NBA: Who’s Going to Win This Thing?

Here are the NBA teams giving the illusion they actually have a shot. But don’t be fooled, they’ll be playing golf in June.

San Antonio Spurs: Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are a combined 98-years-old. End of story.

Denver Nuggets: Who do you give the ball to in crunch time? Gallinari? The lack of a true go-to scoring option is troublesome.

Indiana Pacers: A very solid young core, but I’m not ready to take a team run by Danny Granger too seriously.

Atlanta Hawks: If your best player is Joe Johnson, you’re not winning a championship in 2012.

Philadelphia 76ers: Depth and youth are abundant but playoff experience isn’t. It’s been fun, 76ers, but you’re not there yet.

Orlando Magic: Dwight has continued to put up freakish stats while making it extremely clear that his heart isn’t in it, and Ryan Andersen has taken the step from role player to an extreme­ly, extremely poor man’s Kevin Love (which is a compliment these days). Other than that, they don’t have anyone else who’d probably be starting on an actual contender. This team looks like they thought they were actually acting in an episode of The Walking Dead.

Now for our actual contenders:

9) Boston Celtics: The Big Three are past their prime but are still playing at a level where they can take on anybody on a given night. That said, I’m not counting on my C’s to avenge the Pats’ shortcomings; their chances of winning are smaller than the chance of me not sleeping through my 9:20 once this semester.

8) Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies are my favorite sleeper pick because of how dan­gerous they can be, though they are plagued by inconsistency. Their slow start may show more than anything how essential Z-Bo’s health is to their success, and once he returns, look for the Grizzlies to get hot.

7) Portland Trailblazers: Lamarcus Al­dridge has become a true star and with the ad­ditions of Ray Felton, Jamal Crawford and Gerald Wallace, the Trail Blazers are for real and these guys are another great sleeper pick. Still, those three have largely played for pe­rennial losers; this team lacks championship experience isn’t quite worthy of the top six.

6) LA Lakers: When Kobe went to Germany, historians will debate whether he actually got a platement-rich plasma treatment or if he actually went on an Indiana Jones-esque quest to find the Fountain of Youth. Bynum’s stepped it up and Pau is still Pau, but Metta World Peace seems like he spent more time promoting world peace than working on his jump shot this offseason. An obituary for Derek Fisher’s career may be coming in next week’s issue. Still, you’d be a fool to fully count out Kobe.

5) LA Clippers: If you don’t think Lob City is for real, here are some of the teams they’ve already beaten this year: Portland, Miami, that “other” LA team, Dallas, Memphis and OKC. By my count, the only contender they haven’t beaten is Chicago (and they haven’t played Boston). I can’t even begin to describe what a blow it is for them to lose Billips who’s been such an important part of their success with his ability to hit open shots and come up big in the clutch, but it’s not unrea­sonable to think that Mo Williams will be able to play a bigger role and fill some of the void. I still think they’ll get to the Western Conference finals.

4) Dallas Mavericks: They’re getting a lot of benefit of the doubt based on the fact that they’re the defending champs, because in all honesty they don’t look too good right now. That said, they weren’t on anyone’s radar last year either. If Khloe can cheer Lamar Odom up and he can get out of the funk he’s in now, they have a real shot to compete again, but until then they’re on the outside looking in.

3) Chicago Bulls: Rip Hamilton was one of the most logical pickups of the offseason. Though he’d been stranded in Detroit on a team who’s re­building phase has gone on for about five years now (and at least a few more to come), Rip Ham­ilton is a wily veteran who is a great compliment to a very young team, and is guaranteed to get open threes (and knock down a good amount of them) off dribble penetration by D-Rose. Every one knows what Rose can do, but another hid­den strength of this team is its great second unit led by Taj Gibson and Omer Asik, two big guys that would be starting for a lot of other teams. The Bulls have all the ingredients needed to give the Heat a serious run for their money a second time around.

2) Oklahoma City Thunder: When you have two of the league’s best players (Durant and Westbrook), a great third option (Harden) and some serious bangers inside (Perkins and Ibaka), you’re going to be a favorite to reach the finals. If there’s a clear weakness here, it’s the lack of depth, but they’re almost exactly the same team that came very close to knocking off the Mavs last year. With an extra year to grow, the added play­off experience and young legs, you’ve got to put the Thunder as the favorites in the West.

1) Miami Heat: The 2012 Miami Heat are a slightly different beast than the creation that fell just short last year. For one, the addition of Shane Battier brings defense and discipline, but perhaps more importantly, Udonis Has­lem and Mike Miller are revitalized and playing at a high level. The Big Three are going to do the bulk of the work, but if Udonis can bang around a little bit and Mike Miller can knock down open threes, this time becomes that much scarier. With Mario Chalmers still playing at a high level, the Heat have a legitimate true point guard who can make sure the ball moves and everyone gets theirs. Not to mention that LeB­ron is playing at an absurdly high level right now, especially considering the unique circum­stances of this season. Until he gets it done, the Heat will deservedly have their doubters, but you can’t help but feel it’s still theirs to lose this year. Contact Pete Koehler at [email protected].