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Bet on the NBAConventional wisdom predicts that the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, and Los Angeles Lakers all have the best chances to make it to the NBA Finals in 2011.

While the Chicago Bulls have the second-best record in the league and sit atop the Eastern Conference, they are seen as “untested” and too young to go all the way. But let's look at each of these top four teams.

The Celtics have been faltering since they traded away Kendrick Perkins on the last day of the trade deadline. Since then, the team has been without a center, and Shaq is not going to be healthy enough to take up the space in the paint. Rajon Rondo was also manhandled by Chicago's Derrick Rose in the Celtics loss to the Bulls. Boston is aging, lacking a center, and lacking team cohesion.

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The Lakers are similar to the Celtics in that they are getting older. They are also running into some problems down the stretch, dropping four games in a row and playing some of their worst basketball of the season. While LA had a great run after the All-Star Break, the team has been plagued with lethargic performances all year, and their recent games have been a return to poor form.

While the Miami Heat can be a supremely dangerous team, it seems like their three stars get caught up too much in their own hype. LeBron James predicted seven NBA championships before the season even started, and then the team proceeded to get crushed by every other elite team in the Eastern Conference. Their last shot to beat a great team comes with one of their last games of the season against Boston.

The San Antonio Spurs showed how vulnerable they are if they lose their star center Tim Duncan and face a few more injuries to their starters. San Antonio had a losing streak where they came in danger of dropping to second place in the Western Conference. Winning three games in a row while the Lakers dropped four consecutive helped eliminate that possibility, but the Spurs will have to be healthy in order to make it through the playoffs.

On the other hand, the Bulls have played remarkably well even in the face of injuries. Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer have not even played together for much of the season, yet Chicago is still on top of the Eastern Conference, clinching the No. 1 seed last night. The team is almost wholly reliant on Derrick Rose, but they can keep games going even without the star point guard.

In the end, it is hard to doubt that the Bulls will make it to the NBA Finals this year. What is keeping many back from making this prediction is that those same people predicted Miami or Boston in first place in the East, and having to change now to Chicago indicates a mistaken forecast. But the Bulls have been tested throughout the year, and are on track to pass 60 of those tests before the playoffs begin.


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