NBA Teams Ready for Playoff Run
By: Patrick Snow | 3/7/11, 12:58 AM EST
Crunch time. Home stretch. Sink or swim.
Whichever phrase you prefer, we have reached the final quarter of the NBA season, and it’s time to look around the Association at who will contend for the title as well as the effect of the trade deadline.
* The Western Conference looks like a two-horse race. Dallas and new-look Oklahoma City could surprise, but it’s very hard to see the NBA Finals without San Antonio or the Los Angeles Lakers. If their last meeting is any indication, Phil Jackson’s crew has to be the favorite. But the Spurs are a veteran crew, and they will most likely have the home-court advantage. Obviously the key with L.A. and San Antonio will be health after 20 more games.
The Thunder made an interesting move at the trade deadline when they shipped their third-leading scorer, Jeff Green, along with center Nenad Krstic to Boston for big man Kendrick Perkins. OKC also acquired veteran center Nazr Mohammed, and both post presences will greatly reshape Scott Brooks’ lineup. Is it enough to compete with the Spurs or Lakers? The improved post defense will help, but we’ll get a better idea when the injured Perkins finally makes his Thunder debut.
* The Eastern Conference favorite has to be the Celtics, but the Derrick Rose-led Chicago Bulls are gaining serious momentum. Boston definitely changed their chemistry in the aforementioned trade with the Thunder. The C’s obviously felt they could win with the post defensive presence of Krstic, newly-acquired big man Troy Murphy and two injured O’Neal’s (Shaquille and Jermaine). In Jeff Green (a player they originally drafted), Boston gets the versatility of a small forward - Paul Pierce does not have to log major minutes down the stretch - plus some power forward minutes if Doc Rivers needs a smaller lineup.
The Bulls have to be considered a contender with Rose’s playmaking and their Tom Thibodeau-taught defense. If big men Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah can stay healthy, Chicago will be a tough out. Orlando always has a chance with the presence of Dwight Howard, but the Magic have been fairly inconsistent with all of their roster changes. And who knows where to project the Heat? Miami has as much talent as any team in the NBA, but their late game woes may become chronic. If Dwyane Wade and LeBron James can make some final shots, the Heat will be a factor as well.
* The New York Knicks had already become relevant with the offseason acquisition of Amar’e Stoudemire, and they became a team to watch with their trade for Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. Mike D’Antoni’s club is too inconsistent to contend - wins over Miami and Atlanta, but two losses to lowly Cleveland – but it’s good have exciting basketball back at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks do have enough firepower to scare a higher seed in the first round of the postseason.
* The New Jersey Nets also added some relevancy with their acquisition of All-Star point guard Deron Williams. The key now for ambitious owner Mikhail Prokhorov will be signing Williams to a long-term extension, as well as adding another superstar. The Utah Jazz did a good job of getting value in their deal with the Nets, since they figured the uber-talented point guard would not end up re-signing. Utah received solid guard Devin Harris, the potential of big man Derrick Favors and two 2011 first-round picks plus cash.
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