Blog Entry

Who's contending and who's pretending?

Posted on: February 1, 2012 1:37 pm
Edited on: February 2, 2012 1:28 pm
Posted by Royce Young

Are the Lakers and Celtics challengers for a championship, or for just a postseason appearance? (Getty Images)

Almost every team has played 20 games so far this season, which is a pretty nice sample size to make a semi-educated judgment on just how good some are. We know there are a lot of competitive teams in each conference. Teams that have a quality roster, a decent record and a chance at the postseason.

But what's coming into focus more and more is who is for real and who is for fake. Not in the sense of who is actually good and who is fool's gold, but what teams should we be really watching for to make a push at a championship?

In the same way there's no reason to waste time saying the Wizards and Hornets are not contenders, I don't need to tell you that the Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are obvious contenders. They aren't just contenders, they're the title favorites as of now. Those three teams have clearly separated themselves a bit from the pack, but that doesn't mean that there isn't another team lingering as a potential title threat. This time last season nobody was really looking at the Mavericks as a team poised to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy.

So let's break down the current field of playoff contending teams and separate the contenders from the pretenders.

Orlando Magic

After an 11-4 start, a good number of people kind of came around from "They have to trade Dwight Howard right now" to "Maybe they should keep him and make a run at it." Now, after a week of complete stinkage, maybe it's time to take another good look at blowing the hinges off the organization and starting over. If you're consistently having trouble getting out of the 60s, you're not going to win a seven-game series against a good team.


Philadelphia 76ers

A 15-6 record and the best point differential in the league is not something to be ignored. A 4-4 road record indicates that maybe the Sixers aren't quite ready to step into the conversation of competing for the East. I'm going to choose to ignore that. The Bulls and Heat are clearly the class of the East, but it's not hard for me to picture the Sixers taking down one in a seven-game series. Their depth, defense and determination will have them right in any game they play.


Utah Jazz

Rewind to last season. Jerry Sloan had resigned and Deron Williams was traded. It was understandable that the Jazz would finish out the season in the lottery. That was the plan. Get younger, find some cap flexibility and plan for the future. Except that didn't work out. The Jazz aren't a franchise that deal with losing much so this season wasn't just going to be one of tanking. But they're overachieving. They have some nice wins on the resume, but a core of Paul Millsap, Al Jefferon and Gordon Hayward aren't making a title push.


Indiana Pacers

I want to believe. I really do. The Pacers are a fun team and their resurgence over the past two seasons has been something else. David West was a nice addition and Roy Hibbert is playing really well. They've built up their resume with some good wins over the past couple weeks, but I don't see how they improved in the area that killed them last postseason -- fourth quarter execution. Danny Granger is a good player but can't shoulder the load of getting tough, key baskets in crunchtime. I can't see them beating the Bulls, Heat or even 76ers.


New York Knicks

I almost didn't even include them in this list. And not for the reason the Bulls, Heat and Thunder aren't in it. Unless Baron Davis has a superpower in that beard, the Knicks aren't getting out of the first round, and that's if they even get there. Serious obstacles are going to have to be overcome before this team actually competes for a championship.


Dallas Mavericks

It appears the championship hangover is finally wearing off. But for a while there, the defending champs had us concerned. They looked flat, uninterested and worst of all, not as good after losing J.J. Barea, Tyson Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson. But the Mavs are finding their form a bit and if Lamar Odom can ever finally wake up, Dallas goes eight deep with a nice rotation. And as long as that tall German guy is on the roster, they're a tough matchup for anyone.


Houston Rockets

As I was writing down the teams I needed to mention for this, I didn't have the Rockets. And then I looked at the West standings and their record and said, "Whoa, the Rockets are 12-9? When did that happen?" I think they're going to be players at the trade deadline, but as the team stands now, they're position in the West's top eight will probably be short lived.


San Antonio Spurs

Could the Los Angeles Clippers -- the Clippers -- really be contenders? (Getty Images)
You just wait. Gregg Popovich knows what he's doing. Manu Ginobili will be healthy soon and the Spurs are going to go on a run of games in late February or March where they win like 14 of 16 and rocket up to third in the West. It's coming. I know it is.


