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: Nov 3, 2006
Posted on: February 1, 2012 9:20 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

The 76ers haven't beat a top tier team yet.  Their best win was against the Pacers, who are a good team, but the rest of their wins are against teams like Washington, New Orleans, and Sacramento
You can add the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, and Orlando Magic to that list. 

And they beat the Bulls pretty good, putting up 98 points on the 2nd best defensive team in the league (Sixers are #1), and did without either Hawes or Nocioni. 

Since: Feb 2, 2007
Posted on: February 1, 2012 9:00 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

Great article ........ 

Low on the typical media fluff and with some real teeth. 

The Lakers being "pretenders" might raise some eye brows but kudos for taking the leap.

Nice Job ....... 

Since: Jul 13, 2010
Posted on: February 1, 2012 8:59 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

you guys keep counting out the sixers go ahead. and yes they will be tested tghis week and will passwith flying colors. beat magic monday, as we speak are beating the bulls by 16 points with 9 mins left. YES the sixers are contenders and can beat ANYONE in the league in a 7 game series except the heat. if we dont run into the heat we can make it all the way.

dont keep doubting the sixers. and before someone says ohhhh but Noah was out so it dont count well we have our 3rd and 4th oprtions playing center aginst them tonight too. and like i said 75-59 with 9 mins left.

SIXERS ARE CONTENDERS!!!!!!! and will EASILY AND I MEAN EASILY win the atlantic. they will get the 3rd seed in the east at worst and with their smothering defense(currently 1st or 2nd in every major defensive statistic in the league) they could even get higher then 3rd.

i called this last year right after they lost to the heat in the first round. i told all knicks fans melo is cancer and they would suck. we all knew boston was too old and now you all will realize who the best team in the atlantic is and one of the best in the league.

when we smack off a couple teams in the playoffs, major players will notice we are one peice away from a ring and notice that collins is easily the best coach in the league.

amnesty brand next season which is 18.7 and nocioni coming off books too which is another 7 mill. sixers will have 25 million to get an even better team. this sixers team is the knew team of the future.

atleast a writer can see it and give them some respect. the philly haters will just keep hating though


Since: Dec 1, 2007
Posted on: February 1, 2012 8:10 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

Okay, I was taking this seriously until I realized that this article is gay. I live near Atlanta and I know the Hawks are not the best team in the NBA, but putting the Grizzlies as Contenders over the Hawks makes this article more gay than the Double Dream Hands guy on Youtube.

Since: Mar 6, 2008
Posted on: February 1, 2012 8:03 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

A-RodisOK: Suggest, reread the blog, author has both Elite teams: Lakers and Celtics as pretenders? He fails to recognize experience and playoff experience of both franchises, still strongest in the NBA. Way to early to anoint or discard any team as the best, and most legit in the playoffs. Home games, or rated teams played, can be missleading. I admit 3 teams in the East lookoutstanding, but is the results only a mirage?, better matchups will show the best. Currently Heat and Bulls look very difficult to beat, but the 76ers have not yet joined them, and in a 7 game series?? Most expienced 2 teams, are still The Lakers and Celtics dispite the gaudy records. Key injuies or to many road games could change the Contender and Pretender discussion.  Go Big Green!!!

Since: Jan 12, 2012
Posted on: February 1, 2012 7:09 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

THANK YOU!! finally a little respect for the sixers. Yes the schedule been week, but even in diffucult games like the heat, they compete they dont get blown out or rocked out of this world! i mean that should account for something! the sixers dont get the respect nor the national media coverage they deserve! and they are a SERIOUS CONTENDER!!!! i mean it goes back to playoffs last year, yes they only won one game, but the simple fact is that every game they played with exception of game 2 of the series miami had a tough time to beat them. Miami never really could but the finish on until late in the game like 2 mins. And same with this season game they played, it was a close game to the end. Tonight if they beat the bulls I think they should get more respect. and yes its a big if however.

Since: Mar 25, 2008
Posted on: February 1, 2012 6:47 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

Wow.Another story for the sake of having a story.It is very early to tell around this time so forget about this pretender-contender thing.

Since: Mar 15, 2010
Posted on: February 1, 2012 6:23 pm

Playoff basketball is different

To say the Lakers are a pretender and the Nuggets are contenders at this point is ridiculous.  Even Memphis and yes, Minnesota can sneak in still and go as far as Memphis did last year.  Playoff basketball is very different.  With a shortened season where everyone is tired, the younger teams seem to have the advantage and the legs to get through this type of season.   Injuries will still determine the outcome though because the team that can avoid the injury or 2 to their starting lineup will have a chance.  And if that's the team with playoff experience, veteran leadership and solid defense, they've got a chance as Dallas proved last year. 

Since: Mar 22, 2008
Posted on: February 1, 2012 5:48 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

glad sixers are getting some recognition. Although they are not as good as the heat or bulls they are still a top team this year. Their defense is extremely good..and thats going to win them a lot of games. I believe most of their loses are either in OT or by a couple of points as well. Heat was really the only bad loss so far. Looking forward to the rest of the season to see how they pan out.

Since: Dec 29, 2006
Posted on: February 1, 2012 5:29 pm

Who's contending and who's pretending?

They have some nice wins on the resume, but a core of , Al Jefferon and are making a title push.

Huh?  Are the Jazz  Pretenders or Contenders clown?  Can't tell from this sentence.....

FYI, they were called Pretenders.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or