In a year full of posterizing dunks, highlights and buzzer beaters, the NBA has entered into a new era. This is a time when we start to see a rise of different competitors, individually, as well as collectively as a team. As we enter the 2013 NBA playoffs, it is not the traditional teams, except for a couple, we see squaring off to battle for the championship.
Other teams are lifting their franchises. The Los Angeles Lakers are no longer the big brother in L.A., as the Los Angeles Clippers are looking to prove they are more than just “Lob City” filled with high flyers and fancy ball handling, but a legit contender.
A surprising third-seeded Denver Nuggets team, led by basketball guru coach George Carl, is a team I like to call the Y.M.C.A squad-lacking any all-stars but a squad made up of unselfish, high basketball IQ basketball players.
I believe they have a chance to upset a team or two but miss a closer to get them to the ultimate goal. Then there’s the Memphis Grizzlies with blue collar players such as Zach Randolph and Mark Gasol. They play a tough, grit and grind type of game, specializing in defense and great forward play.
Unfortunately for them, the Grizzlies traded away their best fourth quarter player in Rudy Gay, who is now in Toronto playing with the Raptors (Let’s see what he does with them next in the 2013-2014 season.)
Making their first postseason in years past are the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. Golden State point guard Stephen Curry is playing with a chip on his shoulder. After being counted out this year as an NBA All-Star, Curry passed the great Ray Allen for most 3-pointers in a season (270) in the team’s last game of the regular season against the Portland Trailblazers.
The Rockets are another surprising team. With a big contract signed in the offseason with Houston, former Pac 12 Player of the Year James Harden is showing why he deserves to be the number one option instead of settling for third, elevating his teammates and getting Rockets’ fans excited about basketball again.
However, the new face of the Western Conference is the Oklahoma City Thunder, just a few years removed from Seattle this team is Young, Fast, Athletic and Hungry. Lead by three-time league scoring champ Kevin Durant and the dynamic Russell Westbrook, I see OKC contending for a championship for years to come.
But if they want to win a championship they are going to have to take it from the champs: the Miami Heat. Playing with two of the best players on the planet in LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, this team is the real deal. They great ball movement, great shooters, great defense, coaching and each of their superstars can close games.
With not much competition in the Eastern Conference, expect the Heat to come out of the East. This is no disrespect to the Pacers who are playing well. Center Roy Hilbert is coming into his own, but the Pacers are a season or two away.
The Nets who recently moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn, have one of the better point guards in the game in Deron Williams and are playing good team basketball. But the most viable threat to the Heat are the New York Knicks. Carmelo Anthony, the NBA’s scoring champion this season, is quite familiar with LeBron James with their individual rivalry dating back to grade school.
Anthony won an NCAA championship as a freshman at Syracuse University. James led the Heat to the NBA title last year. Both men play the three position and both play with athletic shooting guards. The difference is going come down to defense, something Anthony hasn’t been known for throughout his career. If he wants to beat LeBron James, this is where it must start.
Older teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers can’t be counted out of things because they have history, tradition and winning. But the League is changing and when you factor in injuries, age, and counter it with the speed and athleticism of some of the younger teams, it’s kind of hard to make a strong argument for some of the Legendary teams to be able to compete.
Records get broken. Styles change and in the end, the game evolves, all making for good quality basketball.
Dennis Freeman is a college student and a photojournalist. His porfolio includes shooting photos for Sacramento City College, covering the Sacramento Lions of the United Football League and the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. Dennis is a native of the Bay Area and resides currently in Sacramento where he does freelance photography. He is recently engaged and a proud father of his young son Elijah.