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THE SCOWLEYS: Hopefuls and the hopeless: Sorting the NBA playoff teams

LeBrJames takes aim over Cavaliers’ Marreese Speights (left) Wayne Ellingtlast week. | JasMiller~Getty Images

LeBron James takes aim over the Cavaliers’ Marreese Speights (left) and Wayne Ellington last week. | Jason Miller~Getty Images

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Updated: April 25, 2013 6:49AM



Unless the Los Angeles Lakers have a complete meltdown in the next few weeks or the Utah Jazz wakes back up and plays like it did the first half of the season, the 16 NBA playoff teams are pretty much set.

Of those teams, however, fewer than half actually have a legitimate chance at the championship. Sorry, Bulls, but you aren’t on that list.

CONTENDERS

1. Miami Heat. Bad news for the rest of the NBA: This team is only getting better.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder. The highest-scoring team in the league has had some low moments, but good luck to any team running with the Thunder in a seven-game series.

3. San Antonio Spurs. Old? Nah, call them wise. The key will be whether the legs are fresh enough to keep up with teams such as the Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers or Denver Nuggets.

4. Nuggets. Who said you need a superstar to finish off teams? Well, that theory will be tested during the playoffs, with the Nuggets almost impossible to beat at home and as deep a team as there is.

5. Clippers. They’re the most entertaining team, especially in the open court, but playoff basketball tends to make the floor smaller and the fast-break opportunities fewer.

6. Memphis Grizzlies. Don’t sleep on this team, which can pound opponents inside and make life in the paint painful.

7. Indiana Pacers. They’ll have to rely on their physical style to try to slow down the Heat, and they’ll have to play four flawless games if they plan to win the Eastern Conference.

PRETENDERS

1. Milwaukee Bucks. They’re headed for a first-round meeting with the Heat, so thanks for playing, Bucks.

2. New York Knicks. Too many banged-up players and too many inconsistent performances since the All-Star break.

3. Brooklyn Nets. See “New York Knicks” and add a coach killer in the mix in Deron Williams.

4. Atlanta Hawks. When your games look like AND1 Mixtape Tour ‘‘Streetball’’ episodes, more often than not you’re in trouble in the playoffs.

5. Lakers. It’s over, Kobe. It’s over.

6. Bulls. If Derrick Rose comes back, all bets are off as far as being a pretender. But that’s a big ‘‘if.’’

7. Golden State Warriors. Too young, too inconsistent.

8. Houston Rockets. They made strides and will be an interesting team to watch going into next year.

9. Boston Celtics. Still have the hearts of champions and won’t die easily.

Player of the week

LeBron James, Heat forward. Please just go ahead and ship the MVP trophy to him. James kept the Heat’s now-25-game winning streak alive last week by scoring 37 in Boston and throwing up a triple-double against the Cleveland Cavaliers to overcome a 27-point deficit in that game.

Team of the week

Heat. Trying to put a stamp on being one of the best regular-season teams of all time.

The big five

1. Heat. 2. Spurs. 3. Thunder.
4. Nuggets. 5. Grizzlies.

Big number

3-3The Cavs’ record in games in which they held at least a 20-point lead. The rest of the NBA is 332-11 with at least a 20-point lead.

Key games for week
of March 25-31

Knicks at Celtics, 6 p.m. Tuesday. A battle between teams that possibly will meet in the first round of the playoffs in a few weeks. That’s old-school NBA right there.

Nuggets at Spurs, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Nuggets have been the hottest team in the Western Conference the last month and have the ultimate test at San Antonio.

Heat at Spurs, 6 p.m. next Sunday. A preview of the NBA Finals? Maybe. But considering the road the Spurs will have to travel in the West, this very well could be the last meeting of the season between these teams.



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