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NBA contenders emerge as playoffs approach — Ban the Eastern Conference

The top teams in basketball are set, with only a few capable of challenging them.

Oscar Terrones, Sports Editor

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With the NBA playoffs just four days away, a handful of teams have emerged to form a top tier that separates itself from the rest of the pack. Every year there are legitimate contenders and hopeful pretenders, and this year is no different.

Tier one: Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets

These are the teams with the best chance to win the NBA Finals, but not all will take the same road there. The Golden State Warriors, under first-year head coach Steve Kerr and MVP candidate Stephen Curry, exploded out of the gate to earn the number one overall seed and gain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The reigning NBA champion Spurs’ injuries and lackluster performance in the first half of the season led some to question whether their days as contenders were over.

All that changed when NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard recovered from a ligament tear that kept him out several weeks. He’s averaging a career-high 16.6 points per game, and his defense gives San Antonio the best chance of any team to knock off the Warriors.

Houston and Cleveland each have an MVP candidate (James Harden and LeBron James, respectively), which gives them a chance against anybody. But how far the Rockets and Cavs advance will depend the performances of their respective supporting casts – Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving for Cleveland and Dwight Howard for Houston.

Tier two: Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies

If there is going to be an upset, it will likely come from one of these teams. The Hawks should make it to the Eastern Conference Finals without much resistance. Other than Cleveland, there is no legitimate threat in the East. Atlanta’s ultra-efficient offense, which relies on precise ball movement and deadly shooting, will be difficult to beat in a seven-game series.

The Clippers, as flawed as they are, still have two off the top 10 players in the game: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Their lack of depth will eventually be their downfall, but they have enough star power and talent to be a dangerous matchup for anyone.

The Grizzlies’ size and skill in the paint for the most part make up for their lack of outside shooting. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are nearly impossible to stop when they are on their game. However, the lack of spacing is troubling, and it won’t take smart teams long to expose Memphis’ fatal flaw.

Tier three: everybody else

There are a few teams in the west such as the Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trailblazers capable of winning a series and even pushing another to seven games. But their lack of talent, playoff experience and injury concerns will hold them back from making a serious playoff run.

The rest of the east is a barren wasteland with below average organizations masquerading as playoff teams. BAN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE!!!


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