Dec. 25, 2011; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) and Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (1) go for the ball in the second half of the game at the Staples Center. Bulls won 88-87. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

NBA Playoffs Contenders - Taking a Look at the Field


With just a couple games left before the postseason starts, we’re going to start looking at some of the possible contenders for the NBA crown. Today, we take a look at a couple teams rich with NBA history and a wealth of titles between them to boot – the Los Angeles Lakers and the Chicago Bulls. And just because, we’ll start off by looking at the Lakers.

Possessing size that no other team in the NBA can really match, the Lakers list of advantages obviously begin here.

Manning the middle is Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. The latter is a current All Star, while the former is a multi-time former All Star. Between the two of them, you get the best and most productive frontcourt in the NBA, as they churn out over 36 points and nearly 23 rebounds between them. I’d also like to add that they put these numbers up in an efficient manner, each shooting over 50% from the floor and close to (69 percent for Bynum) or above (78 percent for Gasol) 70 percent from the stripe. Again, those are numbers that most teams would simply love to get out of their bigs, and it’s huge for the Lakers to have big guys who are at least somewhat reliable at the foul line come the end of the game.

Beyond the huge advantage they have on offense though, they also have a tremendous effect on the game defensively. Any team that tries to go inside has to deal with an unparalleled amount of length, as they get over three blocks per game between them, and countless more shots altered.

There’s also one other huge advantage the Lakers have – they have Kobe Bryant, and no one else does. While some might question his shot selection at times (which it can be errant), no one is going to question this guys’ toughness or heart. There’s very few players in the NBA who give as much as Kobe Bryant does on a nightly basis, and it’s something Lakers fans love about him. Oh yea, he’s also pretty clutch too. That’s always nice to have when the games close.

Now…the, well, not-so-good things about the Lakers. Their offense, to sum it up, has been erratic all season. While they’ve somewhat hit a groove recently, you can never be sure if you’re going to get 85 points out of them or 105 points out of them. They basically lack any consistent outside shooting threat, as they only have Ramon Sessions shooting well from the land of plenty (where he attempts less than two per game), with the rest of the team in the low 30 percentile. That’s not good. Especially come playoff time.

And while he’s a defensive guru (and it’s shown with the Lakers’ marked improvement in defense this year), they still have Mike Brown as their coach. And in all honesty, the man has no ability coaching offense. At all. None. Zilch. Nada. And it shows constantly. He’s used a lot of simpler sets this year that became predictable as the year went on, and far too often he’s needed Kobe to bail them out on offense. It hasn’t been pretty. I’ll give some credit in that it’s gotten better as the year has gone on, but they’re still not even close to the upper echelon offensive teams like Oklahoma City or Denver Nuggets.

It also doesn’t help that they could be playing a good long while without their top defender, the newly rejuvenated Metta World Peace, as he’s likely to be suspended after his brutal elbow on James Harden. It was a shot that would have made Jon Jones proud (which, congrats to him on the impressive victory over Rashad Evans this weekend) had it been made inside the Octagon instead of on the Staples Center home court. How long Metta is out is yet to be determined, but one has to think he’ll at least be missing a few games in their first round series after that shot.

Onto the Bulls now. And I’m going to be upfront about this – I expect this team to win it all this year. To me, this is a team that has basically no flaw outside of the ability to stay healthy. If they can do that, they should win it all.

They’re the deepest team in the NBA, they’re the most balanced, they have the best coach, and they play the best defense. Oh yea, they also rebound better than any team in the NBA.

The only flaw this team has, in my eyes, is their health. They’ve had key players missing all season – Deng has missed 11 games, Hamilton has missed 38, Rose has missed 26 and CJ watson has missed 17. That’s four very key players to their rotation, and they’ve missed a combined 92 games. That’s rough. But despite that, they still have the best record in the NBA. Which is ridiculous and really shows just how good of a coaching job (and how good of a coach) Tom Thibodeau has done. To be able to have his team keep chugging along and winning games at a high rate despite missing all those players is impressive (and why he deserves his second straight coach of the year).

Oh, and I suppose if you really want to nitpick, the Bulls aren’t the best free throw shooting team (only 72 percent) or three point shooting team (only about six makes per game, but they shoot 37.6 percent, good for fourth in the NBA)…but that’s all that is. Nitpicking. Those things are tiny in the grand scheme of things.

When it all comes down to it, despite those minor things, this team is still the best in the NBA. Period. To me, there’s just no question about it. All they have to do is stay healthy, and I think the title is theirs for the taking, and that’s mainly because I just don’t think Miami has enough on the offensive side of the ball to beat them. Sure, they have the likely MVP in LeBron and another top five talent in Wade, but that’s about it. Sometimes Bosh shows up. And I don’t think that’s going to be enough to beat a team that’s as balanced and as disciplined as the Bulls.

So what did we learn today? The Lakers are good, and to me, might have enough to come out of the West (as long as World Peace doesn’t have to miss more than the first round), and that the Bulls are, to me, the cream of the crop in the NBA. Am I right about either of these? I guess we don’t have to wait too much longer to see.

Tags: Chicago Bulls Los Angeles Lakers NBA Playoffs 2012

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