NBA Playoffs 2011: Los Angeles Lakers and the Dark Horse Teams of the Postseason
When we think of "dark horses", we usually think of that lower seeded team with talent or heart that is willing to undertake pulling off the upset or finally playing up to their abilities.
For me, the 1999 Knicks, who made the Finals as an No. 8 seed, is the epitome of a dark horse.
A team that was full of talent and experience, but due to circumstances, had struggled to postseason play. They of course dealt with a strike shortened regular season and the injury bug along the way.
Whether it be Allan Houston's series clinching jumper or Larry Johnson's four point play against the Pacers, the team was able to put it all together and brought a tough series to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs.
That was just one team that fit the title of a dark horse.
There are six teams that most closely embody the term this year, and for their own individual reasons.
They have the chance to rise to prominence slightly better than Chauncey Billups' hair (see photo).
If Chauncey has it his way though, his high top fade is just a reminder that things can be cleaned up and reset for success.
Here are the six teams worth noting.
Dark Horse No. 1: Philadelphia 76ers
There is one reason that they should get any consideration and that is based merely on their unpredictability.
Doug Collins has put together this rag tag bunch into a solid core after a horrendous start.
Everyone is expecting Miami to come through the city of brotherly love and take care of the Sixers. The question is whether or not Philly can push Miami in the first round as they did two years ago against Orlando in their first round series.
Elton Brand has revamped his game to the days when he was a Clipper and Andre Iguodala has been good as well.
Dark Horse No. 2: Memphis Grizzlies
No, I'm not going out on a limb that the Grizzlies are going to win the title. I'm far from that prediction.
Rather, I do believe they have a shot, a slight shot, at upsetting the Spurs and causing problems for a team in the second round.
They remind me slightly of the 1993-94 Denver Nuggets who upset the Seattle Supersonics.
They are young, vibrant and have nothing to lose in this series. At the least they can get their first playoff win in team history, which includes their oh so vibrant days in Vancouver.
The injury to Manu Ginobili could greatly change the outlook of this series and level the playing field with the absence of Rudy Gay.
If they can pull off an upset as an eight seed, history says they'll at least push their second round matchup. That's assuming they can get by San Antonio.
Dark Horse No. 3: Portland Trailblazers
This is probably the popular pick amongst the talked about "sleeper" or "dark horse" teams.
The Blazers received Gerald Wallace at the trade deadline in the most overlooked transaction at the deadline.
Putting in a 40 point game has just been one part of Wallace's contributions since he came to Rip City. He gives just more depth and defensive intensity to Portland.
They have the fortunate draw of the Mavericks in the first round, and Dallas should have their hands full.
If Andre Miller can lead this team, and Brandon Roy can give them anything, it wouldn't be a bad bet to see them up against the Lakers. What happens from there is up to Portland and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Dark Horse No. 4: Oklahoma City Thunder
This is a team that could be out in the first round against the Nuggets or possibly challenge for the Western Conference title, and that is what makes the Thunder a dark horse.
The addition of Kendrick Perkins has been scrutinized, and rightly so. His injury has been of focus, but at this particular time he looks to be raring to go and work down low.
This sounds like good news, as they will have to take on a revitalized Nuggets squad, and if they win, they will most likely get the Spurs next round.
Kevin Durant continues to grow and this will be another opportunity for him to show he is one of the five best players in the game today.
Dark Horse No. 5: Los Angeles Lakers
I know, many of you are wondering how I can put the Lakers on this list.
Whether we are talking about Ron Artest, Lamar Odom or Kobe Bryant, the play is either considered the greatest or very disappointing. This can all happen within the span of a week.
Are the Lakers the best team in the league? Yes.
Will they win the title? Probably.
Will people expect them to lose because they should win? Yeah.
They are a dark horse, pretender, contender, most loved, most hated and numerous other labels.
The point is, they fill the role of rising to prominence when it matters, and this year should be no different.
Dark Horse No. 6: New York Knicks
Personally, I don't find the Knicks to be a dark horse, but I knew that most people feel that they are. Therefore, I had to put NY in the mix.
Chauncey Billups is being more big mouth than big shot lately, but that's fine with me, he's proved his mettle.
The Knicks-Celtics series is the most anticipated series, in that there is a strong belief that the big three from the Apple can make some Snapple out of the Boston tea party.
If they can get past Boston, they could do some damage.
Stoudemire and Anthony were both 25-plus PPG scorers this year, so we know they can score.
If Landry Fields and Toney Douglas give solid bench play, there might be more going on about the Knicks this month than the Yankees.