While there is always the potential for upsets in the NBA playoffs, there are only a handful of teams that are regarded as championship contenders. Some championship caliber teams have enjoyed extended success in the league, while others have climbed to the top of the league after years of struggles.
Los Angeles Clippers
For much of the franchises history, the Clippers were the doormat of the league, but not anymore. With the Lakers officially eliminated from the playoffs this year, the Clippers have cemented themselves as the best basketball team in Los Angeles and a real contender for this year’s NBA championship.
Blake Griffin has continued to improve his game this year, and sits at sixth in the league in scoring, averaging 24.4 points per game, while also grabbing 9.7 rebounds per game. With an experienced basketball mind like Doc Rivers at the helm and Chris Paul back into the lineup after injury, the Clippers have a strong chance of representing the Western Conference in the NBA finals this year.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant has taken his game to another level this season, and as a result, he is the leading candidate in this year’s MVP race. Durant is leading the league in scoring with 31.8 points per game, while shooting over 50 percent from the field.
With Russell Westbrook returning back to form and Serge Ibaka playing at the highest level of his career, Scott Brooks and crew will be looking to learn from their NBA finals loss in 2012 and earn the first NBA title in Oklahoma City’s history.
San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs were five seconds and one Jesus Shuttlesworth miracle away from winning the title last season. Every year the Spurs fall under the radar as they quietly put together another amazing season. This season, the big three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker passed Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Michael Cooper for most wins by a trio with 491. They now only trail Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, who have 540.
Again, not many people are talking about the Spurs this season, despite having the best record in the league at 49-16. Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs know how to win, and there is no doubt that they will be looking for revenge in the playoffs this year after last year’s finals loss.
Following their impressive seven game Eastern Conference finals series against the Miami Heat last year, the Indiana Pacers have showcased that they are one of the elite teams in the NBA. Paul George has shown this season that he is one of the best two-way players in the league, while Roy Hibbert has continued to be a force to be reckoned with in the low post.
Lance Stephenson has developed into a near triple-double machine for the Pacers, while the mid-season signing of Andrew Bynum added even more size to an already towering Pacer line up. If Bynum is able to provide the Pacers with consistent minutes in the playoffs, it will be a challenge for other teams to match up against the Pacers size down low.
It is hard not be considered a championship contender after winning two consecutive NBA titles. Despite losing 5 of their last 6 games, the Heat have no reason to be worried. The playoffs are what the Miami Heat are truly judged on. And if LeBron James plays at his highest level, it will be a tall task for any team to dethrone the two-time defending champs.
While these teams are favorites to win the NBA title, anything can happen in the NBA playoffs. Teams like the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, or even the Chicago Bulls are capable of giving these contending teams a run for the NBA championship this season.
Commentary By Eric Kummel