Michael Wilbon: NBA's Final Eight Weeks a Showcase for Four Teams
One year ago, the field was open and just about every contender believed an 11th-hour move could ensure a trip to the NBA Finals. This year, with professional basketball, like every other industry, carefully guarding its wallet, trade deadline rumors will be more hype than reality and the second half of this NBA season may be exactly like the first, which is to say:
Los Angeles Lakers.
San Antonio Spurs.
In some order, perhaps one that changes twice a week between now and the third week of April when the playoffs begin, those are the four teams that will dominate our attention the rest of the season. They're the four best teams, the teams with the greatest players, the smartest teams, the toughest teams. Last season's second half was a wonderful jumble; this second half is preordained. Pick one of the above and ride it out.
Is there anybody out there who could sneak into that foursome? Well, perhaps, but it would be a major upset.
The Denver Nuggets, ever since turning over their team to Chauncey Billups, have the look of a serious contender. Their relative youth and athleticism, and Billups's acumen could give the Spurs fits in a seven-game series.
And in the East, Orlando, if Jameer Nelson returns to his January form, matches up quite well with the Cavaliers.
That's it, that's the list. Detroit is past its prime. Atlanta can scare anybody, especially Boston, but simply doesn't have the one superstar who can lead it through a playoff series. Miami, with Jermaine O'Neal joining Dwyane Wade, will help the Heat finish fourth and continue the franchise's rebound, but that's this year's ceiling. Philly has regressed from a year ago and nobody else in the East is even remotely ready.