Los Angeles Clippers

I picked the Clippers to finish second in the West but also wrote that they weren't a contender. I'm confused about the Clippers. But they definitely showed a little something this past week with a win in Denver and a win against the Thunder. Part of the reason many doubted that the Clips were ready to contend was it looked like they needed another piece for some depth. But they may already have it as Mo Williams is making a strong case for Sixth Man of the Year. Two top 15 players, a monster rim protector inside, a solid identity and veteran leadership -- the Clips kind of have it all. Only two things are holding them back -- Vinny Del Negro and a 35-year history filled with miserable failure.


Atlanta Hawks

I'll put it simply: The Hawks made no dramatic improvements to a team that's basically been the definition of pretender and then their best player was injured for pretty much the rest of the season. Their winning record without Al Horford has been a bit of a mirage as they've fortunately found a soft spot in the schedule at the worst time. Playoff team, yes. Title contender? Nah.


Portland Trail Blazers

For about five minutes, the Blazers had everyone talking about them as the prime contender to challenge Oklahoma City in the West. And then they lost their next five of eight and have slipped out of the top eight in the West. There's really not that much distinguishing this Blazer team from the one the was eliminated in last season's opening round. Is Ray Felton an upgrade over Andre Miller? Jamal Crawford an upgrade over Brandon Roy? LaMarcus Aldridge has become a legit superstar, but I don't see him carrying this roster to the Western Finals.


Memphis Grizzlies

I fear the Grizzlies were that classic chic preseason pick that everyone kind of likes that ends up going down in flames. Some would call that the "Houston Texans Disease." But Memphis didn't stumble into the second round of the postseason by accident. They upended the Spurs and then were a seventh game on the road away from advancing to the Western Finals. They're an enigma right now without Zach Randolph, but if he comes back healthy, the Grizzlies could be a nightmare matchup for teams in the playoffs.


Boston Celtics

After all of that, the Celtics are back to .500. They're 10-10 and have eased some of the fears that they might miss the playoffs. But they haven't been able to restore confidence that they're a team that's dangerous in the postseason. Kevin Garnett can't jump, which is a problem. Their offense completely fizzles for long stretches. They're actually relying on key production from guys like Mickael Pietrus and Chris Wilcox. The Celtics aren't bad, but I think ubuntu is on life support.


Denver Nuggets

Can team ball really win? Well, it's winning now and looking pretty darn good doing it. The Nuggets ran into a bad matchup last postseason and the Thunder took care of them in five games. I wouldn't say they necessarily improved this offseason after losing Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith while adding Rudy Fernandez, Corey Brewer and Andre Miller, but Al Harrington is playing wonderful basketball, Ty Lawson is blossoming and Danilo Gallinari shows flashes of being a star. Winning this way isn't easy, but I wouldn't rule the Nuggets out.


Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are 2-7 on the road. They've only scored 100 points three times this season. For any other team, we'd say that's a major red flashing sign that they aren't for real. For any other team, we'd look at their offensive struggles, their chemistry issues and the fact they're looking older than ever and easily write them off. But this is the Lakers, the home of Kobe Bryant and you don't do that. But I'm going to. Point guard is a massive issue, they have no depth inside and I still have absolutely no idea why they traded Lamar Odom for nothing. This team subtracted a key piece from a group that got swept out of the playoffs by the Mavericks and they expect that adding Josh McRoberts and a new coach is going to push them over the top? Unless the Lakers have a big trade coming down the pipe, the Lakers as currently constructed aren't going anywhere.



Since: Aug 15, 2007
Posted on: February 2, 2012 2:57 am

Who's contending and who's pretending?

Philadelphia has a good team but 12-2 at home 4-4 on road. All this team has shown is that they can win on their home floor. To be a contender you've got to be able to beat good teams on the road. Theyre 4 road wins Pho, NO, GS, Wash. Sorry but thats not good enough to be considerd a contender. Maybe if they can go to Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, or Indiana and get a win then you can consider this team a real contender in the east. But not yet

Since: Aug 16, 2009
Posted on: February 2, 2012 1:32 am

Who's contending and who's pretending?

The Pacers are most certainly a contender. They're one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference right now.

Since: Aug 29, 2006
Posted on: February 2, 2012 12:21 am

Who's contending and who's pretending?

