There wasn’t much shifting among the top of the NBA’s elite teams, but there was a lot of movement in the middle. What five teams that were lottery participants in 2011-12 have the best chance to sneak back into the 2012-13 playoffs?
1. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets are the most likely of all to make the playoffs and I’d be completely shocked if they didn’t. Their starting five of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez will likely be one of the best offensively in the NBA. Defense and frontcourt depth will be an issue, which is why they won’t be winning the title this year.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves need to get Ricky Rubio back before anything can really take off for them, but they’ve added a lot of veterans and cut most of their deadweight from the 2011-12 season. Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko round out a talented starting rotation, with Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Rubio. Health will be a major factor and if they stay healthy, they’ll be competitors.
3. Golden State Warriors
As one of the deeper teams in the league, the Warriors enter the 2012-13 season with the highest hopes they’ve had in a long time. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee and Andrew Bogut form a unit that can perform on both ends of the court. Opposing teams will try to focus on specific mismatches, but because of their excellent depth, coach Mark Jackson can simply go to another player. If they step up their defensive effort, they’ll be back in the playoffs.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
They aren’t the most consistent team in the league, but part of that can be attributed to a mid-season trade that brought in Monta Ellis. With a full offseason to gel, the Bucks will enter the 2012-13 season with an eye on the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. They’re better than the bottom teams, for sure, and if Brandon Jennings, Ellis and Ersan Ilyasova get hot, they can surprise anyone.
5. Washington Wizards
Without John Wall, they won’t make the playoffs. Assuming he comes back healthy from his knee injury, they field a solid lineup with Jordan Crawford, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor and Nene. Rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal has been impressive so far in the preseason and is a sleeper Rookie of the Year candidate. It all hinges on Wall and making sure he doesn’t have any restrictions and can go full speed.
If I were a betting man, I’d put the Brooklyn Nets and the Minnesota Timberwolves in, with the others narrowly missing out.
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