The NBA season is almost 60 games in and we can now start thinking about the playoffs. LeBron James and the Miami Heat have dominated the East for the past three seasons, but we all know the Indiana Pacers believe they can dethrone them this season. In the West, there’s no clear-cut favorite, which should lead to an epic playoff bracket.
Who are the NBA contenders? Who are the pretenders?
Eastern Conference Contenders:
Indiana Pacers – Paul George, Roy Hibbert, and the rest of the Pacers team have been playing with a chip on their shoulder all season. They pushed the Heat to 7 games last year but were still denied the Finals. They have made a statement this season and want the Eastern Conference Championship played through Indiana. They were my Eastern Conference Champs in the beginning of the season, and I will be sticking with them.
Miami Heat –Don’t need much explanation here. LeBron and the Heat are seeking their fourth straight Finals trip in the LeBron era. It seems like they are saving Wade for the postseason and have no problem with the idea of beating the Pacers in their house to defend their title. They had a big statement win in Oklahoma City the other night.
Eastern Conference Pretenders:
Everyone Else – Can we just get a best of 11 between the Heat and Pacers for the East playoffs? The Raptors, Wizards, and Bobcats are nice stories and it’s awesome seeing young players carry their teams into the playoffs and take strides in their development, specifically John Wall and DeMar DeRozan. With that said, it’s hard to imagine any team beating the Pacers or Heat in a seven-game series and pulling the upset. Barring any injuries, the Eastern Conference Championship will be Pacers-Heat, and honestly, that’s what we all want, no offense to any other team.
Western Conference Contenders:
Los Angeles Clippers – My preseason Finals pick was Pacers-Clippers and I am sticking with it. I will not bet against Doc Rivers in the playoffs and they will be playing their best basketball once April comes around with Chris Paul leading the charge. Carmelo gets a lot of heat about playoff failures, but Chris Paul hasn’t quite led his teams into playoff glory. I think they take that leap this year, mostly because of Doc Rivers, and have a good shot of being in the Western Conference Finals.
Oklahoma City Thunder – All I really have to say is Kevin Durant and that’s all you really need to know. Lucky for him, he has Russell Westbrook back to take some of the offensive pressure off of him. If Westbrook can get back to scoring like we know he can, with Durant playing like the MVP and scoring champion, everyone else on the team will have plenty of open shots. Basketball is a team game, and the Thunder will need others to step up come playoff time, but as long as Kevin Durant is playing like Kevin Durant, they are a contender in the West, with most people picking them as the favorite.
Houston Rockets – I love the Rockets starting five and if they are clicking on all cylinders, they could beat anyone on any given night. James Harden is a proven lethal scorer, Dwight Howard is playing like Dwight Howard of old, and Chandler Parsons is a jack-of-all-trades. I expect the Rockets to be serious contenders.
Golden State Warriors – Steph Curry can single-handedly change a game. If he gets going, there’s no one in the West that can stop him. The Warriors have been a little shaky this season, but they haven’t been completely healthy. I would like to see them bump up a little in the standings, just to avoid a team like the Clippers or Thunder, but how great of a 1st round series would that be?
Western Conference Pretenders
Portland Trailblazers – I love Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, but when I picture a Western team in the Finals taking on the Heat or Pacers, I just don’t see them there. It just might be because they are still a surprise team, but we haven’t seen these players tested in the playoffs, so it’s hard to take them as contenders.
You Can’t Categorize Them:
San Antonio Spurs – Never bet against Coach Pop. They are currently the 2 seed and I just don’t understand how. Can the Spurs make it to Finals again? Ask yourself that question because I don’t think they could. I just can’t see them doing it AGAIN. I understand all they do is win and have one of the best coaches ever with the best power forward ever, but seriously, can they make it to back-to-back Finals? I just picture the Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, or Warriors there this year over them. Would I be surprised if the Spurs came out the West? Hell no, they are the Spurs, but I don’t expect them to.