Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Miami Heat are 10/11 favorites to win this season's NBA Championship.
I'm not a gambler, and anyone that bets that, isn't either.
The odds were mentioned just to articulate how heavy a favorite the Miami Heat are to win the title. You don't need severely lopsided betting quotients to illustrate why they are on top of the heap.
The Heat are the defending champions in the NBA.
The Heat are in the midst of a 26-game winning streak, which is the second- longest in the history of the league.
The Heat have the best player in the world on their roster.
The Heat have four future Hall of Famers (most likely) in their locker room.
The Heat are for real and should be overwhelming favorites for this season's championship.
But how many other teams out there should have realistic expectations at making the NBA Finals?
Since the Los Angeles Lakers/Utah Jazz/Dallas Mavericks battle for the final spot out West is as interesting as dish soap, and the Milwaukee Bucks essentially wrapped up the East's eighth seed sometime around Presidents Day, we have basically known which teams will make the postseason.
Let's handicap all 15 non-Heat teams' chances at winning an NBA title.
THE VINCE MCMAHON "NO CHANCE" SQUADS
15. MIWAUKEE BUCKS 14. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
The Bucks will play the Heat in the first round, so that's a "thanks for playing" scenario.
The Warriors are the sixth seed out West, but have an inherent problem. Unless you are an elite team, to make any type of noise, you have to excel at something. Golden State is ninth in scoring at 100.5, which is respectable-to- great, but surrender 100.1 ppg. If the Warriors were one of these really high- octane offenses (see later), they could compete that way, but Golden State doesn't do one thing well enough to advance.
THE "WE COULD MAKE YOU THROW UP FROM EXHAUSTION" SQUAD
13. HOUSTON ROCKETS
The Rockets lead the NBA in scoring, fractionally higher than the Oklahoma City Thunder. They are the 28th-best defensive unit in the league, but this is a prime example of being the anti-Warriors. Houston scores at such a pace and at such an ease, that it almost doesn't matter that it plays JV defense. The Rockets don't care because they are so good at scoring. Golden State isn't that good that they can say that.
THE "ALWAYS WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS, BUT NEVER GO ANYWHERE" SQUAD
12. ATLANTA HAWKS
Al Horford is one of the best centers in the NBA. Of course, he's probably a power forward, but he's making apple butter out of you know what. Josh Smith is a phenomenal talent. Jeff Teague is emerging. Kyle Korver can shoot. They share the ball, defend occasionally and when the energy is good, the Hawks are good. They can't go past the second round. They never will as presently constituted. Atlanta just is talented enough. The Hawks might beat some team in the first round, but that is the ceiling.
THE "AREN'T WE MISSING SOMEONE?" SQUAD
11. CHICAGO BULLS
With Derrick Rose, the Bulls are the No. 2 in the East. Without him, No. 4 is the limit and they can't make any serious strides. They will defend, they will rebound and they will play hard, but there just isn't enough scoring. To further the point, there is no threat of scoring, which might be worse. Plus, minutes are catching up to this unit as Luol Deng and Joakim Noah log a ton of time.
THE "MUCH RESPECT, BUT NOT THIS TIME" SQUADS
10. BOSTON CELTICS 9. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The Celtics are a threat based on the fact that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are still on the roster and Doc Rivers is on the sideline. They can will a team to victory. Maybe two victories, or three, but four-plus? That might be too tall a chore. The Celtics just aren't the same defensive team they were in years past, but those Hall of Famers in waiting know playoff basketball as well as anyone in the league. If any team could pull a big upset somewhere in the Eastern playoffs, it's these guys.
I admit, the Lakers intrigue me. It's very easy to say the Lakers have no chance as the eighth seed. They clearly don't know how to play together yet and don't play every game with their hair on fire as evidenced by a blown 18- point lead Friday night in a loss to the Washington Wizards at home. L.A. is 25th in opponents' scoring and defense wins in the playoffs. Dwight Howard is a malcontent, Steve Nash is non-existent at times and Pau Gasol hasn't figured out how to play with Howard or in Mike D'Antoni's system.
Have we forgot to mention Kobe Bryant? Oh yes. All of the above rings true about the Lakers and they'd be a decided underdog against one of the top seeds in the West. But would you honestly want to play Bryant during these playoffs? It's been a season where the Lakers have been questioned about toughness and attitude, Bryant's leadership and relationships have been questioned and the whole thing has been one notch above "Joey" in terms of disasters. Doesn't that make Bryant extra motivated? I wouldn't pick them in the first round, but I wouldn't be in love with playing them either.
THE "WHAT A DIFFERENCE A SEASON MAKES" SQUAD
8. NEW YORK KNICKS
The Knicks opened this season 18-5. Since, they are 24-21. If you factor over basically the same closing stretch of the final 45 games, the Knicks aren't really any better than the Washington Wizards, record-wise. (Washington is 22-23.)
It's hard to pinpoint what exactly happened to the Knicks. At first glance a few weeks ago, it appeared to me in watching them that the defense slipped. It may have, but the numbers were almost identical from the 18-5 version and the later one. One dilemma the Knicks have battled is end of game rotations and fitting Amare Stoudemire back in the lineup. I actually think, save for three or four games, head coach Mike Woodson did decently with this.
The problem for the Knicks is age and injury. The team is older than the wheel. The age led to some injury problems and when this team misses Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler for extended periods, the rest of the roster, which is made up of either good offensive players who don't play defense, or good defensive players who don't play much offense, struggles.
