The NBA: Where 3 Day All-Star Breaks Happen…
The All-Star break in the NBA is a special time in which families come together. They share stories and laugh while dozens of millionaires show off their talents for your enjoyment. Dance, puppets! Personally, I take the break to forgive debts and give back land to their original owners. Jubilee!
But the best part of the break is taking stock of the NBA title contenders and their chances to win it all.
This conversation usually sucks for 75% of the league, and this year is no exception. From the least likely to my personal choice to win it all, here is a look at the only teams I think that have a shot.
(6) Denver Nuggets
I don’t know how to feel about the Nuggets. I know they’ve been outstanding with Chauncey Billups, and Carmelo Anthony will once again go into another post-season motivated by “disrespect.” The Nuggets can score in huge bunches and have weapons at nearly every position (including the rejuvenated Nene), but I also know this is the same team, and the same coach, that flat-out gave up against the Lakers last season.
The Nuggets don’t play a defense worth relying on at any point in a game. I can see them winning one series at home and maybe two if they can avoid the Lakers.
(5) Orlando Magic
They might be a little higher on my list if Jameer Nelson was going to be a factor at all this season. God must really hate that little guy, seeing as he was thriving in a “most-improved player” kind of year in Orlando. Since the Magic don’t really have any playmakers, things should get dicey in the postseason, especially when their record likely won’t keep them in the top-5 come playoff time.
They do still have the best center in the game (Dwight Howard) and no one seems to know how to stop their perimeter scoring. Still, this team will not win a title without Nelson, but they at least have a fool’s hope of doing so.
(4) Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland is everyone’s darling to do everything in the world ever, but I really don’t see it coming to fruition this season. Even if the Cavs were to make it past the East, they’d likely have to contend with one of two teams that has really been able to stifle LeBron James: the Lakers and the Spurs.
The Lakers have twice now befuddled James with their size and quickness to fill in lane gaps, while the Spurs pester James on the perimeter with Bruce Bowen and funnel him right into Tim Duncan.
The Cavs are still contenders because James is much more polished than he was in the 2007 Finals, but if it comes down to the Lakers or Spurs, I have the Western conference everytime.
(3) Los Angeles Lakers
In no way would the Lakers be here at three, if Andrew Bynum was still playing everyday and blocking three shots a game. With the Lakers giving Josh Powell and Chris Mihm signifcant minutes in the post, and Bynum already proven to be a slow healer, the Lakers would simply have no buffer against Duncan in a seven game series (oh you think Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom has a chance?).
The Lakers could easily still be the title winner if only because you simply cannot shove Kobe Bryant down without a significant defensive gameplan. But I can’t justify the Duncan factor and give the Lakers the nod.
(2) San Antonio Spurs
My pick for the Western conference representative. The Spurs have been quietly consistant and coming together more as the season has gone on. As usual, just about all of the Spurs free agent and draft options have panned out (see Mason Jr., Roger and Hill, George), which has allowed the Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to see more time on the bench than they are accustomed to getting.
Make no mistake, the Spurs will not be too tired to play LA in the playoffs and will have a huge advantage against a Bynum-less Lakers team or a Lakers team with an out of shape Bynum. For all the star power LA has, the Spurs can match them at just about every position, including on the bench.
(1) Boston Celtics
My pick for the NBA championship. The Celtics have the worst center of the top-4 (Kendrick Perkins), but are almost as good, as good, or better than any other team at the other four positions. Ray Allen has finally found his niche in the offense, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are still playing at an All-Star level, and Rajon Rondo is a top three PG in the Eastern Conference. They don’t have the defensive stopper like they did last year with James Posey, but they do have another year under their belt of playing together and gelling.
No other team steps up for big games quite like this version of the Boston Celtics.