With the NBA Playoffs fast approaching, we take a look at who we think could cause an upset. While some teams have been on the radar for a few weeks and have been mentioned across the nation, others may just surprise you…
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
A playoff storm could be on the horizon and the Oklahoma City Thunder are serving up notice that they could be ready to strike. They’ve knocked off potential first round opponents the Denver Nuggets both home and on the road this week, urging George Karl to comment that he would rather face Dallas in the first round, followed by a Lakers squad that may be in cruise control waiting for the second season to begin.
You can talk about other teams slowing down, but what you can’t deny the Thunder is their record of 12-3 since Kendrick Perkins was inserted in to the lineup. In this time they’ve beaten Miami, Denver, Portland and the Lakers. The difference, Defence, with Perk in the lineup they’re giving up 96.2 points a game, as opposed to 102ppg previously. Add to this that Kevin Durant has been on a tear since he commented that he felt he had become the forgotten man this season (28.6ppg in his last five games), and you’ve got all the signs that the Thunder will not go away quietly in the playoffs this year.
2. New York Knicks
Did we really say the Knicks? Yes we did. The Knicks have made the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons which is an achievement in itself for one of the great NBA Franchises. Acquiring Amar’e Stoudemire in the off-season was the first block in rebuilding on Broadway, adding ‘Melo and Chauncey Billups should have turned the Knicks into contention again, however, it didn’t quite work out like it was supposed to right off the bat.
The Knicks have gone 14-12 since acquiring ‘Melo, but things are looking better recently. Check out his numbers in his first 19 games with the Knicks as opposed to his last seven:
|First 19 Games||
|Last 7 Games in win streak||
The Knicks currently will face the Celtics, who seem to be limping in to the playoffs and have injury concerns, which could see them capitalise.
New York was in a winning position when the teams faced each other at MSG last month and then faltered in the final frame, being outscored 33-17 as ‘Melo and Amar’e went missing. Carmelo lives for the big stage and after his opening act hasn’t gone as he would have planned it, his recent numbers may be a sign that he feels the second-season is his chance for an encore.
3. Denver Nuggets
As ‘Melo headed for the bright lights of the big-apple, the Denver Nuggets were supposed to lose their shine and fall away. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the Nuggets have become a polished outfit since the trade, going 16-6.
They now go ten deep in their rotation with a different guy leading the scoring each night, have improved on the defence end by 10 points per 100 possessions and in Ty Lawson have uncovered a gem (15.9ppg, 7.0apg since the trade). They’ve beaten fellow western conference foes Dallas, San Antonio and the Lakers in this time, but two losses to Oklahoma City would imply they would want to avoid them in the first round. If Denver does indeed avoid the Thunder and plays Dallas, then an upset could be on the cards.
4. Portland Trailblazers
The Portland Trailblazers also made big moves at the trade deadline, acquiring Gerald Wallace from Charlotte. After a slow start to life in the Pacific Northwest, Wallace has provided some much needed scoring, upping his own numbers from 15.7ppg in March to 18.0ppg in April, as the Blazers have gone 15-8 since he arrived and are 7-3 in their last ten.
They’ve become increasingly hard to play in their own building, going 9-2 in their last 11 home games, which has included wins over fellow Western Conference playoff foes San Antonio, LA Lakers, Oklahoma City, Denver and Dallas (twice).
Portland’s problem remains on the road though, where they are 5-5 since acquiring Wallace, but this has included a victory against San Antonio. They’ll have to win at least one away from the Rose Garden if they are to progress, but with Wallace now integrated in to the rotation and LaMarcus Aldridge having his best year as a pro, the Blazers, who own the league’s sixth best defensive record, are looking more likely to do that now.
5. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks have made it through to the second round of the playoffs in the last two seasons so they can hardly be considered a surprise for an upset, but they are going in as the underdog against the favoured Orlando Magic. The Hawks are a perennial Jekyll and Hyde team, strong at home and average on the road. What they do have going in their favour is that they are 3-1 against Orlando this season which has included a road win.
Josh Smith seems to enjoy playing the magic as his numbers show and the Hawks will need him having lost their last three without him in the lineup:
The Magic have been in turmoil this season and have made several questionable trades. The most head-scratching of which was Gilbert Arenas who’s numbers have fallen off the charts since arriving in Florida. After appearing in the finals two seasons ago, Orlando now looks ripe for a first round exit.
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