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|Separating the pretenders from the contenders|
With NBA teams sharpening their postseason fangs, we're here to determine just how much bite is supplied by each of the 16 squads currently sitting on playoff seeds.
We'd like to imagine that every franchise has a blind-squirrel's chance of reaching the ultimate prize, but history and a best-of-seven format suggest a powerful link between regular season and early summer triumph.
Of course, the Celtics almost wrecked our theory by occupying that dead zone separating shock and eventual glory last season. It also should be noted that prolonged injury and an unexpected funk by a couple of teams could erase what represents chalk in the Western Conference bracket.
Here's a look at the contenders and pretenders, with a quick list of variables in their favor and situations to assist the respective quests for victory:
Cleveland CavaliersPotential: NBA champsMain assets: The Cavs have recent Finals experience, championship-level defense, reasonable depth, a nice second fiddle in Mo Williams and an elite closer (LeBron James) surrounded by capable shooters.How to maximize potential: James must be efficient late in games, especially at the free-throw line.
Boston CelticsPotential: NBA champsMain assets: When healthy, the Celts are an elite defensive team with championship experience and that superstar troika.
New Orleans HornetsPotential: Conference finalsMain assets: New Orleans will go to battle with the game's most complete point guard in Chris Paul, a low-post scorer in David West and world-class shot-blocker in Tyson Chandler.How to maximize potential: The Hornets will ride CP3 as far as he can carry them. He took a less-than-superstar turn when New Orleans lost Game 7 of last year's conference semis at home against San Antonio.
Utah JazzPotential: Conference finalsMain assets: Utah features one of the league's foremost playmakers in Deron Williams, nice depth and a savvy coach in Jerry Sloan.How to maximize potential: Assuming Carlos Boozer can regain some of his previous form, the Jazz could rise if shooting sub Kyle Korver and Ron Brewer provide solid play at the two.
Dallas MavericksPotential: One and doneMain assets: The Mavs are experienced and have a couple of proven marksmen.How to maximize potential: Dallas will reach its first-round elimination by riding Dirk Nowitzki and holding off Phoenix for the eighth seed.
Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: March 20, 2009