2011 NBA Playoff Bracket: Power Ranking the Most Dangerous Teams Remaining
With the first round of the NBA playoffs officially in the books it's now time to take another look at which teams are favorites to win it all.
Some teams vastly exceeded expectations in even making it this far, some teams met expectations by taking care of business and some teams are still trying to find a groove. But there's a lot of ball left to be played, starting this afternoon with Grizzlies-Thunder and Heat-Celtics.
Here's my countdown of the most dangerous teams remaining in the NBA playoffs.
8. Atlanta Hawks
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The Hawks dispatched the Orlando Magic in six games despite a superhuman effort by Dwight Howard, but is this really a team built for the long run? In their four wins Atlanta outscored the Magic by a combined 20 points, but in their two losses the Hawks were outscored by 31.
The Magic are a solid team, but are very one-dimensional on both sides of the court and susceptible to defeat by a balanced team, which the Hawks are.
The question with Atlanta is does it have enough pieces? Joe Johnson and Josh Smith are both terrific players, but neither is a crunch-time scorer capable of taking over the game. Jamal Crawford is about as good of a sixth man as you will find in the NBA and he actually leads the Hawks in playoff scoring at 20.5 PPG, but there's a reason he's not starting. In a league where even three stars don't seem to be enough, the Hawks are a player or two short of seriously competing with the NBA superpowers.
7. Dallas Mavericks
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The Mavericks had relatively little trouble with a Portland squad that was riding the heroics of Brandon Roy, winning the series in six games. But Dallas is not a team that is built to play the Los Angeles Lakers, and that is who the Mavs will have to beat in the next round if they want to make a serious run at the NBA Finals.
Dirk Nowitzki is playing great (27.3 PPG), but the combination of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom will be able to defend him in a way that LaMarcus Aldridge simply couldn't. Tyson Chandler and Andrew Bynum cancel each other out. That just leaves the aging trio of Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion against Kobe Bryant, Kobe Bryant and Kobe Bryant.
The Mavericks would be a much more dangerous team if they still had Caron Butler, but without him they're going to be in trouble. Even if they somehow make it past the Lakers, they'll still need to find a way to beat a younger, more athletic team in the conference finals.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
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Any team that dispatches the regular-season champion San Antonio Spurs in just six games deserves to be taken seriously, and the Grizzlies aren't just a fluke.
Zack Randolph (21.5 PPG) is impossible to defend in the post right now and Marc Gasol (14.2 PPG, 12.3 RPG) is making that Pau Gasol trade look a little less one-sided. On top of that, the Grizzlies have two of the best defenders in the NBA at their respective positions: Tony Allen (SG) and Shane Battier (SF).
What that means is that this Memphis team can ball with any squad in the NBA. It may not have an answer for Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, but what are the Thunder going to do about Randolph? This is a very intriguing matchup that could really go either way.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
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Speaking of the Thunder, here they are! Oklahoma City had probably the easiest time of any Western Conference team, beating the Denver Nuggets in just five games. But are the Nuggets that bad or are the Thunder that good?
It's tough to say, but the Thunder are still clearly adjusting to life with Kendrick Perkins. Kevin Durant (32.4 PPG) is still an unconsciously talented scorer and will have to carry his team wherever they go, but his teammates (Perkins aside) are not as playoff tested as some of the teams they'll have to play.
Lucky for the Thunder, the Grizzlies are the least experienced team left in the NBA playoffs. That doesn't mean the Thunder will win, and the Lakers are probably the better matchup anyway, but they're in a position to go very far this year.
4. Miami Heat
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The Heat didn't have much difficulty beating the Philadelphia 76ers in five games, but despite their first series win this is a team that still hasn't proven anything.
If Miami can get past the Celtics then the sky's the limit for this team. But if the regular season is any indication then the Heat might want to practice a bit more.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
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The defending champions seem to be coasting until they face a real team, and I'm not entirely sure the Dallas Mavericks even qualify. The Lakers needed six games to put away a New Orleans Hornets team that was being literally dragged through the playoffs by Chris Paul.
What's more worrisome though is that Andrew Bynum can't seem to make it more than a couple days without finding a new way to hurt himself. The Lakers need Bynum to get to the NBA Finals, let alone to win them. But will he even be enough?
Assuming the Lakers get past the Mavericks, they are going to have a very difficult time beating either the Grizzlies or Thunder. The Thunder were built for this matchup, while the Grizzlies have just the right pieces to neutralize Kobe. Stay tuned.
2. Chicago Bulls
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The Bulls may still be the favorites after demolishing the Indiana Pacers in the first round, but the playoffs are all about clicking at just the right time and the Bulls may have peaked a little too early.
Derrick Rose played out of his mind during what was probably an MVP season, but his assists (6.2 APG) are down and turnovers (3.8 TPG) are up in the playoffs. That means the Bulls offense is becoming increasingly one-dimensional and dependent on Rose's stellar play.
It's possible to win an NBA championship with just one superstar player, but it's very, very hard. Rose is going to need his teammates sooner or later as the level of competition gets tougher. Whether or not he can get the other Bulls to play up to the moment will determine how far Chicago goes in the playoffs.
1. Boston Celtics
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As recently as a couple of weeks ago people wondered whether the faltering Celtics could even get past the New York Knicks in the first round. They were too old, they couldn't win without Kendrick Perkins, they had no bench, etc. Well, so much for that.
After a slow start in Game 1, the Celtics just kept getting better and better until they blew out the Knicks in their home arena in back-to-back games. The Big Three were their usual terrific selves, Jermaine O'Neal was awesome in his first serious action seemingly all year and Rajon Rondo is...well, Rajon Rondo.
The Celtics are the hottest team in the playoffs and if Rondo (10.6 PPG, 11.2 APG, 4.4 RPG) keeps playing like this then there's no stopping this team.