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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

NBA Playoffs: the best two months in pro basketball

Last season, everyone thought that the Miami Heat were going to run away with the title, and then the Dallas Mavericks stunned everyone by winning in six games.

This season there seems to be more parity than ever, with no fewer than six teams, in my estimation, having a very realistic chance of taking home the Larry O’Brien trophy. Excusing the teams that could easily steal a series or two (I’m looking at you, Memphis Grizzlies), I’ll break down each contender’s résumé.

San Antonio Spurs: Led by Tim Duncan, Manu Ginóbili and Tony Parker, the Spurs have the same core that won championships in 2003, 2005, and 2007. Gregg Popovich, arguably the best coach in the NBA, has guided his team to a league-best 48-16 record. They’ve been hearing for years that the team is too old to win another title, but Popovich has done a masterful job of balancing minutes and periodically resting his starters, with Duncan leading the team with a mere 32.1 minutes a game.

The difference between this Spurs team and the teams that were sent home early the past four years are the complementary pieces. Eight players average nine or more points a game. Odds: 5-1

Oklahoma City Thunder: Although Kevin Durant gets most of the publicity, the rest of the team is quite good. Oft-criticized point guard Russell Westbrook is silently having the best season of his young career, averaging career-bests in scoring and field goal percentage. One cause for concern is his relatively meager assist rate, averaging only 5.4 a game (in contrast to 8.2 and 8.0 the previous two years). And Serge Ibaka is averaging an absurd 3.65 blocks a game. To put this in context, JaVale McGee is second at 2.2 a game.

As great as these three players are, the team will only go as far as soon-to-be Sixth Man of the Year James Harden will take them. One of the most efficient players in the NBA, he’s averaging 16.8 points on only ten shots a game. Unfortunately, he was on the receiving end of a Metta World Peace elbow and still isn’t cleared to play for the playoffs. If he’s sidelined for an extended period of time, the Thunder can’t like their chances. Odds: 6-1

Los Angeles Lakers: Believe it or not, the acquisition of former backup point guard Ramon Sessions may have saved the Lakers’ season. Although he hasn’t had much of an impact on their win-loss record (they were 27-16 without him, and are 14-8 with him), he’s changed their offensive identity merely by not being Derek Fisher.

Kobe Bryant is having another Kobe Bryant season, but the big difference this year has been the emergence of Andrew Bynum as an offensive force. Bynum actually has a higher player efficiency rating (PER) than Bryant (23.0 to 22.0) and is third in the league in rebounding. Although the team has had its struggles this season, no one wants to play a Kobe-led team in the playoffs. Odds: 9-1

Chicago Bulls: While most of the NBA world revolves around that team that eliminated them from the playoffs last year, the Bulls find themselves being the number one seed in the East. Although he’s missed a few games due to injury, Derrick Rose is still averaging 22.2 points and 7.9 assists a game, and his 23.3 PER is good for eighth in the league. Joakim Noah, one of the most underrated players in the league, is averaging close to a double-double.

Although this team isn’t all that glamorous, they seem to be able to get it done. (You don’t go 48-16 by accident.) Plus, they’ll have home-court advantage. Odds: 4-1

Miami Heat: Oh, those guys. Probably the most hated team in the league, the team has managed to stay above all of the external distractions and will finish second in the East. Lebron James is having a top-5 statistical season of all time, seemingly flirting with a triple double every night. Not to dwell on PER, but his 30.8 mark is just silly. (The gap between James and the second best player, Chris Paul, is roughly same as the gap between Paul and Al Jefferson, 11th in the league in PER).

James’ teammate, Dwayne Wade, is averaging 22.1 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.8 rebounds a game, which incredibly are all down from his career averages. They have as good a chance as any to win a championship, but many people won’t like it. Odds: 3-1

Boston Celtics: The ultimate wild card. The team is definitely peaking at the right time, going 20-9 in March and April after struggling to a 17-17 start the first three months of the season. Despite only scoring 91.9 points a game (the fifth worst mark in the league), the team has been extremely stingy on defense, allowing merely 89.6 points a game.

Kevin Garnett is having a great second half, leading the team in rebounds as well as chipping in 16 points a game. Although we all know how great Rajon Rondo is, shooting guard Avery Bradley may actually hold the key to the Celtics’ success. He’s averaging 16.7 points his past ten games, eight of which have been played without Ray Allen, who is sidelined with bone spurs in his right ankle. Odds: 8-1

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