It’s All-Star break time, the unofficial midway-point of the NBA season – though most teams have completed about 60 percent of their schedule.

If these guys stay healthy, who's going to stop them?

If these guys stay healthy, who's going to stop them?

At this point it’s pretty clear which teams are legitimate contenders to win it all this year … and the pickings are slim.

Since my preseason picks were so stellar – if the season ended today 13 of my 16 playoff teams would be correct – I figured I’d grace you with a power-ranking type breakdown of who actually has a puncher’s chance at this thing.

The Real Contenders

1. Boston (44-11) – The Celtics are the defending champs and the complete package. They play defense (allowing 92 ppg, second-best in the league) and have three top-notch options offensively. At the point, Rajon Rondo has been outstanding (8.5 apg). Barring injury, there’s no reason they shouldn’t repeat.

2. San Antonio (35-16) – The Spurs started the season 2-5 and have gone 33-11 since. They are healthy and have the best – and most underrated – coach in basketball, who has found some hidden gems in Roger Mason and defensive specialist George Hill. Never underestimate the Spurs, who are quietly seeking their fifth title in 10 years.

3. Cleveland (40-11)– The Cavs had a couple speed bumps heading into the break, but Lebron’s supporting cast has come alive. Mo Williams has been an outstanding addition. The key for the Cavs is the health of Zydrunas Ilgauskas. He’s missed 16 games this season, but appears to be back. Essentially unbeatable at home, the Cavs are the only team in the East that can stop the Celtics. 

4. LA Lakers (42-10)– With Kobe anything is possible, but the Lakers must get Andrew Bynum back – the rest of his supporting cast is too soft. Bynum might get back before the playoffs, but will return with plenty of rust. Pau Gasol is very talented, but isn’t gritty enough to handle the paint alone. The lack of an upper-tier point guard is also a major concern here.

The Long Shots

5. Houston (32-21)– More than any team, injuries will determine the fate of the Rockets. Tracy McGrady has missed 18 games as his career-long injury battle continues, Ron Artest has missed 13 games, and Shane Battier has missed 22. The good news is Yao has stayed relatively healthy. At full strength, this team could be a tough out in the postseason. If the injury carousel continues, forget it.

6. Denver (36-17) – I can’t believe I’m putting this team on the list, but there’s no way to overemphasize the impact Chauncey Billups has had on the Nuggets. Carmelo missed 10 games, but they hung tough and have won nine of their last 11 (seven of which were on the road) heading into the break. The addition of Chauncey and re-emergence of Nene following his battle with cancer  (14.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, and an immeasurable defensive presence) gives this team a shot … a very, very long shot.

 7. Orlando (38-13)– All reports indicate Jameer Nelson will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury which is a shame. With him, the Magic were a viable contender. Without him, they are a long shot. Dwight Howard is probably the best big man in the game, but Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu aren’t going to get the looks they got with Nelson on the floor. The Magic don’t appear to have enough defense to come out of the East.

8. Utah (30-23) – Finding one last contender was tough. I’ll take the Jazz. Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, and Andrei Kirilenko missed a combined 70 games before the All-Star break and are all expected to be healthy within the next couple weeks. If all the stars align for the Jazz, they might have a postseason run in them.

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