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The Top 10 Teams Who Are Pretenders For The NBA Finals

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NBA Finals Contenders Or Pretenders?

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Greg M. Cooper - USA TODAY Sports

Which NBA teams are legitimate contenders for a title run this season, and which are just pretenders?

About a quarter of the regular season is already completed, and the league standings are starting to take shape. But which of the teams playing well now can realistically hope to still be playing in June?

As the current champions, the Miami Heat are obvious contenders, and there should not even be any debate over them. If anything, the Heat look like they might be better than they were last season due to the players they added and the experience they gained from winning the championship.

The Oklahoma City Thunder, winners of the Western Conference last season, are also obvious contenders. The young team had a great playoff run last season before being beaten by the Heat, and the experience should help them improve, too. The trade of James Harden certainly caused some changes for the team, but they still have to be considered serious contenders for winning it all this season.

But what about the other top teams?

Are the New York Knicks really good enough to have a chance to knock off the Heat? Will the Chicago Bulls make a run when Derrick Rose returns?

If the NBA playoffs started today, the Golden State Warriors would not only be in the playoffs, but they would have home court advantage in the first round. Yes, you read that correctly. They are a fun team to watch and they are playing well, but could they really contend for a championship already?

I’ll answer that one for you right now. No, they can’t

The Warriors are a great story and they have some nice young talent, but right now they are just pretenders for the Finals. The standings are full of teams like the Warriors who look pretty good right now, but won’t still be playing in June.

Here are the Top 10 NBA Finals Pretenders (the Warriors finished ranked 11th in this list).

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Dallas Mavericks

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Howard Smith - USA TODAY Sports

10. The Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Championship just two seasons ago, but it might as well have been 20 years ago. The roster has changed greatly in the last two years and the team is just a shadow of what it once was. I know that Dirk Nowitzki has been out with an injury and that the team will be better when he returns, but the Mavericks just don’t have enough around Dirk anymore. The Mavericks have some nice players, but it seems a lot more like a bunch of veterans thrown together than it seems like a solid team, and there are just not enough top-tier players on the roster.

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Houston Rockets

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Troy Taormina - USA TODAY Sports

9. The Houston Rockets look like a team on the rise, but they can’t rise quickly enough this year. The Rockets started off the season well and James Harden has looked great at times, but there is just not enough talent around Harden yet. The Rockets need to get a lot better inside, and this team needs time to add a few parts and grow together into a contender.

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Atlanta Hawks

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Daniel Shirey - USA TODAY Sports

8. The Atlanta Hawks should receive some sort of award for so consistently being one of the top pretenders in the NBA. The Hawks always seem to hover around the top of the Southeast Division and they always have some talented players. In some years, they can win a round in the playoffs and put a scare into a contender, but does anyone really expect them to challenge for a title? The Hawks need someone to bring some more fire and tenacity to the team. They are a very good regular season team, and that’s not a bad thing at all. They’re just not contenders, just like usual.

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Philadelphia 76ers

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Howard Smith - USA TODAY Sports

7. The Philadelphia 76ers looked like they might be contenders a few months ago. The 76ers had a good season and a great playoff run last year, and the trade for Andrew Bynum seemed to catapult them up to contender status. Bynum’s current status as “still hurt” and “what is he thinking?” has thrown the predictions for the 76ers out the window. When your key player hurts his knee while bowling, (while already having an injured knee), that’s a bad sign. The 76ers have plenty of good players and they look solid this year, but they can’t be considered contenders without a healthy and focused Bynum.

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Denver Nuggets

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Daniel Shirey - USA TODAY Sports

6. The Denver Nuggets are another team on the rise, but they are not ready yet this year. The Nuggets are starting off the season fairly slowly, but I expect they will come on strong in 2013 and look at times like they can contend. The roster is deep and talented, and I love watching players like Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee, but the Nuggets need to get a little more experience and make a few more changes to the roster before they can be considered contenders. For now, fans should enjoy watching this team. They just shouldn’t expect to watch them play all that long in the playoffs.

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Chicago Bulls

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Mike DiNovo - USA TODAY Sports

5. The Chicago Bulls were contenders the last two seasons and they are still a good team, but they are not contenders this year. The injury to Derrick Rose is obviously huge and has hurt the Bulls. No one knows how well Rose will be able to play when he returns, or how he will fit in when he starts to work his way back into the lineup. Also, Carlos Boozer either needs to become a lot better or the Bulls need to find a way to get rid of him if they want to become contenders. If they are going to rely on Boozer to score inside and he continues to disappoint, the Bulls are going to have a tough time getting to where they want to be.

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Boston Celtics

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Greg M. Cooper - USA TODAY Sports

4. The Boston Celtics still have some great players, but those players are either getting too old (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry), or they are not great leaders (Rajon Rondo). The Celtics have a great coach in Doc Rivers, and he will get the most out of this group. I am sure the Celtics will have a big run in the second half of the season that will get everyone talking, but they can’t seriously be considered contenders for the Finals. It looks like the Miami Heat already had their number, and then they took away the Celtics best shooter. I don’t see how the Celtics could knock off the Heat and get to the Finals.

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San Antonio Spurs

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Soobum Im - USA TODAY Sports

3. The San Antonio Spurs are another great team that is just too old. The Spurs are starting the season off in great fashion, and they could contend for the best record in the league once again this year. The team is filled with Hall of Fame players and a Hall of Fame coach, and fans should appreciate watching the Spurs play. But you can’t expect that the Spurs can get by teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies or even the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs.

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Los Angeles Lakers

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Derick E. Hingle - USA TODAY Sports

2. The Los Angeles Lakers were expected to be contenders in the off-season, and many people picked them to win it all. With Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash on the team, how could they not win? Well, this is how. The Lakers have started off the year in dismal fashion and if the season ended today they would be on the brink of not even making the playoffs. The Lakers will play better as the season goes on, and they will likely string together several wins in a row in the second half to raise everyone's hopes, but it’s not enough. The team just does not look like it fits together quite right, and the roster moves the front office made did not solve the problems the Lakers had in the playoffs last year with slowing down the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers may make another trade or two that puts them in contender status, but for now they are just pretenders. That other team in town, the Los Angeles Clippers really is a contender this year, along with the Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies in the West.

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New York Knicks

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Sam Sharpe - USA TODAY Sports

1. The New York Knicks are media darlings and everyone’s favorite surprise so far this year, but c’mon, they are not contenders. Carmelo Anthony is a great scorer and he is playing better defensively, but he has not proven he can defend well enough in the playoffs or do enough to help his team win a few rounds in the playoffs. And I know that Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd were key players in the Dallas Mavericks championship just two seasons ago, but Kidd is getting older and Chandler is a great role player who fit in perfectly with the Mavericks. It is yet to be seen how much Chandler can help the Knicks in the playoffs. And while the Knicks are playing very well to start the season, it is also unclear about what impact Amar’e Stoudemire will have when he returns to the team. Stoudemire at times looks like a shadow of the player he was with the Phoenix Suns, and it will be interesting to see if the team plays better or worse when he returns. The Knicks have not proven anything yet and they have too many question marks, so they are just pretenders. The other team in town, the Brooklyn Nets, though, they are contenders in the East along with the Miami Heat.