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Bet on the NBANow that the All-Star break is long over, and the NBA trade deadline has come and gone, basketball season is starting to heat up. Teams will be looking for consistency and a lack of injuries as time winds down in the regular season. With some of the shakeups in a few of the elite teams in the league, the playoff picture is still a bit fuzzy, but will begin to come into better focus with each passing week.

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Everyone knows that certain teams are very likely to find playoff success. Who can doubt the San Anthonio Spurs or the Los Angeles Lakers will end up in the conference championship series? And there are great expectations for the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, as well. With so many excellent teams in the league this year, it is almost easy to overlook some of the lesser-appreciated franchises, such as Dallas and Chicago.

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But it would be unwise to overlook the Dallas Mavericks, for instance. Dallas has an impressive record at 43-16, and are currently ranked #4 in the NBA. Remaining consistent for this second half of the season will be a key for the Mavericks, who may have a strong enough team to get to the NBA Finals this year. If they can keep playing solid basketball, they may go further than anyone expects.

The #6 Chicago Bulls are also enjoying an incredible run at the moment, despite their lack of three-point shooting. They play great defense, and their offense is led by probable-MVP Derrick Rose. But when the Bulls have to match up against teams that are equally solid on defense, Chicago's lack of perimeter threats shows they are still a bit lacking.

Do either of these teams have all the pieces in place to make a successful championship run? Can they beat the really elite teams like Boston and San Antonio in a five- or seven-game series when they do not have the home-court advantage? With any luck we will get to see the answers to these questions as the NBA playoffs progress in April.


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