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Challenging the Big 4

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J.H. had an article out yesterday about the five teams that could challenge the "Big 4" (BOS, CLE, ORL, LAL). On his list are UTA, SAS, HOU, DEN... and Philadelphia. Granted, a lot of those are teams that have been severely injured till this point and could conceivably rise fast. Utah, in particular, I have no problems with. Tacking Boozer onto a 25-17 team is nothing to sneeze at. Houston, whatever. If Y/T/R played at normal levels, that team could beat L.A. Of course, Hilton Armstrong is more likely to win MVP than those three guys playing their career bests at the same time.

But Philadelphia? The Sixers were an abject disaster with Brand on the floor because they were completely devoid of good, half-court shooters. Brand's injury allowed them to get NBA-leading transition numbers, where the best three point looks always come from. Unless Brand returns as the center, Philly is going to dip. Predicting that they could outplay New Orleans from this point, given how they played at the onset, is ridiculous.

San Antonio? They've either been blown out by the top 8 West teams (-17 Dallas, -10 Denver, -19 Houston, -7 New Orleans) or barely squeaked by in the ones they won (+1 Lakers, +2 Houston, +1 Phoenix, double overtime Dallas). The very definition of lucky. The injuries excuse doesn't back them up as well as it does PHI, UTA, or HOU. Why? They've had a completely healthy Parker/Ginobili/Duncan for 25 consecutive games now. The San Antonio over NOLA pick irks me more than any of the others.

In the end, I understand where Hollinger is coming from. A lot of teams have yet to give their "best" shot, and you can make a good case that New Orleans has already given theirs despite injury. JH has simply compiled the teams he feels have yet to give it a go. But saying San Antonio can't be judged yet due to injury is ridiculous (as even Hollinger semi-admits in the article), and saying Philly can be as good as New Orleans seems illogical at this point. Not saying it couldn't happen, but the evidence firmly, firmly denies it.  

And as Hornets fans, we'd better hope New Orleans hasn't given its best shot. Because if they have, the Hornets will be in the same place as Philadelphia come June. At home.