Early NBA Predictions: Top Eastern and Western Conference Playoff Contenders

Gideon ResnickContributor IIIJanuary 14, 2012

The Chicago Bulls will once again finish atop the East. But can they actually capitalize on a title this year?
The Chicago Bulls will once again finish atop the East. But can they actually capitalize on a title this year?Elsa/Getty Images

Being one week deeper into this shortened NBA season, my predictions for the playoff spots and seeds have not changed too drastically.


Eastern Conference

1. Chicago Bulls:

Despite the fact that the Miami Heat may be the overall better team and provide hellish matchups for the Bulls, Chicago will still emerge as the top seed in the East. With Luol Deng hitting key jumpers, and in the event that Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah begin playing less loose defense, they are a certain number one seed. Record: (52-14)

2. Miami Heat:

Despite the fact that the Bulls are playing phenomenal basketball and driving the win differential even higher between the two teams, Miami should not be worried. Just like last season, they can roll through the rest of the year with some key wins and surprising losses to mediocre teams.

The Heat have nothing to gain from grabbing the number one spot in the East because they know that their only worthy opponent (Chicago) crumbled against them in the playoffs last year. Unless the Bulls can figure out what to do when Derrick Rose is double teamed by Dwayne Wade and LeBron James, it seems like this year's playoffs will be deja vu. Record: (49-17)

3. Orlando Magic:

Prior to Al Horford getting injured and benched for potentially the rest of the season, the Hawks could have occupied this spot as the third seed. However, the power of Dwight Howard cannot be understated.

After his record-setting game against the Golden State Warriors, he reaffirmed the belief that he can carry this team and perhaps get them to win a playoff series. Maybe before an unhappy Howard departs from his franchise team, he will try to grab them a title. Record: (46-20)

4. Indiana Pacers:

With the Boston Celtics looking old and shaky and the New York Knicks having an offense desperately in need of assistance, the Indiana Pacers can sneak in and take the fourth seed. Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Granger are an excellent sort of Big Three.

They gave Chicago some trouble in their playoff series against them last year, and the team has only gotten remarkably better. Record: (45-21)


5. Philadelphia 76ers:

A team that no one seems to talk about, the 76ers have the third highest scoring offense in the league. They give teams like New York and Atlanta cause for concern. Record: (44-22)

6. Boston Celtics:

It is difficult to read this team as of now. The Celtics are entirely dependent upon Rajon Rondo playing a bigger role on the team and developing a jump shot. In the event that Rondo performs miraculously in the playoffs, which is something he so frequently likes to do, Boston could be a surprising underdog once the season wraps up. Record: (43-23)

7. New York Knicks:

Despite picking up Tyson Chandler this year, the Knicks' offense still seems to struggle with cohesiveness. Carmelo Anthony takes too many shots, and they lack someone like Rondo who can distribute the ball well. Although they've been a disappointment so far, New York still has a chance of making something out of their season. Record: (42-24)

8. Atlanta Hawks:

The Hawks are that group of guys that hang out at the playground court all the time. They're scrappy and they've learned tricks to beat other people. But at the end of the day, they are disorganized and unpredictable.

With the loss of Horford, the Hawks will struggle a bit more. But that doesn't mean they won't be a huge nuisance to teams like Chicago, who they match up well against, in the playoffs. Record: (38-28)


Western Conference

1. Oklahoma City Thunder:

Unexpected choice, I know. But it is really difficult to not think that the Thunder have the offensive capabilities to win their first championship.

Kevin Durant needs to play more defense, utilizing his frame to put pressure on the ball. Russell Westbrook needs to remain mature and levelheaded, stepping up as another leader for the team. If that holds true, the Thunder are a formidable force. Record: (51-15)


2. Los Angeles Lakers:

No one would have given a shattered Lakers a chance before the season began. However, Kobe Bryant is having an MVP-caliber season and is playing inspired basketball, which is just terrifying.

If Andrew Bynum stays healthy, the Lakers can and likely will go back to fight for another championship. Record: (49-17)

3. Denver Nuggets:

This team has shown monumental improvements in their game. With an offense that is ranked second in the league, just behind the Miami Heat, the Nuggets cause all kinds of trouble for teams that are not as athletic and fast as they are. Record: (46-20)

4. Portland Trailblazers:

Never count this team out, despite all their injuries. LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging 22.8 points per game and the Blazers are once again carving a quiet path to the playoffs. Record: (45-21)

5. San Antonio Spurs:

This team may just have one more in them, akin to the Boston Celtics in the East. With an unprecedented home-crowd advantage and the potential return of Manu Ginobili later in the season, the Spurs are not fading away any time soon. Record: (44-22)

6. Los Angeles Clippers:

The Lob City Squad is still not firing on all cylinders, working Chris Paul into the offense with Blake Griffin. However, they have shown tenacity in games against teams like the Miami Heat, and the presence of Chauncey Billups as an experienced leader will really help them come playoff time. Record: (42-24)

7. Dallas Mavericks:

Last year's champions look good, but not great. This is another team that is older and running on steam to get them back into the playoffs. But, any team with Dirk Nowitzki is a team that should be feared. Record: (41-25)

8. Golden State Warriors:

I know it seems ridiculous, but listen. They need to pick up a lot of wins to qualify for the playoffs. But this is an exciting, strange and challenging team that has already proven that at their best they can beat Chicago and Miami, the two best teams in the league.

Consistency is of dire importance and if Stephen Curry can return from his injury, their scoring ability is remarkable. Monta Ellis is an electric, excellent scorer but the team needs to string together some good wins out west before they can make it to the playoffs. Record: (34-32)


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