Let’s state the obvious: there are six or seven teams that have become playoff staples and no matter what, come mid-May, will find themselves in the mix. Yet unlike in years past, important injuries, infamous trades, and the lockout have caused a flip-flop of playoff potential in the 2011-2012 NBA season. These variables will inevitably result in a very interesting next five months of NBA basketball.
Following is a list (in no particular order) of my five NBA teams that are sure to turn heads from here on out.
5. Denver Nuggets – I have to say that I like the no-all-star, blue collar identity head coach, George Karl, and GM, Masai Uijiri, have instilled in this Denver franchise. Although not the most talented team in the league by any means, the likes of superb role players like Arron Afflalo, Chris Anderson, and Corey Brewer, all of whom play their role perfectly and don’t overstep boundaries, make way for budding (dare I say) stars in the mile-high city. Point guard, Ty Lawson, Euro-styled scoring forward, Danillo Gallanari, and Center, Nene, can all battle with the best of the West. The energetic rookie from Morehead State (yes, the HBCU), Kenneth Faried, certainly does not hurt the team’s chemistry either. Currently holding a half-game lead over the defending champion, Dallas Mavericks, I would not be surprised to see a young, healthy Nuggets squad making some noise come May.
4. Los Angeles Clippers – “Lob city Clips, lob lob city Clips” remixed Young Money rising rap star, Tyga. Yet, the guaranteed five dunks per outing for Blake Griffin and company is not all the newly stacked Clippers organization will be offering this year. With the new additions of franchise point guard, Chris Paul, and excellent NBA backcourt veterans, Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams, and Caron Butler, one could make the argument that the Clips have the most talent at the one-two positions in the league. Serviceable center, Deandre Jordan, is a point of worry for some analysts, but the truth of the matter is the Clippers have Blake Griffin, and Blake Griffin more than makes up for whatever the front court lacks because of Jordan. Lakers out, Clippers in.
3. Memphis Grizzlies – This team worries me. Of my predictions, the Grizzlies have the least chance of being as successful in the playoffs this year as they were last year. The talent though is hard to deny. With a healthy Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay playing the five, four, and three respectively, I struggle to see a more talented front court in competition. Although I am not a fan of his flash-less game, Mike Conley seems to always be in the right place at the right time at the point. And phew… My main man O.J. Mayo coming off the bench, playing confidently. Who’s going to stop him? My only fear is that head coach, Lionel Hollins, does not have the trust or ability to manage all the personalities in Memphis uniforms. Although Memphis sits one game out of the playoffs at this point, look for them to replace some of the fading organizations in the top 8 come May.
2. Indiana Pacers – Trust me, I’m with you in thinking: why the hell are we even talking about the freakin’ Pacers? Yet, the numbers say we have to. Like the Nuggets, the Pacers have another blue-collar ball club. Aside from perennial all-star (I don’t even know if you can call him perennial), Danny Granger, Indiana is full of hard-working ball players. Once a star in New Orleans, David West should be a good addition once he gets his feet set in coach Frank Vogel’s system. Roy Hibbert, a surprise to many on the offensive end, has become one of the top centers in the east. Paul George, Darren Collison, and Tyler Hansbrough will all provide their services and compete day in and day out. My only worry is the clutch gene. Who does Vogel go with when he needs buckets? Granger is limited to pretty much being a jump shooter in this league, and has no chance of scoring on athletic defenders in the playoffs like say Lebron James.
1. The Philadelphia 76ers – I am genuinely impressed with Doug Collins. I thought his NBA coaching career was over after he left the Wizards (you know our home NBA team—they’re located in DC). The Sixers are another team that just seems to understand each other on the court. I’m not over-zealous about their chances in the playoffs come the second round and eastern conference finals. Yet, they will no doubt draw a waning team like the ancient Celtics or the troubled Magic in the first round and kick the hell out of them – Philly style. But, being forced to rely on the likes of Spencer Hawes inside and Andre Iguodala outside; I’m not convinced of any deep playoff runs just yet.