De Jesus: Don’t count out these NBA teams
Manuel De Jesus | Monday, March 30, 2015
With the NBA season winding down, people are starting to write off almost every team in the playoffs and putting the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals along with the Golden State Warriors. But I warn everyone to not look past any of the other 14 playoff teams competing in April.
Since the Houston Rockets won the NBA title in 1995, every team that has won the championship has won at least 52 games. If we follow that rule in this year’s playoffs, the only teams eligible to win the championship are the Warriors and the Atlanta Hawks, but that’s just based on today’s standings. Projecting how many wins teams will have by the end of the season, the Rockets, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Cavaliers should win 52 games.
With that being said, we should just forget about every other team, right? Wrong. This year will be the first year since the 1995 postseason that a team with less than 52 wins in the regular season will win the NBA championship.
This is a team that hasn’t really gotten the chemistry down since the arrival of Rajon Rondo, but I think this team is going to turn things around come playoff time. Rajon Rondo is still one of the best point guards in the league, dishing out eight assists per game. Dirk Nowitzki isn’t as productive as he once was due to age, but he’s still a potent offensive threat shooting the ball and posting in the paint. Monta Ellis is in a slump, but he won’t be shooting less than 40 percent from the floor for much longer. I think he has a solid chance to lead the Mavs to their first title game since 2011.
Portland Trail Blazers
This team can really do it all. They’re 10th in scoring, second in rebounds, 12th in assists per game and 10th in points allowed per game. They also have two stellar players in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, who both average more than 20 points per game. Even with the loss of Wesley Matthews, I think this team has what it takes to push past the rest of the Western Conference. They made it past a talented Houston Rockets team last season after Lillard’s heroic buzzer-beater three, so I’m confident in their ability to rely on his play to get them into the finals and possibly win it.
I know what everyone is saying. How could they possibly win a title without a healthy Derrick Rose? I’m not saying that when Rose comes back, he’ll be back to full strength, because he definitely won’t. I think the depth this team has is what sets it apart from every team in the league. It’s something head coach Tom Thibodeau preaches every year. If you don’t have a solid bench coming in to relieve your starters, you can’t win. Leading the bench mob is rookie power forward Nikola Mirotic, who will probably finish second in voting for Rookie of the Year. Since the All-Star break, Mirotic is averaging 17.6 points per game, which just adds to the firepower the Bulls have. Jimmy Butler is scoring about 20 points per game, Pau Gasol is averaging 18 points per game, and if Rose can get back to the form he was in before the injury, he’ll add another 18 per game. They’re also third in rebounds, which means more possessions for this versatile offense. Let’s not forget that they also have reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. They’re loaded, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they bring it all together and make an incredible run in the playoffs.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell. Westbrook. This guy is one of the most electrifying athletes in all of sports, without a doubt. The absence of Kevin Durant makes it almost impossible to think that this team has a chance, but Westbrook has put this team on his back, leading the league with nine triple-doubles this season. He’s also the league’s leading scorer, ranks second in steals and ranks fourth in assists. He can do it all for this team, and with the help of a couple of emerging big men in Enes Kanter and Steven Adams, who can have 20 points and 20 rebounds any night of the week.
There aren’t many eight seeds in NBA history who have won a title, but if any eight seed can do it, it’s this team.
Again, don’t just assume LeBron is going to carry the Cavs to the finals or Curry is just going to shoot his way to a ring. There are a lot of teams that could make a run, and the teams that I listed are the teams I think are the most likely to shock the world and win a title.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.