Which top contender has the most difficult path to the NBA title?
Orlando if one wants to call them a top contender(they did make it to the finals two years ago). Atlanta has given them a tough time this year, and then (presumably) the Bulls and Boston/Miami? Ouch. On the other hand, I don’t know about Boston. Late season malaise that they’ll wake up from now that the playoffs are here? Or indicative of a real problem? [B]
Which top contender has the easiest path to the NBA title?
[/B]Lakers. A weak team in the first round, the chance for the Mavs in the second (and I have no respect for them in the playoffs), and then whoever’s left. Shouldn’t be that tough a test until the Conference title, though the Blazers may prove me right about the Mavs sooner than I want. I’m much happier with the the Thunder and Spurs potentially facing each other in the second round than the Mavs or even Blazers. Their first round match-up should be the opportunity to get their mojo back (and if not, well, they simply burnt out after so much basketball the previous three seasons).
Who are your NBA Finals teams and how did they get there?
Lakers from the west. At the same time, they appear a lot more vulnerable to elimination before the finals than previous years. If they get there, though, it will be because they made playoff ball work for them. Defense and half court tend to be more important than the regular season. I’m picking them on that basis: they are the team that can inflict their will on the other team when they use their frontcourt to its full advantage. The prevailing wisdom is that the Spurs current style won’t work as well in the playoffs - I’m willing to buy into that, if only out of narrow self-interest, but Pop teams always make me feel queasy, and the Thunder are coming into their own.
The East. Damn. Until the All-Star break, I would have said the Celtics, no matter where they finished. The Heat need a season to gel a bit more and add a decent veteran or two who will work for less. The Bulls have the defense, but depend way too much on Rose for their offense. Which leads me back to the Celtics - if Shaq comes back, they settle down and handle the Knicks, they have the defense and experience and more of a multi-faceted offense to win in the east.
Who should be favored to win it all, and who will win it all?
MVP, best record - place the burden on the Bulls. Or the super-friends manufactured team. Who will actually win it? The Lakers. Experience, coaching, players who have been there before and know how to get it done, and that unique, imposing front-court. But I think there’s really good opportunities for lots of teams this year. I feel less sure about it than last, though, where the Lakers were the class of the west, and the Celtics were far better than their regular season showed (all injuries healed for the playoffs).