By Qiana M | ARCHIVES
The end of the NBA season is upon us and the postseason is just what we thought it would be: exciting rematches (Orlando Magic vs Atlanta Hawks), heated rivalries (Chicago Bulls vs Indiana Pacers) and surprising upset alert scenarios (San Antonio Spurs vs Memphis Grizzlies). With teams such as the Miami Heat and LA Lakers deeply rooted as heavy favorites coming out of the Eastern (Heat) and West (Lakers) this playoff series may have glimmers of previous playoffs dominated by your favorite powerhouses but this isn’t your father’s playoffs. With X-Factors, underdogs, Big 3 super teams alike, just about any team has a fair shot at holding up the O’Brien trophy. Folks…welcome to the 2011 NBA Playoffs.Teams To Watch
Chicago Bulls – Everything seems to have come together for Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. Last season the Bulls were poised on the brink of an NBA Finals run only to fall 4-1 to the then Lebron James led Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs. Fast forward to 2011 — the exit of head coach Vinny Del Negro has rushed in the Tom Thibodeau era and drastic improvement in the Windy City. Now with 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose and Coach of the Year Thibodeau at the helm, the Bulls must translate the league’s best overall record (62-20) to playoff wins and ultimately a Larry O’Brien trophy. Although big games will be mandatory for Rose, his ability to involve his teammates in facilitating and executing scoring drives inside will also be a significant part of the Bulls offense. Consistency in points from a healthy Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng in addition to rebounds from Joakim Noah will be instrumental against daggers from Pacers Darren Collison, Danny Granger, Dahntay Jones and Brandon Rush.
Miami Heat – Every since former NBA MVP, Lebron James has taken his talents to Miami, there has been a new Big 3 in the league in the form of NBA Champion Dwyane Wade and all-star Chris Bosh. The arrival of James in South Beach is not the only thing that has tongues wagging. Lebron in a Heat uniform has also signified the inclusion of former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate, Zydrunas Illgauskas , a competitive advantage for Miami namely in size, second chance points in the paint and offensive boards. With the return of Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller in addition to signing of Mike Bibby, expect some input by the Miami Heat bench – a guaranteed decision making factor if the Heat expects to be victorious over a notoriously defensive driven Celtics squad.
Boston Celtics – The team that originated the term the Big 3 thanks to the powerhouses such as Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen is back in playoff contention for another run at a NBA championship. The aging Celtics will need the playmaking ability of Rajon Rondo if they hope to fight off a revamped Heat defense but don’t count on the Celtics to roll over and play dead. Although the key departure of Kendrick Perkins will leave a noticeable gap in the Cs defensive arsenal, the Celtics will rely on Jermaine O’Neal on the inside and Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Delonte West and Oklahoma City Thunder import, Jeff Green coming off the bench.
X Factor – Atlanta Hawks – The Atlanta Hawks have been here before. Heralded by great expectations by critics and fans alike as the league’s breakout squad only to be swept by the Orlando Magic in Round 1 of the 2010 NBA Playoffs, the Hawks now have a chance at redemption. The No.5 seed again faces their arch nemesis this time with more solid performance by Josh Smith, Al Horford and Joe Johnson in combination with key injuries on Orlando (J.J Redick, abdomen; Gilbert Arenas, knee) that could very well swing momentum in the Hawks favor. Throw in a potential defender against Dwight Howard in Jason Collins and off the bench scoring option Jamal Crawford and Atlanta’s chances just got brighter to win the Hawks-Magic series. No clear cut victor here yet don’t be surprised if the Hawks take flight.
LA Lakers – Offense. Check. Defense. Check. Eleven time winning championship coach. Check. Future NBA Legend and 6th place all time scorer. Check. The back to back NBA champions Los Angeles Lakers seemingly have mastered the formula for overcoming adversity to secure an NBA championship despite the angst of naysayers. Kobe and the “Lakeshow” have time and time again proven that an effective a well rounded offense combined with a tough experienced defense results in rings. It is easy to attribute this to Zen Master Phil Jackson’s triangle offense or Kobe’s killer instinct but one can’t diminish the size and consistency of Pau Gasol or the well rounded play of sixth man, Lamar Odom. Add to the equation the inside game of Andrew Bynum and a deep Lakers bench, stir and mix well for instant championship contention. Often playing with a lack of urgency and a borderline sense of entitlement even in the midst uncertainty and inconsistency the Lakers’ heart, will to win, talent and playoff experience has seen them through. Coming into the playoffs under the familiar guise of a top seed, the expectations are high, the hate epic and if any traces of the 2010 World Champion Lakers remain, the chances at a three peat very probable.
San Antonio Spurs – After much flip flopping in what was a merry go round of rankings this season, one of the most consistent and mightiest teams in the NBA walked away with the best record in the West at 61-21 and a #1 seed. There are two opposing views when it comes to the former NBA championship Spurs. One view paints a picture of championship glory with another championship run in the think tank composed of NBA Finals MVP general Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. The other tells of an aging team past its prime, overrated and doomed for failure. Regardless of what stance you take, there is no question that Manu’s closing ability, Duncan’s facilitating and rebounding, Parker’s perimeter shooting in conjunction with McDyess’ on defense pose a threat for the 8th seeded Memphis Grizzlies.
Oklahoma City Thunder – If there is one thing to say about the Oklahoma City Thunder is that “age ain’t nothing but a number.” The young, talented and energetic Thunder gave the more experienced world champion Lakers a run for their money forcing them to the brink of annihilation last year, pushing the series to 6 before being eliminated in the first round of the 2010 playoffs. While experience ultimately won, Sportsnation was forced to stand up and take notice of Oklahoma City’s emerging talent. Players such as Russell Westbrook, James Harden on offense combined with Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison on defense, are all valuable to Oklahoma City’s rising success have been thrust into the forefront. Then of course there is the impeccable top league scorer, future NBA MVP and backpacker Kevin Durant. The acquisition of Kendrick Perkins in a questionable trade for Jeff Green to the Boston Celtics adds a depth that only a seasoned veteran can provide. Will Perkins boost on defensive give the Thunder enough of an edge to not only out maneuver higher ranked seeds but carry them to the NBA Finals and their first championship win?
X Factor – Memphis Grizzlies – They crept into the NBA Playoffs like a thief in the night with little expectation of victory from critics and fans yet stand a very real chance at defeating playoff giant the San Antonio Spurs. Although the Memphis Grizzlies have flown under the radar, this is no ordinary #8 seed thanks to the oddball yet intimidating pairing of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Both are excellent at scoring as well as rebounding and some may call them the new “Twin Towers.” Outside the 4-5 spots, the triple threat of Mike Conley, Shane Battier and Tony Allen create a highly effective triangle of role players that know their way around the basket from the paint to the perimeter. The Grizzlies power and tenacity matches up with the Spurs experience and consistency in a showdown that may very well turn the outcome of the Finals upside down.
X Factor – Dallas Mavericks – Dirk Norwitzki has been here before. Accused of being soft, failing his teammates as a closer, he has heard it all yet this time things are different. Dirk is a man possessed, driven with his legacy on the line. The presence of the once clutch Jason Kidd and shooting phenom Jason “The Jet” Terry (the only other member of the 2006 squad other than Dirk) beg to question if the Mavericks have truly changed for the better. The addition of Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler give Dallas a depth on defense they hadn’t previously possessed while Peja Stojakovic and Jose Barea add scoring options coming off the bench.
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