Contenders & Pretenders

The Guru


West Coastin’


For as long as I can remember, we’ve had an abundance of strength throughout the Western Conference, this year’s no different. While at this very moment, I can’t see any team outlasting the Lake Show, I can see a few making the road, a not so smooth one. Outside of the Lakers, the only team I can see making it to the chip, The Spurs. The Spurs have gotten older, but have been one of the most consistent franchises in sports. They have kept themselves in title contention, year after year, despite gaining another grey hair. The Jazz, Hornets, Nuggets, and Mavs, will all make it very interesting out west, just not so sold on them making it to the Finals. Each of those teams has struggled with its fair share of injuries, some of which are still in recovery stages. However, once these teams are at full strength, they will definitely make it an interesting second season out West.


The addition of Chauncey Billups to the Nuggets roster has given them a veteran leader, and a mental toughness, they have been without for years. If the bigs can stay healthy, the Nuggets are a sleeper team that can reach the Western Finals, depending on the road they have to travel.


The Jazz can cause a major shakeup out west, with Carlos Boozer regaining form, and the emergence of Paul Milsap, as a force in the post. Okur creates mismatches; with any team they face, due to his ability to stretch the opposition with his outside shooting. The Jazz are also a heavy favorite to cause some problems with those teams in championship hunt.


New Orleans is a team you want to root for, but I don’t think they have the fire power to unseat any of the teams in legit title contention. As big a CP3 fan I am, I just don’t think he has the back-court  help, he needs, and deserves, to make a run similar to last year.


The Mavs have always been a team full of talent, and promise, but only to be a let down in the end. That sour trend of let down, is sure to continue, as they are still lacking that toughness they’d need to compete against the elite teams in the league. They have been floating between the 7th and 8th positions, in the conference, which spells disaster, and a first round exit for Mark Cuban’s boys.


As for the rest of the pack, The Suns, have been a let down since they dealt for Shaq last season. While Shaq has been playing at a high level, considering his age, he just doesn’t fit with that team. The Suns were one of, if not the most, entertaining team in the league under Mike D’Antoni, and have lost that compelling style of play, since his exit. With Amar’e Stoudemire going down for the season, the Suns’ hopes followed right behind him.


The Blazers are a very young and promising team, whose time will come. However, 2009, just isn’t the year for Portland. This is still a team looking to gain it’s legs beneath them, as they continue to wait for Greg Oden’s growth, and health to hit the same page. Without Oden playing on a consistent basis, the promise that this team has, will never come to fruition.


The ever disappointing Houston Rockets, a team that was sure to land in the NBA Finals, once the teaming of Yao Ming and Tracey McGrady became a reality. Fast-forward 5 years, and you are sure to find an abundance of disappointment. This year may be the most back breaking of the 5, as the team acquired Ron Artest in the off-season. The acquisition of Artest was supposed to put the team over the top, and lift them into title contention. But, of course, along with the abundance of talent between these three players, comes the history of injuries shared amongst them. With T-Mac, done for the season, so is any shot the Rockets had of making it out of the 2nd Round!

Western Conf. Finals : Lakers vs. Spurs 


East Coast Swing


The Least Coast, as they were formerly called, has tried to build to the level of consistency, to that of their coastal rivals, but fall short again! The East, similar to the west, has only 2 real legit title contenders in my eyes, surrounded by a few scary teams, and mediocre to fill out the list. The Cavs and Celtics are the only teams I’d say, are legitimate title teams in the East. The Celtics adding Mikki Moore, and Stephon Marbury, solidified their bench, and returns the depth that was missing, during last years title run. The Cavs added Mo Williams in the off-season, and it has paid extreme dividends for them this year. They have remained in the top 3, throughout the season, are eyeing home-court advantage thru the playoffs, which bodes well for their chances.


The Pistons, Magic, and Hawks, are the other three teams that are very scary in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons are still trying to get themselves together, after acquiring Allen Iverson, so they’re still a work in progress.  With A.I. now out for the rest of the season with a back injury, it looks like they have a LOT more to get together if they plan to make it out of the first round. The Magic trading for Rafer Alston, should help them maintain the elite pace, they’ve been on this entire season. While they are a legit threat to knock off one of the top two teams in the playoffs, they just don’t have the defensive help alongside Dwight Howard, to go all the way. The Hawks are in a similar boat as the Magic, as a team that can knock out one of the elite teams, they’re still missing a little something to get them over the hump. The Hawks, have the defensive presence to cause a major shakeup, however, the offensive consistency needs to match it. They are definitely a team on the rise, with a very young core, and possibly, the most athletic team in the league.


The Heat is a team I can’t quite put a title on just yet. They can be a very scary team if they can go into the playoffs, a healthy team! However, with Jermaine O’neal in that fold, health is a major concern, and a much taller task than imaginable. Another component of the Heats’ success or failure is the development of Rookie, Michael Beasley. If Beasley can get on the court and produce on a consistent basis, Miami becomes a dangerous team, and could shake things up out East.  However, these things must all come in to play if the Heat are to make it out of the first round.


The Raptors and Sixers are two teams full of disappointment this season. They both entered this year with immense promise, with acquisitions of Elton Brand, and Jermaine O’neal, respectively. Brand went down with a season ending injury, and O’neal now resides in an entirely different area code, before injuries plagued his tenure as well. Both bigs never quite fit in with their teams, and were disappointing throughout, before injury, or trades, came into the picture. Both of these teams will find early exits in the playoffs, and will sing the same tune, “We’ll Try Again Next Year,”…however it doesn’t look like the Raptors are going to see the playoffs, so that tune was already on repeat in the Ipod!

 Eastern Conf. Finals : Cavs vs. Magic

The Nets, Bucks, and Bulls are all in re-building mode, and to make the playoffs would be amazing feats for these teams. They’re all very young, and promising teams, whose time won’t be here, for a few more years. The Nets may be on the longest road of the three, with direction being a huge question mark. Devin Harris and Brooke Lopez are nice building blocks for the future, with the rest of the team a mix of various skills. This will almost certainly be Vince Carter’s last hurrah as a Net, to see how far he takes them, remains to be seen.

NBA Finals : Lakers over Cavs – 4-3


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