I'm switching it up a little this week because I honestly couldn't pick a number one team for the power rankings. With the playoffs approaching let's take a look at the NBA in different tier groups.
Tier One NBA Championship Contenders
- Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs
I'm keeping things symmetrical, two from East and two from the West.
The Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat have proven to be in a different class than rest of the Eastern Conference. This is shown by the Bulls' +7.9 and Heat's +6.7 point differential, the highest two in the league. The next highest in the Eastern Conference is the free falling 76ers who stand at +4.7. Both teams are excellent on the defensive end and efficient on the offensive end.
Each do have flaws. Derrick Rose's health is a huge concern for the Bulls. He has missed 23 games this season. Their half court offense still struggles, relying too much on Rose when he is there.
Fairly or unfairly, the biggest problem with the Heat is the tremendous pressure and expectations surrounding the team. Nothing is acceptable besides winning a NBA Championship. As much as people make it specifically about LeBron, basketball is a team sport; it's about the Heat figuring out how to accomplish their goal as a team.
Only one of the top two teams in the Western Conference really gets talked about -- the Oklahoma City Thunder. The San Antonio Spurs go about their business largely unnoticed, but when you take a peak at the standings are only one game behind OKC for the number one seed, and are actually tied in the loss column.
San Antonio had an 11 game winning streak stopped in February because head coach Gregg Popovich sat Tony Parker and Tim Duncan against the Blazers, while Manu Ginobili was also out with an injury. This past week Pop ended a second 11 game winning streak by sitting the Big 3.
Are the Thunder ready?
Oklahoma City's past two season...
-2009-10 50-32 first round exit
-2010-11 55-27 Western Conference Finals exit
The next logical step is to the NBA Finals, but it should be remembered they are still an extremely young team. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both 23 - Serge Ibaka and James Harden are both 22, that's the four best players on the squad.
Tier Two If Everything Breaks Right They Could Get To The Finals
- Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies
Kevin Garnett began manning the center position for the Boston Celtics on 2/2/12 against Oklahoma City. It has been a span of 25 games and in those contests the Celts have gone 17-8, including two wins over the Miami Heat. Boston plays elite defense, can create mismatches on offense and is playing their best basketball of the season.
Call me a homer, say I'm unrealistic, it's fine. Part of the breaking right is the New York Knicks just getting to the playoffs, which is no easy task. Since Mike Woodson has taken over they are not playing good, but elite defense. Carmelo Anthony is playing how you would expect Carmelo Anthony to play and Tyson Chandler holds everything together. The question has become what they can get from everyone else?
I talked about the dynamic of the Los Angeles Lakers two weeks ago on the Sunscast with Seth Pollack. Does Andrew Bynum decide to act like a jackass in the playoffs or be engaged with trying to help LA win another ring? My original thought process was Bynum was tired of being in Kobe Bryant's shadow, which I still think plays a part. The New York Post report regarding Howard signing his one year option to stay with Orlando, and avoid being traded to the Lakers, could play a role in Bynum's funny behavior also. Maybe the blossoming center wanted to go to the Magic where he would have been the clear focal point and is angry at Mitch Kupchak for not getting it done. Just something to kick around.
The Memphis Grizzlies have been on my radar for a while now. They put together a diverse roster filled with good passing from unusual places, selfless defenders, creators on the wing, bruising rebounders and an ability to score in a variety of different fashions.
To me Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo are the keys to their playoff chances.
-Mike Conley In Wins: 14.4 PPG, 7.1 AST, .476 FG% and .429 3P%
-Mike Conley In Losses: 10.8 PPG, 6.5 AST, .373 FG% and .281 3P%
-O.J. Mayo In Wins: 13.8 PPG .444 FG%, .42 3P% and .819 FT%
-O.J. Mayo In Losses: 10.5 PPG, .358 FG%, .273 3P% and .667 FT%
Tier Three Second Round Is The Ceiling
- Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks
The Indiana Pacers don't have a player who can carry you to the Eastern Conference Finals. Hibbert is a nice piece, Granger is solid, but most likely a #3 on a real contender and Paul George has incredible upside, but isn't there yet.
I don't trust the Atlanta Hawks - short and sweet.
Orlando is a mess; mentally strong teams who are on the same page have success in the playoffs, not a team with factions backing the coach and others backing the superstar.
The Clippers barely made the cutoff to this tier. I don't think Chris Paul can drag them to round two and I doubt he gets them out of round one.
When discussing the Houston Rockets I will say two words over and over again Goran Dragic Goran Dragic Goran Dragic Goran Dragic
Dirk Nowitzki is still on the Dallas Mavericks so they are still capable of getting out of round one even though I wouldn't bet on it.