NBA Playoff Power Rankings 2012: The Final 8

May 16, 2012

The 2011-2012 NBA playoffs have been filled with excitement, devastating injuries, and upsets, leaving us now with only eight teams vying for the title.  Here are our current Power Rankings for the remaining teams: 

1.    San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are on a roll, winning their last fifteen games dating back to the end of the regular season, including a sweep of the Utah Jazz in the first round.  Coach of the Year winner Gregg Popovich has his team executing perfectly, and he’s looking to handle the Los Angeles Clippers quickly so they can again prepare early for the Western Conference Finals.

There is simply no other team in the playoffs that can match the Spurs’ efficient and consistent play, and their big three is just as fearsome as any in the league.  Despite a quiet performance offensively from Tony Parker in Game 1 against the Clippers, he still dished out 11 assists.  Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, meanwhile, scored a combined 48 points on 33 shots.  

2.    Oklahoma City Thunder

Like the Spurs, the Oklahoma City Thunder are looking nearly unstoppable.  After sweeping the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in the first round, the Thunder made quick work of the weary Los Angeles Lakers in their Game 1 matchup.

Not surprisingly, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden dominated, scoring 69 of the team’s 119 points.  Harden in particular seems to be coming into his own after being the Game 4 hero against the Mavericks.  Look for his effective play to continue against the Lakers.

If there are any weaknesses with the Thunder, it’s in their ball handling.  During the regular season they averaged a league-worst 16.3 turnovers a game.  But here’s the scary part—so far in the playoffs their turnover average has dropped to 11 a game, tying them with the Philadelphia 76ers for the least per contest.

3.    Miami Heat

After looking practically invulnerable during last year’s playoff run leading up to the Finals, the Miami Heat are suddenly in the hot seat after losing Game 2 against the Indiana Pacers at home. With Chris Bosh injured, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade need to step up in an enormous way to fill the void since they’re not getting much support from the rest of their players.

As a team, the Heat are shooting an atrocious 1-22, or 4.5%, from the three-point line against the Pacers.  That just won’t cut it against a gritty Pacers squad that is not going to roll over.  If the Heat continue to play the way they have been, expect the Boston Celtics (who gave the Heat all sorts of trouble during the regular season) to come through with the upset in the Eastern Conference Finals.

4.    Los Angeles Lakers

The last couple of years the Los Angeles Lakers have been repeatedly called “old” and “slow.”  This year they really are, as the Lakers have looked like a bunch of old-timers trying to keep pace with a much younger and athletic group of twenty-somethings.

Game 1 against OKC was an embarrassment, but the Lakers can recover from that loss.  The real problem the Lakers have had in this year’s playoffs has been effort, or lack thereof.

After going up 3-1 in their series against Denver, the Lakers looked pedestrian in their effort to close out the series in the following two games, allowing Denver to gain momentum and actually push the Lakers to a Game 7.  More importantly, the Lakers’ failure to win in five cost them much needed rest between the first and second rounds.  They are now paying the price.

Still, the Lakers have one of the most talented starting fives in the game, led by Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant.  The rest of the series should be competitive, though the Lakers need a near-miracle to advance, especially considering their play of late.

5.    Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers continue to impress, defeating the Miami Heat in Game 2 on the road, as coach Frank Vogel has his team playing with the type of confidence that is necessary to win a series.

Like the 76ers, the Pacers don’t have true star players that can carry games.  They do, however, have a group of physical players that pound the ball inside and crash the glass. In Game 2 against the Heat, three different Pacers players grabbed at least 10 rebounds, including Paul George, who has been playing very well for the Pacers this year.

The Pacers may not win the series, but expect them to push it to at least Game 6.  And if they do win it, don't be too surprised.

6.    Boston Celtics

The Celtics have shown flashes of brilliance in the postseason. At times they display a grit that few other teams possess, but their play also has been wildly inconsistent.  Still, with Rondo commanding the floor, the Celtics are a threat to most of the remaining teams.

Similar to the past couple of years, the road is not a scary place for Boston, and they will be looking forward to a Game 3 redemption in Philadelphia.

Having Ray Allen come off the bench was a smart decision by coach Doc Rivers because of Avery Bradley’s production, but the absence of Paul Pierce offensively has been hurting the team.  In the first two games of the series Pierce has shot 5-20 from the field.  Kevin Garnett has picked up the slack, but Pierce needs to get out of his shooting slump if Boston is to win the series. 

7.    Los Angeles Clippers

After an outstanding series against the Memphis Grizzlies in which they won Game 7 on the road, the Clippers aren’t looking too good right now due to numerous injuries.  Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Caron Butler are all hurting, and consequently so is the team.

Paul has been the Clippers’ savior this year, but the Spurs shut him down in Game 1 behind a staunch defense that dared the other players to step up.  Let’s face it, after Chris Paul there is a pretty steep drop off on the roster in terms of playoff experience.

The Clippers bench has been mostly superb, securing the critical Game 1 and 7 wins against the Grizzlies, but they are really going to be tested with the team’s star players ailing.  If things don’t get better they’ll be lucky to win one game—and that’s more a credit to the Spurs than a knock on the Clippers.

8.  Philadelphia 76ers

Why are the Philadelphia 76ers last on the list?  Well, it’s the playoffs, and the competition is fierce.  The 76ers have regrouped after the regular season-ending debacle in which they nearly dropped out of the top eight in the East.

In the first round, they handled the Chicago Bulls fairly well, especially considering that the Bulls sans-Rose are still one of the better teams in the league.  And the 76ers are looking pretty good against the Celtics thus far, having taken Game 2 on the road.

Where the team is hurting is not necessarily on the stat sheet.  The 76ers can only go so far in the playoffs without star players who can take over games.  Like the Pacers, the Sixers are a good team, but not good enough to win it all.  The Sixers have a strong core of individuals, but there really aren’t any special players on the team like a James Harden or a Rajon Rondo who can literally win a game for his team.  Andre Iguodala is the next best thing, but even his play has been rather limited so far.

By Jake Vitanza
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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