With the NBA playoffs set to tip-off this weekend, there are four legitimate title contenders that shouldn’t come as a surprise –the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference, and the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers in the West. Still, with the many surprises that have transpired during this truncated, lockout-compressed season, there are teams that could possibly upend the super powers. Here we point out four teams that are likely to fare better than expected.
New York Knicks
When the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony to team with Amar’e Stoudemire at last year’s trade deadline, several questions were raised, including: Could a team with two offensive minded individuals, who are subpar defenders, among its foundational pieces really contend with Miami and Chicago? If anything, conventional thinking would have led many to believe there was no shot for the Knicks to run with the Heat or the Bulls. But as the postseason nears, and since Mike Woodson stepped in for Mike D’Antoni, New York has thrived and turned a once endangered season into a one of tremendous upside. What the Knicks lack in defense they certainly make up for with offensive firepower. Melo perhaps has been the best offensive player in the month on April, having averaged 36.6 ppg in the 13-game stretch without Stoudemire– who was sidelined with a back injury. They’ve got a 3-point specialist in Steve Novak, the acquisition of J.R. Smith midway through the season, has given the Knicks an added spark off the bench that they were desperately seeking, the emergence of Iman Shumpert’s lock-down defense and Tyson Chandler hands down has been the defensive player of the year, in the way he guards the paint. If Baron Davis or Mike Bibby can get healthy or channel their former self, the Knicks are a dangerous threat to either Chicago or Miami in the first round. Let’s just hope Amar’e’s return won’t disrupt the Knicks current rhythm.