NBA playoff dark horses


As the NBA season approaches the All-Star break, the undefined half-way marker, we take a look at two teams in each conference that have been playing extremely well since the beginning of the season and could make some noise in the play-offs if all of the correct piece fall into place.

With Derrick Rose sidelined late last year with an ACL injury, the Chicago Bulls were all but counted out of the elite teams in the Eastern conference. Analysts buzzed about the defending champions Miami Heat, the Brooklyn Nets, their cross-city counter-parts New York Knicks, the aged Boston Celtics, and, to a lesser degree, the Indiana Pacers. No Rose, no hope. But boy were they wrong. The Bulls are currently 3rd in the Eastern Conference behind the Miami Heat and New York Knicks, beating out three teams projected to do better than them this season. They have won seven of their last ten games, have the best road record in the NBA at 12-6, and have rallied behind the principle of team unity the entire season. Joakim Noah, who is averaging 12.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 4.2 assists to go along with 2.2 blocks and 1.3 steals per contest, has been the heart and soul that anchors a team of gritty, tireless players that hustle every minute of the game and never give up. Luol Deng has stepped up offensively to provide the primary scoring threat for the team. Carlos Boozer has played resurgently as of late, showing shades of his old self with a string of monster games earlier this month. Coach Tom Thibodeau has instilled a terrific mentality in this group of players who have really rallied together to play hard night-in and night-out. If the Bulls continue to play with the tenacity they’ve shown thus far when Derrick Rose returns to the line-up after the All-Star break they would look similar to the scary #1 seeded Bulls team of two years ago and could spell trouble for first and possibly second-round opponents.

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee, and Andrew Bogut. That’s the line-up that Golden State Warriors’ fans envisioned would carry them to the play-offs this year, and it is a scary one to imagine for opposing teams. But after playing just four games in the season, Bogut went down with an ankle injury, causing him to miss the next 38 games. The Warriors did not let Bogut’s injury hamper their whole season, though. Currently sitting at the No. 5 seed in the West, they are young, athletic, and fun-to-watch. Not only that – they get the job done. They boast an impressive 14-6 home record, and despite going 5-5 in their past ten games played, they have played well throughout the season. Curry is having an all-star caliber year (21 points, 6.4 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game) and proves to be the glue that holds the team together. Last year fans got a glimpse of what Klay Thompson could be after the shooting guard spot opened up in the post-Monta Ellis era. He averaged over 20 points a game on 45% shooting last year after Ellis was dealt to the Bucks. Thompson started the year slowly shooting below 40% and not performing, but has since come into form and is shooting the ball well. Harrison Barnes also started the season rocky, and although his numbers aren’t spectacular, the Warriors are better as a unit when he is on the court. He is a terrific defender and does a lot of the dirty work and intangibles that do not go on the stat sheet. Supplement these young shooters with big men like David Lee and Andrew Bogut who are not afraid to get physical and bruise their way to rebounds and inside paint points and there is a legitimate inside-outside threat that teams will have to deal with. Head coach Mark Jackson has given these young players immense confidence to play the game their style and it has been working thus far (27-17). It may take a while for the chemistry to settle in with Bogut back in the line-up, but if they continue to play well the Warriors can hover around the 4th-6th seed in the West – and don’t be surprised if they pull off an upset or two in the playoffs.