Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 4/16/12
Ricky Rubio brought the Minnesota Timberwolves instant hope. Not just hope for the future, but for this season. Rubio teamed with Kevin Love, the self-proclaimed Best Power Forward in the Game. They were being groomed under Rick Adelman, the new coach with NBA Finals experience. They added No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams. For a while, there was buzz. The T-Wolves, after having missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons, were relevant again. Then came the All-Star break. Then Rubio badly injured his knee and was lost for the season. Then Williams started playing mostly like a rookie. And considering hes indeed a rookie, you cant really blame him. Basically, within the past month or so, the Wolves began to look like the inexperienced bunch they are. But in their case, its really no big deal. Nobody expected them to contend for a playoff spot this season. You could even say that by doing so early, they overachieved. At the very least, they appear stable heading into the future. Thats not the case for everyone who has taken a bit of a nosedive since early March. Among them: Philadelphia, Portland, Orlando, Cleveland and, to a lesser extent, title contenders Miami and Oklahoma City. And, of course, Charlotte -- which started off bad and has gotten progressively worse. Lets start with the 76ers. They raced to a quick and big lead in the Atlantic Division, making more celebrated teams such as Boston and New York seem like also-rans. The Sixers did it one year after making a surprising appearance in the postseason, coming across as a mostly young team with a passionate veteran coach in Doug Collins. They had an All-Star in swingman Andre Iguodala, a seasoned pro in power forward Elton Brand, a young and talented point guard in Jrue Holiday, and an ultra-productive bench that featured Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner. Then, suddenly and without true explanation, the Sixers began a major slide. They were passed by the expert Celtics in the standings. They were caught by the Knicks. They remain in danger of missing the postseason altogether. The story of the Trail Blazers out West is a little easier to understand. They meshed early, but the long-run has proved that the off-season acquisitions of guards Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford havent really paid off. That led to rumors that both were sure bets to be dealt at the March 15 trading deadline. Instead, Felton and Crawford remained, and reliable coach Nate McMillan was shown the door. Now, power forward LaMarcus Aldridge became injured and lost for the season, and the Blazers became forced to simply play out the string. Now back to the East. The Magic expected their problems to be solved once the trading deadline passed and Mr. Everything center Dwight Howard was still on the team. In fact, he signed a one-year extension to stay in Orlando. And for a while, things looked to be on the up-and-up. Howard was playing well and the Magic were suddenly soaring. But then the soap opera returned, with coach Stan Van Gundy telling reporters that Howard wanted him fired. Howard denied the accusation, but it was all downhill from there. Today, the Magic are backing into the playoffs, as Howards bad back has landed him on the injured list. Today, anything more than a first-round exit would be a shocker. The situation in Cleveland is a little easier to understand. The Cavaliers hot start was tempered first by the wrist injury to Anderson Varejao, the starting center on a roster that was already severely lacking at the position. Then point guard and rookie of the year frontrunner Kyrie Irving went down with a bum shoulder. Now, coach Byron Scotts roster is a mish-mash of guys on the brink of retirement (Antawn Jamison, Anthony Parker), D-League lifers (Donald Sloan, Lester Hudson) and youngsters may be best suited for a role overseas. The Cavs went from playoff contenders to lottery hopefuls in less than the time it says to say nosedive. Meanwhile, circumstances involving the Heat and Thunder are hardly as dire. They remain among the favorites to represent their respective conferences in the West -- and any of their flawes may be the result of coasting. But thanks to their so-so play of late, the race to the championship round in each conference is suddenly wide open. Finally, the Bobcats werent very good to begin with. Their roster is made up mostly of players who are best suited for backup roles. Unfortunately for coach Paul Silas, most of those players are starting in Charlotte. Their best hope now is to land one of those high-profiled Kentucky prospects in the draft. Then again, just about every team on this list could use a little (or a lot) of help next season. With that, maybe a fast start wont be viewed as just a fantasy. Because right now, for the teams on this list, reality pretty much bites. Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO
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