The National Basketball Association playoffs lie right around the corner and this will undoubtedly be a drama filled year with many teams having to overcome extreme adversity just to make it to the dance. Clubs that were steamrolling their opponents a month ago, now find themselves in a race to keep up with the bottom feeders of the league. Back in February, everyone and their mother’s uncle’s pet hamster picked the Indiana Pacers to put a hurt on the competition on their way to their first ever NBA title. However, the pride of the Hoosier State has fallen on hard times and now will need nothing short of an act of God to get the jewelry.
Outside of the monumental collapse that is the Indiana Pacers, the Association is full of teams that have had to deal with serious issues and yet have found a way to win. The San Antonio Spurs continue to turn back father time. The OKC Thunder played without one half of its franchise tandem only to win, win, and then win some more. Joakim Noah is doing his best Superman impression, while no-name teams like the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers are taking a stance and earning the respect of fans and foes alike. So with the playoffs looming, we have compiled a list of teams that will have to overcome serious adversity to make their move and compete for the prize of the league, the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
10. Can the Heat be Beaten in a Seven Game Series?
Probably not! Next…
9. Those Pesky Old Guys in San Antonio are at it Again
Someone needs to let the San Antonio Spurs know that they should not be playing out of their minds at this age. The 60-18 men of the Lone Star State have all but dominated anything that comes in their way from the get go. What is even more impressive is that they are not playing in the East where every team is scraping a .500 record, they are playing in the West where the big boys reside. OKC is the only franchise that has their number with a regular season sweep over the team that is showing that 40 is really the new 20. Will we see a sequel of last year’s Finals with the Heat and the Spurs? It’s quite possible.
8. Kevin Durant is Looking to add a Championship Trophy to his Collection of Scoring Titles
A team that has had to deal with the loss of one of their top tier players in Russell Westbrook for most of the year, currently holds the 2nd best winning percentage in the league and is on the move towards the playoffs, with Mr. Westbrook coming back just in time. Durant and company are 7-3 in their last 10 games, have dominated the league leading Spurs three times this year and KD is getting restless, waiting to add the O’Brien trophy to his collection of scoring titles. The power forward, who earlier this week tied his Airness, Michael Jordan, for the most consecutive games (40) with 25 or more points, is also enjoying the probability of a landslide win in the MVP voting and would love to cap that off with a title for his OKC Thunder.
7. Will Dwight Howard’s Decision to Leave the Purple and Gold for the Rockets Result in a Ring?
A team with this much talent and star power should not be eight games back in the division at this point in the campaign. One would think that the arrival of Dwight “I’m not sure which team I play for” Howard to work with the ultra-talented James Harden would equal a division title and at least a second round appearance in the playoffs, but this is a team who must overcome the fact that they give up too many points. The Howard/Harden combination has surrendered an average of 103.0 points per game, which is nhshocking when your team has the three-time defensive player of the year in Howard. However, they are a juggernaut offensively, averaging 107.7 points per game, which may offset their defensive ineffectiveness. In addition, Howard’s team has fared well against the big boys that they will more than likely face in NBA’s post season; the Heat, the Spurs and the Thunder. With Howard and Harden, anything can happen in a seven game series.
6. The Clippers are for Real…
Lookout, the Clips have arrived. If there is any other team that has been more mired in mediocrity with a meddling owner besides the Knicks, it’s been the Clippers of Los Angeles. The Clips, who originated down in a city where nobody wins, San Diego, have played second fiddle to the purple and gold for years, mostly due to their owner Donald Sterling’s penny pinching ways. The two teams share an arena and a parking lot, but not much else. The Lakers have cemented themselves in history as one of the greatest and winningest franchises in all of sports, while the Clippers have cemented themselves into history as the Lakers ugly sister who never gets asked to the dance. However, 2014 may just be a different script for this upstart franchise who now boasts a record of 55-24 and first place in the division while their roommates of the Staples Center reside in the basement at 25-53.
