With February here there are less than three months left in the season. It is time to see where the top teams are right now and what their chances are at playoff success. Who are the contenders and pretenders for the NBA championships and where do they rank?
10. Memphis Grizzlies
The Rudy Gay trade and the addition of Tayshaun Prince will throw the Memphis Grizzlies off for a little while. Truth be told, they really were not that good with Gay. They are a defensive-minded team that leads the league in points allowed. On the offensive side, they are the third worst.
While they do have a 30-18 record that was mainly done with a hot 12-2 start to the season. They are 18-16 since then.
The addition of Prince gives them someone who can score without demanding touches. He also will fully fit in with the defensive nature of the team. The Grizzlies may actually be a better team after the trade; however it is not enough to make a run in the playoffs.
9. Brooklyn Nets
While they do play in the much weaker Eastern Conference, there is not much to this team. They are a top five defensive team, but middle of the pack offensively.
Their starting five is solid but there is not enough depth here. They will be a team looking to add one more piece before the trade deadline.
Verdict: Pretender but close
8. Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers are a mirror image of Memphis. Both are defensive teams that struggle to score. Like the Grizzlies, the Pacers are near the top in opponents scoring but near the bottom in team scoring.
Granger has yet to play a game this season due to a knee injury. He recently started to practice again and hopes to make a return very soon. His addition will help the scoring for the team.
Their main deficiency is depth. There is not much on the bench that will worry other teams.
Verdict: Pretender but with upset potential
7. New York Knicks:
While they may be good enough to compete in the East, they are nowhere near the top Western Conference teams.
This is a team that has the potential to make the finals but is not quite there yet
Verdict: Almost a contender
6. Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls are a surprise team. They have not had Derrick Rose all season yet are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah have led the way this season. Once Rose returns, this become a dangerous team. Nate Robinson, Richard Hamilton, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler give the Bulls a good bench.
They have proven that they can lose their best player and still maintain a very high level of play. Once Rose returns, they should make a run for the top spot in the East. Like New York, they likely do not have enough to beat a Western Conference team in the finals but once there anything can happen.
5. Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors may surprise many by being this high on the list but this is a dark-horse team. At 30-19, they sit sixth in the Western Conference but only three games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the Pacific Division lead.
The team has super scorer Stephan Curry, but goes much deeper. David Lee is a double-double machine who might be the most under-appreciated players in the league. Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry form a solid crew behind Curry and Lee.
Big man Andrew Bogut has recently returned after missing almost all of the season. He is still getting up to speed but will provide some needed size in the middle.
This is an energetic bunch that could surprise some teams long the way.
Verdict: Dark horse
4. Los Angeles Clippers
In Chris Paul and Blake Griffin the Los Angeles Clippers have one of the most dynamic tandems in the league. Beyond those two, they have Matt Barnes and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford providing strong play.
The four of them provide a strong nucleus for the team. They have gotten enough production from various players on the team to propel them to one of the best records in the NBA. They are 10th in offense and fourth in defense.
This is a team that can go all the way. There is a little question about depth, but with veterans Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups working their way back from injuries, they should fill that need. They are likely to be active in the trade market as well.
3. Miami Heat
The defending champs are poised to make another run. LeBron James is playing at an MVP level. Chris Bosh is having a very good season. He is having the best shooting season of his career at 54 percent and has tied his career high in blocks.
They added Ray Allen in the off-season and he has proven to still be a valuable player.
The big question on their chances at a repeat will come down to Dwayne Wade. At times this season he has struggled with slumps and minor injuries. Many of his numbers are his worst since his rookie season. As great as James is, he needs a strong and productive Wade by his side.
Perhaps the best thing they have going for them is being in the Eastern Conference. A first-round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers or Milwaukee Bucks is not as daunting as one against the Houston Rockets or Portland Trail Blazers would be. While no team is a pushover, having that one easier round could help them have the stamina to make a repeat run.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
After the top four it starts to get a little thin; however, Westbrook and Durant are so good that they really only need role players around them.
Last season they made it to the finals before losing to Miami. That hunger will drive them through a long playoff run this year. Until the past two weeks they were the favorites.
1. San Antonio Spurs
When organizations have championship teams inevitably the question arises as to when to break them up to rebuild or if lucky, reload. Most teams tend to wait too long as it is difficult to cut ties. By most standards the San Antonio Spurs have waited too long, yet here they are with the best record in the league.
While the rest of the contenders expect their players to play heavy minutes, the Spurs are able to keep their stars minutes down. Parker is the only player on the team that averages more than 30 minutes.
The other teams have several players averaging more than 30 minutes and players such as Durant, Westbrook, James, Curry, Lee and Anthony all play at least 36 minutes. Those minutes will take its toll on those players while the lack of minutes will help keep the Spurs ready come playoff time. Coach Greg Popovich has also rested key players throughout the season.
The Spurs are deep. While many of the stats do not jump out, that is because they have nine players averaging at least 20 minutes. The ability to rely on that many players not only provides matchup issues but also spreads the pressure around.
They have a great blend of players who have championship experience as well as young players providing energy and excitement. This is a deep team with enough talent, experience and depth to win it all.
Verdict: The Favorites
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