While things in ‘Laker-Land’ have certainly been better, they haven’t been much worse than they are in Orlando. The latest drama between Dwight Howard and Coach Stan Van Gundy looks exactly like the scenario that played out between ex-Magic Shaquille O’Neal and ex-Coach Brian Hill. For those of us unfamiliar with the storied history of the Orlando Magic, the last bit melodrama ended with the head coach being fired, and the ‘superstar’ player bolting via free agency. While I don’t see Dwight ending up with the Lakers (as Shaq did), I can’t see how that situation ends well for fans/supporters of that organization.
1.) San Antonio Spurs (40-14, LW#2) The last time we had an NBA Lockout (1998-1999), the Spurs won the title. Over the course of this shortened season, the Spurs have been methodically disposing of nearly 75% of their opponents. While Chicago, Miami, and OKC have grabbed a majority of the headlines, the Spurs (winners of 11-straight) look as though they’re on their way to attempting to repeat history. Playing the Lakers three times over the next 12 days could make for an interesting race out West.
2.) Miami Heat (40-15, LW#4) Even with the home loss at the hands of the Grizzlies, the Heat had a bounce-back week. They remain two games behind the Bulls for the 1st seed in the East, but with Boston/Chicago/NY (all playoff teams) this week, they can make one last attempt at stealing the top-spot from the Bulls. Having only won eight road games vs. teams above .500, it would serve Miami well to obtain home-court advantage, at least, throughout the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
3.) Oklahoma City Thunder (41-15, LW#1) For the first time all season, the Thunder lost three-consecutive games (last week). Just as with the Heat (the week before), this shouldn’t be cause for extreme concern for Thunder fans. The Spurs snatching the top-seed out West, on the other hand, should cause concern. Outside of the three upcoming games vs. the LA teams (LAC-2, LAL-1), the Thunder have a slightly easier remaining schedule than San Antonio. They’ll need it, since the Spurs look as though they’re ready to avenge a 1st-round exit (last year).
4.) Chicago Bulls (43-14, LW#3) Melo may have stolen the show on Sunday, but the Bulls welcoming back reigning-MVP Derrick Rose was a sight for sore ‘Chicagoan’ eyes. Having missed the previous 12 games, Rose (8-26 fg) and his team may take a few games to re-adjust. Trouble is, the aforementioned Heat are not going to permit Chicago to coast into the postseason. With Miami on the schedule twice over the next 10 days, we may have ‘playoff-like basketball’ before the postseason even makes it.
5.) Los Angeles Lakers (35-22, LW#5) From the glory of reminding their building-mate Clippers “who’s boss” to the depths of despair after dropping the next two games (Hou/Phx), the Lakers have certainly kept things interesting for their fans. The Sessions pick-up was a definite improvement, but the Lakers roster may not have enough to truly compete for the West, this season. A bit of perspective: San Antonio’s bench scored 82 points the other night, while LAL’s bench routinely scores between 10-20 points.
6.) Los Angeles Clippers (34-22, LW#8) Two weeks ago, this team appeared to be ‘dead in the water’, and on it’s way to another “Clipper Collapse’. Throw in an 8-2 stretch, and ‘Lob-City’ is working towards dispelling the ‘Flop-City’ moniker. Even though LAL won the season series and remains atop the Pacific Division by percentage points, the Clippers find themselves tied in the loss-column, and in still in position to compete for the 3rd-seed out West. No time to rest on what they’ve done, as they start their week with road games in Memphis and OKC.
7.) Memphis Grizzlies (32-23, N/A) After hitting a rough patch while adjusting to Zach Randolph’s return, the Grizzlies are back to scaring the life out of potential 1st-round playoff match-ups. Currently, they would be matched up with the Clippers, in what could be one of the best opening-round ‘pairings’ in recent history. Tonight’s home game vs. LAC could be a preview of what is to come.
8.) Indiana Pacers (34-22, LW#9) Unlike the Sixers, the Pacers have managed to maintain their winning ways following the All-Star break. Currently in the 3rd-seed, they’ve improved upon their early-season success, and have switched places with the 6th-seeded Magic. How shocking would it be for the self-proclaimed title contending Magic to fall at the hands of this this young/hungry Pacers team? If they were to eventually meet in the postseason, I (for one) wouldn’t be surprised by a Pacers triumph in the slightest.
9.) Boston Celtics (32-24, LW#8) No shame in dropping a couple tough games at the hands of the Spurs and Bulls (road). Especially, when you back those hard-fought games up with victories over the Pacers and Sixers, both of which you are ‘jockeying’ for playoff position with. If Boston can get past Miami (Tuesday) and Atlanta (Thursday) the schedule grants them a few ‘softer’ match-ups vs. TOR/NJ/CHA to attempt to pad their win-total with.
10.) Houston Rockets (31-25, N/A) Are there teams with better records than the Rockets? Sure. Would I pick those teams over Houston in a series? Not likely. The Rockets have not only won seven of ten, but 4 of those victories have come at the expense of the Lakers (twice), Bulls, and Grizzlies. In fact, of the three losses, two of them came in overtime. Fact is, Coach Kevin McHale has done a masterful job with a depleted roster. Kyle Lowry (remember him?) is finally returning after missing the last month with a bacterial infection. Count these Rockets, currently the 6th-seed, as a team you might not want to face come postseason.
Jabari A. Davis
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