Faceoff: Who is sleeper team in the NBA playoffs?

Andrew McDermott:

The NBA playoffs are right around the corner.

Teams such as the Warriors, Hawks, Cavaliers, and Rockets are all favorites to win the championship.

However, which team can pull some upsets and be that perennial underdog?

The East is too weak to provide an underdog capable of pulling upsets.

The West however, can.

My prediction is the Portland Trail Blazers.

This Portland Trail Blazers team has made significant progress from last year’s team to this year’s team.

The main focus of this past offseason and trade deadline was to shore up their lacking bench.

They did just that, signing point guard Steve Blake and center Chris Kaman.

This past trade deadline, they traded Thomas Robinson, Victor Claver, and Will Barton to the Denver Nuggets for shooting guard Arron Afflalo and small forward Alonzo Gee.

This trade allowed Portland to trade three players who played minimal minutes for two players who would contribute heavily off the bench.

The trade turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews was lost for the year shortly after the trade due to a torn Achilles.

Chris Kaman proved to be a great signing also, as he has started the majority of games this year.

Blake and Gee have provided valuable minutes off of the bench this year.

The Trail Blazers have been wrecked by injuries this year.

In addition to Matthews, Lopez, Kaman, small forward Nicolas Batum, and starting power forward LaMarcus Aldridge have all missed time this year with injuries.

However, the Trail Blazers still fought through the injuries to clinch the Northwest Divison in the Western Conference.

How can these injuries possibly be working out for Portland?

Lucky for them, these injuries mostly happened in the early part or middle of the year.

This allowed Portland to become healthy as they make a playoff push.

The only player who will miss the playoffs for them is Wesley Matthews, and the acquisition of Arron Afflalo has softened that blow.

Another factor that I will believe help Portland to playoff success in their young star point guard, Damian Lillard.

Lillard had ice in his veins during last year’s playoffs, with his most notable play a buzzer beater three pointer to eliminate the Houston Rockets.

Another year under Lillard’s belt can only be good for the young point guard.

He’s managed to stay healthy all year and be that constant leader for Portland.

But the biggest factor that Portland will have going for them is All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.

Aldridge has been playing through an injury since the All-Star break, and hasn’t slowed his production down at all.

He’s been that tough veteran leader the Trail Blazers have needed, and really stepped up when Portland was wracked by injuries and needed him to keep playing.

Nicolas Batum has also taken the next step to becoming a great player in this league.

Although his season has been hampered by a wrist injury, he has shot well from behind the arc and gave Portland that marksman three-point shooter.

Tre Gaines:

As the 2014-2015 NBA season is coming to an end, there are some teams that look like they’ll be making a run for a title, and then there are teams that are just sliding in.

The teams that I’m focusing on though, are the teams that are lower seeds but can make a run for the NBA championship.

As we have all seen in the past, the lower seeds aren’t teams to overlook, and this year isn’t any different.

Yes, the top four teams in the NBA are great, but there isn’t that one team that is unstoppable this season.

The sleeper team that I think can make a run at the NBA Finals is the Dallas Mavericks.

I chose the Mavericks to win it all before the season started and I’m sticking with my pick.

Did I expect the Mavericks to be sitting at the seventh seed right now? No, I did not, but in the Western Conference it’s tough to get a top four seed.

The Mavericks are currently 46-31 this season and are 4.5 games from dropping out of the playoff picture.

With the NBA season ending next Wednesday, I don’t see the Mavericks dropping out of the playoffs.

This shows you just how good the Western Conference is.

If the Mavericks were playing in the Eastern Conference, they would be tied for the third seed right now with Chicago.

I’ve told people that I liked Dallas’ chances of winning it all throughout the season and I’ve got people looking at me like I’m crazy.

Well let me explain why I’m picking Dallas to win it all this season.

The first reason why is because they have one of the greatest if not the greatest seven-foot shooters of all time in Dirk Nowitzki.

Nowitzki is creeping around the end of his career but still is one of the best players in this league.

He also has the experience and knows what it takes to win a NBA championship.

In 2011, the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA finals by defeating the big three in Miami 4-2.

Nowitzki was also named finals MVP.

With a leader, scorer and competitor like this on your team, there’s always a chance for you to win, especially with Nowitzki’s experience in the playoffs.

The Mavs also picked up former all-star point guard, Rajon Rondo this year.

Rondo isn’t the player he once was, but he’s close to it.

Rondo also knows what it takes to win a championship.

He was a part of the Boston Celtics championship in 2008.

With this type of experience on your team, there is a good chance you can make a run at the title.

Other key parts like Chandler Parsons and Monta Ellis are another reason why the Mavericks shouldn’t be slept on.

Ellis is leading the team in scoring with 19.1 points per game this season.

Parsons is adding close to 16 points per game and is a player that can stretch the floor and defend the perimeter.

Tyson Chandler is controlling the paint for the Mavs.

He’s grabbing 11.4 rebounds per game and is also scoring 10 points a game as well.

The Mavs also have experience on their bench as well.

Amar’e Stoudemire, Devin Harris and Richard Jefferson are adding some quality minutes off the bench.

With this line-up, experience and depth on the bench, Dallas is a team I would keep my eye on to make a run at the title.

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