NBA / Jan 12, 2012 / 11:30 am

Warning Levels For 5 NBA Postseason Contenders

Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki (photo. Nike Basketball)

You had to know it would happen with 66 games in 120 days. Someone was going to fall off. Surprises are a double-edged sword; Somebody has to fall. Besides Miami – who despite the loss last night look like the runaway best team in the NBA – who else can you say has really been dominating? I’ll give you Chicago. But after that Portland has been blown out at home and on the road to two dysfunctional teams with superstars on the edge of town (Phoenix, Orlando). Denver is feasting on the weak but struggling against talent. Atlanta, who knows what’s going on with them?

With such relentless travel, you’d think it’s the old teams that will suffer. The vets. Taking extra time to stretch, to ice the knees, to warm up the back. But inexperienced teams can fall off as well. When we talked to the TNT guys (Shaq, Kenny, Charles) just before the season started, they actually believed the lockout might help older teams. They’ll be prepared for it, will know how to handle it. Just look at Washington. Is there any doubt the lockout hurt them?

While we may always be attempting to write off the old-timers, this year there are some more legitimate questions about a few teams that were supposed to compete for a championship. Here are five playoff contenders and on a scale of 1-10, and how worried they should be.

***

L.A. Lakers
Record: 8-4
Scoring differential: +4.8
After losing their first two games of the season, the Lakers have won eight out of 10, and in a season with potentially dominant teams (Portland, Miami) looking fantastic one night and then laying an egg the next, L.A. has been numbingly consistent. Mike Brown has helped them to refocus on defense, and has a creaky old team top five in defensive efficiency (95.3).

They’re also No. 5 in John Hollinger’s Power Rankings, behind only who I think are the league’s three best teams (Chicago, Miami, Portland) and the Spencer Hawes-led Sixers.

But how long can Kobe keep dropping 40 pieces and putting up 30 shots? Bean is throwing up over 24 shots a game, his highest average since the 2005-06 season, the year Bryant shot so much he could’ve stopped terrorism by himself. For me, the problem isn’t so much that he’s shooting that often; I expect those numbers to slow as the season goes along. It’s that he almost HAS to shoot that much. Pau Gasol isn’t the same player anymore. He might not even be an All-Star this season. Andrew Bynum is averaging career high numbers (17.1 points and 13.9 rebounds a game), but before people start jumping to conclusions, we have to see him do it for a full season. The rest of the team? Metta World Peace is 2-for-25 from deep this year. Derek Fisher is shooting 34 percent. Their fourth-best offensive player is Matt Barnes (eight points a game) who probably hasn’t created a shot for himself in years.

The Lakers have leveled the ship. But this roster – and Mitch Kupchak‘s job – feels incomplete.
Warning Level4

Dallas Mavericks
Record: 6-5
Scoring Differential: -0.5

The rebounding is still pathetic (Dirk‘s boards have dropped all the way to 5.5). The defense is slowing coming around (up to No. 10), but not at the level it was last year. The Mavs have won five of their last six even as Lamar Odom continues to be outplayed by national security threat Ian Mahinmi.

The Mavs are barely averaging 93 points a game this season, and while the team has 10 guys who can all play, they’ve lost their athleticism. Vince Carter has virtually nothing left. Shawn Marion is decaying into a 25-minute a night guy. Brendan Haywood has been wildly inconsistent (which is to say he’s been Brendan Haywood), even with consistent minutes calling his name. We thought they’d be versatile before the season started. Instead, they just look limited.

Dallas will be all over the place during this wild regular season. They’ll sneak into the playoffs with a lower seed, and won’t advance past the second round.
Warning Level – 6

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  • superfreak6

    how is there no mention about OKC being one of the best in the league right now…

  • Reg

    I think someone forgot about OKC.

  • Sean Sweeney

    I didn’t mention Philly there either and no one is crying about that. Post wasn’t at all about the best teams in the league.

    Didn’t give everyone love in the intro… was only mentioning a few teams that are playing well

  • https://twitter.com/#!/djlocdog Loc

    Good article,

    if you complain about OKC you mssed the point.

  • superfreak6

    Wow Sean, you were mentioning that Miami “look like the runaway best team in the NBA – who else can you say has really been dominating?”

    So obviously, you’re not really “just mentioning a few that were playing well.” Miami doesn’t even look like the runaway best team in the NBA right now; not when you have a guy who can’t hit a shot if his life depended on it in the last 5 minutes of a game.

    Philly’s schedule is why they’re 7-3 right now. They played the Wiz twice, the Raps, NO, Det and Sac. There’s a reason why no one thinks they’re one of the best in the NBA.

    No reason to get so defensive; just admit you snubbed OKC and move on.

  • Bill

    Really? Please it’s not even a quarter into a shorten season, there’s nothing to worry about with any of these teams.

    Duncan played what? His first game over 30 minutes just last night after 11 games?

    Pierce has had maybe one legit practice cause he’s been hurt all this time.

    Talk again maybe all star break them they’ll be legit worries.

  • Reg

    Agree with @superfreak6. You clearly forgot OKC, but that’s OK. They are very forgettable.

  • arno

    The most concerned should be the Celts. They stink.

  • Sean Sweeney

    ^^ I responded only because I thought it was weird that you felt like I was snubbing them. It wasn’t like I was putting together a final, definitive list of the best teams in the NBA.

  • Celts Fan

    good read, Sean. I kinda wrote something during the last power rankings about why we’re done and no one can rotate, and most importantly, KG’s finally showing the age and dropped from “potential all-star” to “let’s just hope we can get 20 quality mpg from him.” Perfect example of why we’re screwed that I actually noticed last night too: http://www.redsarmy.com/home/2012/01/the-kevin-garnett-dilemma.html

  • Dayo

    @Sean; In your first paragrapgh, you mentioned teams that have been “dominating”, which I think means pretty good teams. Also, in your second paragraph under the Lakers header, you mentioned the three teams you consider the best so far.
    There was no mention of the OKC Thunder in those areas. Can you now see why people are getting on your case for not mentioning them amongst the good teams so far this season?