Apr. 21, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash (13) high fives teammate guard Shannon Brown (26) while playing against the Denver Nuggets during the first half at the US Airways Center. The Nuggets defeated the Suns 118 - 107. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

Playoffs: Physical East, High-Scoring West

Eastern Conference

Nov. 24, 2010; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau talks to his players in the huddle against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. The Bulls defeated the Suns 123-115 in double overtime. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Bulls have best record in back to back seasons. Reigning MVP and probably the first back to back Coach of the Year in history with the best bench in basketball. Rip Hamilton may be the difference maker they needed last postseason.

February 3, 2011; Orlando FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6), shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) and power forward Chris Bosh (1) huddle up during the second half against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center.Miami Heat defeated Orlando Magic 104-100. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Heat are the favorite to win it all and they have the 3rd best record at the moment. They big three made it to the finals and lost, but have added some pieces. LeBron James is most likely the MVP and Dwyane Wade is the closer, but Chris Bosh and his scoring are the key.

January 20, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; The Indiana Pacers celebrate after shooting guard George Hill (not pictured) scored the game-winning basket against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter at ORACLE Arena. The Pacers defeated the Warriors 94-91. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Pacers have the 5th best record in basketball. They’ve been playing very well under the radar, and David West is looking healthier. Indiana is a physical and fundamental team.

Feb 22, 2012; Oklahoma City OK, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers in a team huddle during the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

Boston is still a tough with those veterans and the best defensive backcourt. This may be the big three’s last run together, and Doc Rivers is one of the better coaches that will have this team competing.

Apr 22, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks power forward Josh Smith (5) reacts to being called for a foul against the New York Knicks during the second half at Philips Arena. The Knicks won 113-112. Mandatory Credit: Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE

Atlanta is athletic and playing good basketball without all-star Al Horford, who is expected to return in the postseason. Josh Smith and Joe Johnson have been consistent, perhaps a healthy Kirk Hinrich provides a spark off the bench.

Apr 07, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (12) lays on the court after a collision with a Philadelphia 76ers at the end of the second quarter at the Wells Fargo Center. The Magic defeated the Sixers 88-82. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Magic are a threat with Dwight Howard. Obviously not this year since he’s opting for surgery. They can hit 3-pointers and are very unselfish, but not many teams can win without their best player.

Apr 22, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Knicks power forward Amare Stoudemire (1) talks with small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) during the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena. The Knicks won 113-112. Mandatory Credit: Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE

Knicks are better than their low seed, and probably a top 10 team. Amare Stoudemire is back and Tyson Chandler will be in uniform come postseason. Jeremy Lin might even come back if they advance past the first round.

December 27, 2010; Oakland, CA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins (left) instructs his team in a huddle against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter at ORACLE Arena. The Warriors defeated the 76ers 110-95. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

Philly is elite defensively and on rebounds, they were neck and neck with Indiana at #3 before falling to 8. They are a perimeter team with a lot of scoring options. If they had a go-to guy at the end of games they would be a 3rd or 4th seed.

                            Western Conference

Apr 23, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs players (from left) Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan during the national anthem prior to the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the AT

San Antonio currently has the best record in the West, it would be 2 years in a row if they finish with the top seed. They got bounced out the playoffs in 2nd round last year against Memphis, but have added key role players and Greg Popovich is a Coach of the Year candidate.

Feb 20, 2012; Oklahoma City OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder players including Kevin Durant (35) huddle before the game against the New Orleans Hornets at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

Thunder are having a good season. They have the highest scoring duo in the league and the leading shot blocker. Not a fan of Coach Scott Brooks, but they have the supporting cast to contend.

Apr 13, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (right) talks with center Andrew Bynum (17) during the game against the Denver Nuggets at the Staples Center. The Lakers defeated the Nuggets 103-97. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Lakers have history but got swept in the second round last year against Dallas. They have Kobe Bryant and 2 all-star big men, and they might have discovered a bench. I like their chances better with the coach they had before Mike Brown.

Feb 13, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) huddles with his teammates including guard Chris Paul (3) against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Clippers are still growing and exciting to watch. They found a leader in Chris Paul, but the role players need to chip in more offensively. They certainly won’t out-coach opponents, but their youth and athleticism gives other teams trouble.

Feb 6, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies huddle together to go over the next play during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at the FedEx Forum. The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 89-84. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

Grizzlies are the dark horse, but they missed “it” last year. Maybe “it” is a healthy Rudy Gay. Last postseason they beat the top-seeded Spurs and took OKC to 7 games, and this month they’ve defeated several playoff teams.

Apr. 21, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Denver Nuggets center JaVale McGee (34) talks with forward Al Harrington (7) , forward Danilo Gallinari (8) and guard Ty Lawson (3) while playing against the Phoenix Suns during the first half at the US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

Nuggets I can’t say are contenders, but they have the talent and youth to make you play start to finish. This team is well-coached and Ty Lawson is blossoming into a leader.

Apr 20, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks shooting guard Jason Terry (31) and shooting guard Delonte West (13) celebrate during the third quarter against the Golden State Warriors at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeated the Warriors 104-94. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

Mavericks are the reigning champions but have obviously lost key contributors in J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler. Roddy Beaubois and Vince Carter are giving this team productive minutes while Jason Kidd and Jason Terry have gotten some rest.

January 30, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; The Utah Jazz huddle during a time out late in the fourth quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at EnergySolutions Arena. The Jazz defeated the Trail Blazers 93-89. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

Utah is known for their physical play and front line. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are the bigs, and Devin Harris is the man that needs to step his game up for them to have any chance. This team hustles and will scrap until the final buzzer.

Utah is  currently a game ahead of the Suns by one game, and they tomorrow night at home in a battle for the 8th and final seed in the West. Both teams have winnable home games to close the season, the Jazz play Portland and Phoenix will face a resting Spurs team that has clinched the top spot.

The Suns are young and athletic, led by the ageless Steve Nash. He has this team playing good basketball since the all-star break. Six players score 10+ points, led by  Marcin Gortat and his double-double average.

Mar. 1, 2012; Portland, OR, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) and shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) celebrate as time winds down in the fourth quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden. Heat won the game 107-93. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE


The East is pretty clear cut with a slew of stars and their series will be very physical because of elite defense and rebounding. Most people have Miami and Chicago clashing to see who reaches the finals, but if injuries were to detour them, New York and Indiana would be tough to beat in a series for anyone.

The West will be higher scoring and more exciting to watch, it’s more wide open in terms of who can make the finals. There are a lot of question marks at the top of the Western Conference, aside from health. Will Tim Duncan hold up? Can Russell Westbrook continue to carry a scoring load? Is Andrew Bynum going to show up every game?

To me, the East is the stronger conference and the West is for the taking, but keep in mind, they play different styles of basketball. For the record, the last 3 champions reside in the West: Lakers twice, then the Mavericks last year.

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Tags: 2012 Championship Contenders Eastern Conference Finals National Basketball Association NBA Playoffs Postseason Pretenders Season Western Conference

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