I think the Knicks could win two rounds easily. They'll need Melo and Chandler back and capable of playing starters minutes to do that. Could they lose to a Bulls team or a Celtics team in the first round? Yes they could.
THE "BI-POLAR" SQUAD
7. BROOKLYN NETS
When they play together and play well, they can take Miami to six games in the East. When they don't, it'll be early May when they can all meet on the first tee.
This team has had trouble adjusting to all of the new personnel, plus the coaching change that brought in P.J. Carlesimo. But they rebound and defend, two key ingredients in playoff success stew.
Whichever Nets team you get directly impacts their success. If you get ball- moving, Deron Williams dominating Nets, they could make the Eastern Conference Finals, if the matchups broke right. If you get the stagnant, confused Nets, see you at Shinnecock.
THE "ONE MAN MAKES A DIFFERENCE" SQUAD
6. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
If Marc Gasol recovers from his abdominal tear, Memphis can face the Heat in the Finals. If not, they won't get out of the first round. Memphis is fighting for a top-four seed to play at home. If they don't, and go on the road in round one, without Gasol, it's back home for barbecue.
Gasol is that important to the team. He is the best defensive big man in the league and this team defends at an extremely high level. They are the bizarro Rockets - the Grizzlies defend so well, their poor offensive numbers don't matter.
Plus, the game slows down come postseason time. A double big threat like Gasol and Zach Randolph aids a halfcourt offense tremendously. Memphis definitely lacks a shooter, but they've overcome it to this point.
Without Gasol, everything you just read is fiction and the Grizzlies stand no chance.
THE "SOMEONE HAS TO DO IT" SQUAD
5. INDIANA PACERS
Indiana will probably be the team that falls to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. It has to happen to someone and the Pacers are the second- best team in the east.
The Pacers defend and beat the crap out of you. Their frontline is huge and strong, which are both weaknesses for the Heat. If Miami played its crunch- time group, LeBeron James would probably have to cover David West. That is not a pro-Heat matchup defensively.
The Heat don't rebound well, the Pacers do. Is an Indiana upset possible?
No, it's not.
THE "HOW COME NO ONE LIKES US" SQUAD
4. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
When you see or hear analysts dissect the Clippers chances at a title run, you'll hear, "their halfcourt offense isn't strong enough."
Exactly why should we worry about a team's halfcourt offense when they have the best point guard in the galaxy? Chris Paul can run a halfcourt offense by himself if this circus act known as the Clippers gets slowed down. So can Chauncey Billups. Yes, the big guys want to get out and run and dunk, but they can still impact the game when it slows down.
The Clips are top 10 in team scoring and top five in team defense. What more can you ask of them?
Here's the little secret about the Clippers which has me questioning if they can do it or not - Blake Griffin isn't good enough to help lead a team to a title.
Griffin is a fine player, but there has been no evolution to his game. Maybe he, or the Clippers didn't think he needed it, but he doesn't seem capable of taking this team on his back when Paul is on the bench, or struggling, and making it his own. He's a lousy free-throw shooter and his offensive game is still pretty limited. What Griffin does well (dunk, move, be athletic, make a borderline funny car commercial), he does really well. He needs to do more.
THE "EVERYONE SHOULD REALLY LIKE US" SQUAD
3. DENVER NUGGETS
They've won 15 in a row, yet everyone would give San Antonio or Oklahoma City the edge. (I do, too.) The notion that Denver doesn't have a chance of getting to the Finals is silly.
The first reason you'll hear is that the Nuggets don't have any superstars. That is true and no team has won the title without a superstar since the 2004 Detroit Pistons. That Pistons team buried you defensively. The Nuggets dare you to keep up with them on offense.
The Nuggets aren't just run-and-gun. They take shots quickly, because they get open shots quickly, because they move the ball quickly.
If you think offensive teams can't win at this level, I'll tell you something, OKC isn't a great defensive team, but no one has a problem with them getting to the title game. The Thunder rank 12th, which is slightly above-average, but not great. Denver is 24th.
So why can't Denver make the championship?
They are 32-3 at home, so pencil those games at Pepsi Center as losses for the other team. Problem is, the Nuggets are 17-19 on the road. Under .500 at this level, at this stage of the season, is bad, but they will only need one road win to get past the series.
What concerns me is their lack of experience deep in the postseason. That is the only reason I'd make Denver no higher than the third-most likely team to lose to the Heat.
THE LEGITIMATE CONTENDERS
2. SAN ANTONIO SPURS 1. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Not a lot separates these two squads. The Spurs play better defense, and it won't matter who gets homecourt advantage in this one - they can both win on the road.
Both teams have been this far before and know the deal. The moment won't be too big for Kevin Durant, or Tim Duncan. I have one theory as to why I like the Thunder a little more than I like the Spurs.
Russell Westbrook's defense.
Point guards Tony Parker and Westbrook are two of the best in the league, positions notwithstanding. Watching them run offense will be a joy to watch.
Parker is not a good defender. Westbrook is a much better defender. That slight advantage tips the scales to the Thunder.
Can either beat the Heat?
While I give an edge to the Thunder to face them, I think the Spurs give the Heat more problems.
The Spurs have both Duncan, who is having a sensational season, and Tiago Splitter who require stout defense on the low post. Serge Ibaka can score for the Thunder, but it's not low-post oriented.
The Heat don't have great big-man defenders. That would definitely be a thumbs-down in the Miami column, but it's after hours of searching I came up with that one advantage.
Hours and hours, for just one advantage.
Those 10/11 odds are starting to sound better.