The 66 game sprint of the shortened NBA season began on Christmas day and is winding down. Most teams have about 5 or 6 games remaining to put their final imprint on the season whether it is competing to get into playoffs or playoff positioning, making final appeals for award races, or tanking to improve chances for the lottery. Unfortunately the Wizards fall into last category and are squarely in the number 2 slot for the ping pong balls. Over the next few days, we will break down each of the three categories starting with the playoffs and the races still going in today’s segment.
Let’s start with the cleaner of the two conferences, the East. The Chicago Bulls have amazingly not had the MVP from last year, Derrick Rose, for over a third of the season and yet it looks like they will get the number 1 seed even over LeBron and Dwyane Wade and the Heat. The Bulls don’t have a solid number 2 option like the Heat or Thunder or Lakers but somehow Tom Thibodeau has coached this team superbly even without the practices.
The Heat have looked absolutely scary good this year and then at times looked like a team without an identity especially the last month and change. As other playoff teams are figuring out who they are and who they aren’t. The Heat are struggling to find out what their rotation is after LeBron, Wade and Bosh. I didn’t think it was possible but the 4-10 players on the Heat squad this year might be worse than last year’s team which is extremely hard to believe. The WWE superstars might be prophetic as they haven’t won “not one, not two, not three, not four championships” (copyright LeBron James). We might need BSR’s own Mark Brown to give us a break down of the stable that is the Miami Heat.
In the three to six slots, there is plenty of movement amongst the Indiana Pacers, the Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, and Orlando Magic. The Pacers are at 39-22 and the other three teams are all at 36-25. The Celtics have at least the four seed no matter what for winning the Atlantic division which is crazy to fathom. At the All Star Break, the team was stuck in mediocrity barely over .500 and even as the trade deadline approached, there was still uncertainty. However, as Simmons and John Hollinger masterfully pointed out, it has been the defense of the team. These old guys are finding their legs and their rhythm which is scary as the playoffs approach.
The Pacers are a very good team without a superstar and that could make life difficult in the playoffs as the Nuggets found out last year against OKC. As for the Hawks, they have found a way to play well despite their top player, Al Horford, going down with at least a regular season ending injury in the early part of January. Josh Smith has raised his game this year and the Highlight Factory (the Hawks home gym) has lived up to its name. This of course brings us to Magic who have persevered despite the monstrous distraction that has been Dwight Howard all year and now Howard is out for the rest of the regular season and is 50/50 at best to play in the playoffs. My brother, a huge Magic fan, summed it up best when he said Dwight took a huge crap and then left it there and let it simmer for the whole year. When the team opened the door, WHAM it was all right there in your face. Needless to say, he is not voting for Dwight for MVP.
The last two playoff spots are occupied by the Knicks and the Sixers (31-29) with the Bucks trailing by two games from both of them (29-31). The Knicks have been great if you like roller coasters and amusement parks. They’ve have extreme highs and extreme lows. Season started out rough and when all hope seemed lost as Amare and Carmelo were hurt, Linsanity struck. Then Carmelo returned and Linsanity and Carmelo and Mike D’Antoni couldn’t coexist and D’Antoni was shown the door. Mike Woodson took over, Linsanity and Amare got hurt and yet Woodson guided the ship and let Melo play Melo ball which has allowed the Knicks to form an identity with Melo rolling on offense and Tyson Chandler being a defensive force. The Sixers are Pacer-lite with a strong team and no true superstar. They have struggled down the stretch and have fallen from third to eighth. Will they fall to ninth and complete the freefall? As for the Bucks, they took advantage of the Warriors generosity (or tanking) and got Monta Ellis to team with Brandon Jennings and are clawing to get the final spot.
So that is a quick glance at the East, the West is soon to come.