There are clear favorites out there to win it all, after all is said and done in this 2011-2012 NBA season.
What many of us might be forgetting is that this is no regular 82-game season, with plenty of resting time between games.
It's going to be a grueling 66-game season, played with back-to-backs all over the place. And it started way too late, so it's like playing 82 games plus the playoffs, in fewer months, with less time to recover from the infamous NBA wear and tear.
All players will feel the consequences. Older teams might suffer more, if they don't pace themselves right now. Teams like the Dallas Mavericks have already voiced their concerns and specific strategy to deal with this special season.
All you have to do is take a quick look at what happened in the shortened 1998 season, the last lockout we've seen. It was really ugly, due to the obvious widespread fatigue among players and significant injuries. The quality of games was clearly affected.
Coaches like Erick Spoelstra are somewhat aware of what's coming up. Things like eight games in 12 nights, and then some more.
They know what it's like to lose a key player—Dwyane Wade, for instance—during a grueling season.
Better be cautious now. It's what the doctor ordered. General team health and depth of all benches will be particularly important this crazy, compressed season.
Actually, what I'm saying here is that health and the bench could be downright decisive. It has happened before.
And a few top contenders might fail, because of it: fatigue, injuries or lack of bench support.
Or a combination thereof.
You cannot over-exert your key players night after night, exposing them to more than fatigue—the risk of a season-ending injury. Forty-plus minutes per game for guys like LeBron James or especially Wade? Not the best idea right now.
This is no "regular season;" every NBA team should keep that in mind if they want to compete and be alive for the playoffs.
That's why benches, and the famous "depth" of any team, will be especially relevant from now on.
You can bet more key players than usual are going to go down due to various injuries, or at least be tired as hell, come the 2012 NBA playoffs.