himself, in his game, and in his team. He has the mind of a winner, and he's already proven it with a banner. Lebron is a stat man, Wade is a winner. If the Miami Heat want to really challenge for the title this year, then look no further than Dwyane Wade to make it happen.
Los Angeles Lakers
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No, the Lakers biggest strength is not Andrew Bynum. It's their size advantage in general.
We've all heard the story before, but it doesn't make it any less true in this case. The Lakers dominate so many opponents because their front line is unlike any other in the league. They have the likes of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom creating mismatches all over the floor. Throw in the size advantage of Ron Artest over most small forwards, and the situation looks grim for most of their challengers.
The scary thing for every other team, is this is just the tip of the ice berg. I mean, there are a few reasons that they are back to back defending champions. To go along with their dominant size, they have the best coach in the game, the best closer in the game, and a cast of hungry veterans like Derek Fisher, who will stop at nothing to get back to the mountain top.
The Lakers have as good a shot as winning it all as any team in the field, but it's their size that they will have to lean on in order to get back to the show.
The name of the game in Boston is "Team".
That's how they won it all in 2008, and that's how they went to the finals again last year. They don't rely on one man to do all the defending, scoring, or for the intangibles. They all pitch in as a team, and do everything that they can in order to get the W.
The best thing about Boston, is that any one of their players can turn it on and take over the game on any given night. Players like Glen Davis, Nenad Kristic, and Jeff Green will surely also come in handy down the stretch when backed into a corner. While I have to agree that the Celtics made a mistake in trading away Kendrick Perkins, they will likely survive due to their ability to play as a team.
The Celtics have a great coach in Doc Rivers, star players in Pierce, Rondo, Garnett, and Allen, but their real strength is that everyone comes together for one goal. If they can focus on their chemistry and team play, the Celtics will again make another strong run at the title.
San Antonio Spurs
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Tim Duncan may be sidelined for the foreseeable future with a bad ankle sprain, but the Spurs General will most likely have a plan for this.
Unlike most teams in the NBA, the Spur's real strength lies in their coach. He has proved this time and time again, including this season when he completely transformed their playing style from wait and watch, to run and strike. With a new host of young players coming in, Popovich did what he had to do, and the results have been spectacular.
The Spurs have stars in Duncan, Ginoblli, and Parker, but it's Popovich who knows when to use who, and he sure knows well. Duncan is now out, and the Spurs will need a new strategy if they want to live up to what they have shown so far this season.
I'm not sure what Popvich has in mind to fill the void, but rest assured that he will have an answer until Duncan is healthy enough to have back in the system. The real strength of this team moving forward, is their fearless general, and that he will stop at nothing to get them back to the show.
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Say it with me folks, MVP,MVP,MVP.
Now that we've done that, the real strength of the Chicago Bulls, is their suffocating defense. Tom Thibodeau has taken his defensive talents to Chi-city, and the results have surely spoken for themselves. Chicago is back in the number one seed in the East since the days of Michael Jordan, and it's completely thanks to the defense that they commit to playing night in, and night out.
It's quite coincidental that Rose is also having what seems to be the first of many MVP seasons, but his efforts have still been overshadowed by the efforts of the team. Since he will surely win the MVP award also however, no harm, no foul. Everyone knew that the Bulls would be good this year, but with their superb stopping abilities, they have shocked even the most eternal of optimists.
The Bulls have a great chance of coming out of the East this year (they're my pick), and it's not just because of their MVP, it's because of their MVD.