Oklahoma City Thunder: OKC clearly among NBA’s four elite teams
The all-star break comes at an interesting time this condensed season. It is very close to the mid-point of the regular season; teams have either played exactly half their games (33) or just a tad more or less. So it’s a great time to study how this season shapes up.
The teams are playing themselves into clear status. Oh, for some, you can’t pigeon-hole them too much. Memphis, for example, without Zach Randolph has kept its head above water. Nobody in their right mind should want to the Grizzlies come the playoff, if Randolph is back. And who knows about the Knickerbockers and whether Jeremy Lin’s magicdust will endure.
But for the most part, we can produce six categories of teams, grouped by winning percentage: 1. elite, absolute championship contenders; 2. dangerous teams that could rise — or fall; 3. good teams that likely will make the playoffs but don’t figure to be much of a threat when they get there; 4. teams likely to fall on the wrong side of .500 and/or the playoffs; 5. teams that stink but are at least interesting; 6. teams that stink and aren’t the least bit interesting. Here goes:
Miami 27-7, Oklahoma City 27-7, Chicago 27-8, San Antonio 24-10.
It will take upsets to knock out these teams before the conference finals. The Spurs are more likely to coast the rest of the regular season than they are to endure another playoff disaster, as they did a year ago against Memphis. The Heat and the Thunder are just too good, and the Bulls have been this good despite back trouble from Derrick Rose.
LA Clippers 20-11, Indiana 21-12, Orlando 22-13, Dallas 21-13.
This group is a little squishy. The Clippers and Mavericks are rock solid, but can the Pacers keep up this pace? Well, Indiana has played just 14 home games, so the schedule gets a little lighter. And who knows about the Magic and Dwight Howard? But if you ask me if these four teams remain in the top eight of the league record-wise, I’m going to answer yes. If an NBA finalist doesn’t come from that four-team elite group, it will come from this group.
SOLID BUT NOT DANGEROUS
Philadelphia 20-14, LA Lakers 20-14, Houston 20-14, Atlanta 20-14, Memphis 19-15, Portland 18-16, Denver 18-17. I don’t see any of these teams making a Finals run, with the possible exception of Memphis. Not the Lakers, not the Hawks, not the Sixers. I suppose a Laker trade could make us reassess.
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