The Sixers look good, I am not ready to say still they are better than the Heat or Celtics. The track records speak for themselves. They are the 3rd best team in the conference. I know Boston strugglin right now and maybe age has caught up to them but I give them the benefit of the doubt because well, they dominated for so long. As for that, right now the Sixers are woopin ass!!! Hotlanta and a few others look good but lets be honest the Sixers are beating and competing with the best Defense in BBall... Aside from Dallas last year what was it 8 teams since the 1970's have won a championship? The Sixers are one of them so they can repeat the trend. It most likely wont happen but aside from Miami or Boston, no one else but the 76ers will represent the East this year.

Since: Apr 13, 2009
Posted on: February 1, 2012 11:40 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

don't be hatin on the grizzlies

Since: Nov 3, 2006
Posted on: February 1, 2012 11:07 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

so blitzylvania --- what's a 17 pt win over the bulls do to your estimation of the sixers??
See the first page.

Since: Aug 15, 2007
Posted on: February 1, 2012 10:56 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

How the hell are Pacers pretender theyve beaten atlanta, orlando, boston 2x, @Lakers, @chicago. Damn what they gotta do to get some respect yeah they lost @philly but barely and they didnt have Danny Granger or George Hill in that game. Cant understand why the Pacers get no love they are 15-6 and they have played the least amount of home games then any other team in the NBA. Pacers 6-1 at home and 9-5 on road. The only team with better road record is OKC! This is a damn good team and its a damn shame nobody gives them any credit

Since: Sep 18, 2007
Posted on: February 1, 2012 10:47 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

Excellent points, superlion.  I'd also add that this article's assertions are COMPLETELY predicated on the assumption that this "sample size" indicates a constant rate of success.  In other words, no team can improve, get worse, or sustain injuries.  How realistic is that? 

If we've learned anything in the NBA it's that the older teams like the Celtics and Lakers bring swagger into the post-season that often trumps a younger team's athleticism (just ask Orlando, Atlanta, and Oklahoma City).  Not to mention, this season's delayed start, which caused the older teams to get off to a slow start, will end up helping the older teams because they won't have to play as long a season.

While I take nothing away from the obvious talent in teams like PHI, OKC, and LAC, the Celtics and Lakers chemistry has just as much if not more chance to win in the end.  I'm not predicting they win it all, especially considering the hot start by the Bulls and Thunder.  However, calling them pretenders this soon is clearly an observation based on past performance vice experience and potential.  In other words, it's an opinion based on too few variables, and hence reeks of desperation to write something controversial.

If this article was meant to be analytical, it failed.  If it was meant  to get us to post our arguments against it, it succeeded.  Knowing, it didn't care if the article was logical.  It only wanted us to login and talk about it.  Mission accomplished.  Now how about writing something with insightful analysis, Guys?  These high school-level blog arguments are really weak.

Since: Mar 17, 2011
Posted on: February 1, 2012 10:40 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

are the Cavaliers? Okay. Just kidding, they're a couple of years away and will
get there with Kyrie leading the charge. I agree with the author mostly but the
Grizzlies need Zach Randolph back in a bad way and even when he returns they'll
end up opening the 1st round on the road. As far as the pretenders go, I truly
believe that the Celtics have a little gas left in those old engines and can
make a run for the 4th seed against Indiana. I don't believe that Atlanta will
continue their current run. And what about those New York Hicks? What a sorry
conglomeration of so-called all star talent. I'm so glad they're floundering
around the bottom of the Atlantic with the likes of the Nets and Wizards. As
for the Lakers? Forget about it!!

How about the Miami dream team? Last season was their best opportunity for a
championship I truly believe despite the best efforts of the media led by an
ESPN blitz that they're ready and better than ever. I don't believe that one
iota. Chicago can beat them as well as OKC. In fact, with the improvement of
Philly, they could possibly take them in a seven game series. So let the big
mouths and talking heads continue to blather on as though they on the Miami
UnderPerformers payroll. I refuse to believe the hype!


Since: Jan 9, 2009
Posted on: February 1, 2012 9:29 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

sorry, should've read through the entire post.  you noted this at the end and the slam wasn't even yours.
my bad. 

Since: Jan 9, 2009
Posted on: February 1, 2012 9:27 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

so blitzylvania --- what's a 17 pt win over the bulls do to your estimation of the sixers??

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