This week I’ll examine the major deficiencies of the 8 teams most likely to advance to their conference semifinals in May since they’ve become quite glaring by now.
1. Chicago Bulls (37-10): The Bulls can’t function well if Noah, Boozer, or Deng get hurt; the first two are long overdue while the third is not having the healthiest season. They haven’t faced a tough stretch since the first week of the season, so concerns about their ability to consistently beat good teams still linger.
2. San Antonio Spurs (29-14): Injury concerns with 34-year-old Ginobili and 35-year-old Duncan can really derail them – just look at last year’s playoffs when both were in terrible shape.
3. Miami Heat (33-11): With Bosh, they’re a below-average rebounding squad. Without him, they’re a terrible rebounding squad. Either of these situations can be exploited by a lot of these top teams in a 7-game series.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (34-11): Still haven’t solved the Spurs. Still can’t convince Westbrook to shoot less than Durant, and we already know Westbrook’s track record in the playoffs.
5. Los Angeles Lakers (28-17): Suspect on the road. Have real trouble when the refs aren’t handing them the game (it took a 34 to 5 free throw advantage to top Memphis in double-OT). Hard to believe Bynum won’t break down at some point, and then they’re doomed.
6. Orlando Magic (29-17): Because they live and die by the three and are a below-average offensive rebounding club, they have a huge problem against teams with athletic defenses that are quick enough to pester outside shooters and retreat inside for defensive boards.
7. Philadelphia 76ers (25-20): Are far too small and unable to get offensive rebounds without Spencer Hawes at full-strength, which he hasn’t been for quite a while.
8. Memphis Grizzlies (25-18): Zach Randolph is a world-class chemistry killer, and he’s back, which quickly resulted in a loss to the Raptors.
9. Denver Nuggets (25-20): Kenneth Faried making Nene tradeable = impressive. Getting one of the NBA’s 5 worst head cases for Nene = uh oh.
10. Phoenix Suns (23-22): Are 9-2 since the ASG and knocking on the playoff door.
11. Atlanta Hawks (26-19): At least they’ve been able to beat the bad teams recently.
12. Indiana Pacers (25-18): Indy’s defense has been slacking of late, and they were already severely overrated before that point.
13. Houston Rockets (24-22): Why didn’t they keep Derek Fisher as a heady back-up, at least while Kyle Lowry’s hurt?
14. Los Angeles Clippers (26-18): Could the Clippers slide out of the playoffs? They’re 11-11 without Billups, and 9th seeded Phoenix is surging.
15. Boston Celtics (23-21): And they made no trades because…? Once the veteran HOFers are gone and the team implodes around Rondo’s locker room issues, then what?
16. Dallas Mavericks (26-20): Recent losing has been plentiful. Recent winning has been generally unimpressive.
17. Utah Jazz (23-22): The W over the Lakers on Sunday was their only out-of-character result in weeks.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves (22-24): Losing fast and furious without Rubio – no more hope for playoffs.
19. Portland Trail Blazers (21-24): I thought they’d make trades to improve, but they have their eyes set on saving money for free agents and acquiring good draft choices, two things they haven’t exactly had a lot of success with recently. In the meantime, tank city.
20. New York Knicks (21-24): Scoring lots of points against teams on the slide.
21. Milwaukee Bucks (20-24): It’s hard to say how much Monta Ellis helps this club, but new blood usually provides a boost and a little bit of a honeymoon period, especially when Ersan Ilyasova is continuing to tear it up.
22. Golden State Warriors (18-24): Because it’s so easy to bust on Mark Jackson as a “coach,” espcially when he talks about defense: the Warriors were 19-23 at this point last year and their defense is ranked 26th in the league for the second season in a row.
23. Toronto Raptors (15-30): With Bargnani back, Toronto just earned their best win of the season: Memphis.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers (16-26): Do they want Varejao back soon in order to have a decent finish, or do they prefer sliding past some clubs for a great draft pick?
25. Detroit Pistons (16-29): They had a nice little stretch going. Had.
26. Sacramento Kings (16-29): Purely hypothetical question: Is it better to have an NBA team in your hometown that’s dysfunctional and can’t figure things out, or to not have a team at all?
27. New Jersey Nets (15-31): The high-draft-pick-for-Gerald-Wallace trade looked even worse the next day when we found out Deron Williams isn’t sticking around after this year. Oh crap!
28. Washington Wizards (10-34): Regardless of stats, Nene is a vast upgrade over McGee, but will it yield improvements considering Blatche and Wall are still around?
29. Charlotte Bobcats (7-36): Three wins in the last two weeks – what’s gotten into these guys?
30. New Orleans Hornets (11-34): Charlotte, Washington, and New Jersey all in one week was supposed to be a moment to shine, not go 1-3 (including an L to the Lakers).