The first two rounds of the NBA playoffs weed out teams without a true chance to win the title. Who are the contenders, and who are the pretenders?
Last year, the Spurs solidified their place as the NBA’s millenial dynasty, cruising past deep competitors in Oklahoma City and Miami to claim the fifth title in coach Gregg Popovich and center Tim Duncan’s career. The Finals win over the Heat served as revenge for a bitter seven-game series loss in the previous year’s incarnation.
While Oklahoma city and Miami remain on the outside looking in due to injury or offseason departures, the San Antonio Spurs are back, and the rest of the West is soiling their britches. It will be easy to see exactly how the Spurs will emerge as a contender in the Western Conference; after all they did it last year by utilizing their deep bench on offense and encouraging low percentage chances on defense.
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But the rest of the NBA field is filled with teams that enjoyed regular season success, but may not enjoy that success when the playoffs roll around. The Spurs face off against the surging Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, and one of those two teams will be forced to go home even as another seemingly worse team advances.
Some teams will see a reprise of their regular season success and emerge as contenders. Others will see their precarious regular season success fall apart when they are forced into a seven game series against a superior opponent.
We take a look at which teams can only dream of contending, and others where contention is a reality. For that, we start of with the Eastern Conference.
Next: Atlanta Hawks