2014 NBA Playoffs: Which Teams Are Legitimate Championship Contenders?
By now, we know which teams are poised for an early vacation trip to the lottery and a longer road ahead in the postseason.
So who other than the Heat and Spurs are legitimate contenders? Are the Pacers officially becoming pretenders? See where franchises stack up as we filter out pretenders and contenders for the 2014 NBA Playoffs.
- -Every Eastern Conference team other than the Pacers and Heat
- -Low Seed Western Conference Teams: Grizzlies, Mavericks
It’s tempting to list surging teams like the Nets or Grizzlies as contenders, but they just don’t have enough legitimate talent on their roster to get past powerhouses like the Spurs or Heat. We’ve seen Brooklyn give Miami a ton of issues during the regular season, but at the end of the day it’s a whole different ball game once the postseason begins.
Indiana Pacers: Pretender
This is the absolute worst time for the Pacers to start a cold streak. Since the All-Star break, their offense has gone completely stagnant, ranking third to last in field goal percentage and second to last in three point field goal percentage according to NBA.com.
With only 3 games remaining, it’s vital the team regains some confidence on the offensive end. If they can’t, they’ll surely have a difficult time getting past a tough Miami team (assuming they get that far).
Houston Rockets: Contender
The Rockets have been a dynamic force on the offensive end all season long, ranking first in points per game while shooting an efficient 47.4 percent from the field.
This team still needs to improve slightly on the defensive end of the floor if they hope to contend for a title, but their strong trio of Harden-Parsons-Howard definitely have what it takes to make some noise in the playoffs if things start to click on all cylinders.
Portland Trailblazers: Pretender
After starting the season at the top of the standings, the Blazers have slowly but surely fallen down the rankings as of recently, sitting at fifth place with a 50-28 record.
What’s been the reason for their recent dip in success? Their atrocious defense.
According to NBA.com, the Blazers rank 18th in defensive rating plus are also dead last in opponent turnovers per game.
With the team poised to face the Rockets in the first round, it’s appearing it may be too tough of a task for the Blazers to contain Houston’s powerful offense.
Los Angeles Clippers: Contender
The Clippers haven’t tasted playoff success since the franchise opened its doors in the 1984-85 season, but that’s all about to change with Doc Rivers at the helm as head coach.
Under Rivers’ new system, DeAndre Jordan has flourished as a defensive anchor, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are posting MVP numbers and the team has played better overall defense, ranking 7th in defensive rating according to NBA.com.
One cause for concern is the shaky health of guards Jamaal Crawford and J.J. Reddick, but if they can remain healthy, Lob City has a chance to go all the way.
Golden State Warriors: Pretender
The Warriors have been surprisingly average on the offensive end of the floor, ranking a mediocre 12th in offensive rating this season according to NBA.com.
Much of the blame can be placed on their lackluster second unit, which averages a 26th best 27.2 points per game, but it’s still a cause for concern if the Warriors hope to grab a title this year.
If Harrison Barnes and Jordan Crawford can’t boost their scoring production come playoff time, it’s hard to picture this team going far in the playoffs.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Contender
The Thunder are heading back to the playoffs with one goal in mind: Advancing to the NBA Finals and hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy once and for all.
Leading the pack are superstars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who have been phenomenal on both ends of the floor as of recently, helping the team hold opponents to 99.7 points per game while scoring 106.3 points per game according to NBA.com.
That kind of balance on offense and defense is lethal, and may be enough for the Thunder to advance into the finals this year.
San Antonio Spurs: Contender
The Spurs are the definition of consistent, clinching their 17th straight playoff appearance since Gregg Popovich took over as head coach.
Right now the only thing stopping this team from getting back to the promise land has to be the health of their Big/Ancient 3 (Parker, Ginobli, Duncan) who have missed a combined 32 games this season.
If their key guys can stay healthy, there’s no doubt this team can head back to the finals for the second time in a row.
Miami Heat: Contender
Like the Spurs, health will be a factor for Miami in determining whether this team can secure their third NBA Championship in four years since forming the big 3.
Dwyane Wade’s health has been an absolute train-wreck, as he’s missed 8 straight games and 27 total heading into the final week of the NBA season.
Miami definitely will need him at full-strength to go against rowdy teams like the Nets or Pacers. Assuming he does, there’s no doubt this squad will be the team to beat in the playoffs.
Follow Evan Caulfield on Twitter @fieldhoops