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The NBA's Top Title Contenders Following the All-Star Break
2015 Playoff Field Features a New and Interesting Group
Throughout the current NBA season, multiple teams in each conference have put together performances that have them in position to earn a top seed in the playoffs this year. Some of the more talented teams have not played spectacular regular season basketball so far, but this will not keep them from being a title contender this season if they qualify for the NBA playoffs. Both the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards have put together strong regular season performances in the Eastern Conference so far. Both are young teams that are strong playoff contenders, but unlikely to compete for an NBA title this season. In the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies have put together a performance that has them in position to take the second seed in the conference, however with only Mike Conley as their perimeter star they could face an uphill battle in the postseason. The Atlanta Hawks are a surprise contender in the Eastern Conference, and their ability to play strong team basketball puts them in the conversation with the title contenders as a team in position to take the conference's top playoff seed. A further look at the teams with a combination of veteran stars and regular season performance so far, will help to determine which NBA teams are the top title contenders for this season.
Despite the peaks and valleys of the first half of Cleveland's season, they enter the second half in position to earn good playoff seeding as one of the East's title contenders. With a true point guard as one of their best players, this Cavaliers team differs from recent Miami Heat teams with the roles more defined. The midseason additions of J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov, were exactly the role players that Cleveland needed to complete their bench and starting lineup. Cleveland now heads into the stretch run of the season with a strong inside presence, along with the necessary perimeter threats to make a run at an NBA title in 2015.
The Bulls are currently in position to make a deep postseason run as a top three seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Derrick Rose may be the healthiest he has been in any of the recent seasons since his ACL injury, and with Pau Gasol there to complement Joakim Noah on the block, this is a very complete roster. Jimmy Butler has put in the work to become a complementary star to Rose on the perimeter, along with being the Bulls best perimeter defender. With role playing veterans such as Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls now have bench depth needed to compete for a championship. Doug McDermott could be a key player as well for the Bulls if they are going to make a deep postseason run in 2015.
The Hawks do not have the star power that the Cavaliers and Bulls have currently, but they do own the best record in the Eastern Conference. With great team basketball and help defense, the Hawks control the paint on both ends of the floor. Al Horford and Paul Milsap have displayed both the athleticism and physicality needed to control the boards this season. The offense runs through dependable point guard Jeff Teague who has multiple long range shooters to dish the ball to when they are not running their offense through their strong block players. The long range shooting abilities of Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll work to complement the interior offensive game that Atlanta often turns to. Through gritty play and team defense, the Atlanta Hawks have established themselves as a title contender in the Eastern Conference.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have one of the most complete rosters in the NBA, despite being led young guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. With David Lee and Andrew Bogut defending the paint and providing an interior presence for offense along with rebounding, the Warriors are in great position to compete with any team in the Western Conference playoff bracket. With an extremely deep bench, the Warriors are able to remain in the plus margin regardless of what group of players they have on the floor throughout the ballgame. Defensive specialists such as Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa are able to complement the offensive energy that players like Draymond Green provide. With spectacular floor spacing and great guard play, the Warriors are in great position to compete for an NBA title this season.
The Memphis Grizzlies have been able to put together a contender this season with a somewhat unconventional style based on current NBA basketball. With a great point guard and spectacular big men, the Grizzlies play a very physical brand of basketball that should allow them to have playoff success. Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and point guard Mike Conley are the keys to their offensive game plan, but midseason addition Jeff Green has been a more than capable contributor. The floor spacing for the Grizzlies is provided by Jeff Green and Courtney Lee on the perimeter, to allow the big men to go to work in the paint. The Grizzlies currently occupy the second spot in the conference standings, as they should have the opportunity to compete for a title this season.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are not having the dominant regular season that they put together last year, but until they are beaten in the postseason they deserve respect. The trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are not getting any younger, but they proved last year that they have more than one title run left in them. Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter continue to contribute efficiently on what is a very deep Spurs team. By once again giving their veteran stars plenty of rest this season, the Spurs should be in position to dominate when the playoffs start. The regular season experience that younger players on the Spurs are getting, helps them to be ready as capable contributors on a championship caliber team when they get their opportunity to play in the postseason.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder currently do not occupy a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but with the team getting healthy they should do enough in the regular season to qualify for the playoffs. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook continue to be the story here for the Thunder, as their star power can carry this young team on a deep postseason run in any given season. With the team's recent move to acquire Dion Waiters, the Thunder should have sufficient scoring depth all over the court for this year's postseason. The Thunder have plenty of defensive length to protect the rim and rebound, along with the long range shooting necessary to space the floor to create room for point guard Russell Westbrook to attack the basket. The versatility and star power of the Thunder, once again makes them one of the top title contenders in the Western Conference this season.
Are there any other title contenders?
If the Houston Rockets, Portland Trailblazers, Washington Wizards or Toronto Raptors are able to establish defensive dominance throughout this upcoming postseason, each one of those teams has the talent to be a title contender. As of right now though, the seven teams mentioned above have established the defensive ability along with having the star power to get the job done in the playoffs. There likely will be at least one surprising outcome of an NBA playoff series this postseason, but it may not be enough to feature a dark horse contender winning the title. With all of this information considered, NBA fans should be in for another great postseason that features plenty of surprising action throughout the tournament.