5. The Pacers are Imploding Right Before our Very Eyes
At the time of this writing, the Indiana Pacers hold a record of 54-25 and 2nd place behind the Heat in the East. While this is not a terrible situation, it is not what they were expecting just a month ago. Prior to March 4th, the Pacers were cruising along with a 46-13 record and first place in their division. However, things have since turned sour. From March 4th through April 6th, Indiana has gone for a disappointing 7 wins and 12 loses, half of which were to mediocre teams. On March 26th, the Pacers took the defending champion Miami Heat to the edge and then tossed them overboard with an 84-83 win at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse and so it seemed that the team from the Hoosier State was on the rebound and ready to show the world that they were for real. However, this may have been their last hurrah. They are just 3-7 in their last 10 games and at this point, the Pacers are on pace to hit rock bottom just in time for the playoffs.
4. Are Joakim Noah’s Broad Shoulders Enough to Carry the Bulls all by his Lonesome?
For Bulls fans, the fall of Derrick Rose to injury all but equaled the fall of the franchise. Right when people were on the verge of rioting in the streets of the Windy City, in comes one Joakim Noah. The 6’11” Center has stepped up and carried the Bulls on his shoulders both literally and figuratively. He has played with an intensity and passion that have ignited the Windy City into the belief that they are not only alive and well, but stand a chance to make their mark in the playoffs. However, one man does not equal a title. Chicago is simply short too many pieces of the puzzle to compete over seven games. While the highlights of Noah yelling, screaming and flailing his arms in the air after another spectacular play make for good drama and a top ten SportsCenter highlight, it does not equate to a parade in Chi Town.
3. The Brooklyn Nets, are They for Real?
The Brooklyn Nets making the playoffs, is a statement that would have been absurd a couple of months ago. This was a team made up of geriatric All-Stars who had trouble making it up and down the court with their creaky knees. They were gifted a rookie head coach who would start out the season under suspension for his off the court antics and the team could not figure out how to play together, with more of their stars cooling their heels on the disabled list than in the starting lineup. By the end of December, they were 10-20 and all but written off for the year, but then by March 3rd, they broke even at 29-29, a turn around that could be called impressive if not miraculous. To add to the high drama, Jason Kidd would be rewarded with Coach of the Month honors for both January and March. According to the New York Daily News, Kidd would be “the first coach in franchise history to win Coach of the Month twice in the same season.” They have also beaten the Heat, Mavericks, Bulls, and Spurs, so it would appear that the Brooklyn Nets are for real and might make some noise in the playoffs.
2. Can the Warriors Recreate the Magic From Last Year’s Playoffs?
The Warriors are led by the young standout, Stephen Curry, who is averaging 23.5 points per game and has brought respect back to a franchise that many in the league had written off long ago. Golden State currently holds a 48-29 record; very respectable considering that they hail from the talent laden West and they beat the Pacers, Heat, Clippers, and Spurs already. The real question though lies in whether or not they can compete with such a young leader in Curry at the helm? While Stephen has become somewhat of a regular highlight reel on SportsCenter, this will not be enough to overcome his inexperience, and also the fact that he is not surrounded by the likes of a Kevin Durant or LeBron James.
1. Can the Knicks Defy the Odds and Their Defensive Inefficiencies?
The New York papers have been praising the Knicks in recent times as having a chance to make the playoffs. This is almost a comical statement as the 33-45 Orange and Blue fell once again to the defending champion Miami Heat this week 102-91. While scoring 91 points is respectable, allowing 102 points is not, but this is the Knicks remember; a team who has proven time and time again that they are lost on the defensive end. They have allowed 100 or more points a staggering 39 times so far, and teams have scored 110 or more in 14 of those games. If there is a chance for the Knickerbockers to grab the last spot in the pathetic East, then defense must become their mantra; if not, then one and done they shall become.