I know everyone has been selling the Knicks as the ‘dark horse’ candidate to potentially knock off a team like Miami or even Chicago, but I’m simply not impressed. Don’t get me wrong, as I appreciate Carmelo Anthony’s resurgence following Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin’s injuries as much as everyone else…I’m just not willing to pretend it means they are going to make any serious noise in the post-season. With Lin out, even more so than the loss of Amar’e, the Knicks have little to no productivity from the starting point guard position on far too often.
1.) Chicago Bulls (46-14, LW#4) Even though the Bulls still face the Heat on Thursday, with a 3.5 game lead with only 5 games left make it highly unlikely Chicago will relinquish the top seed of the East. The real question for Chicago? Will Derrick Rose be healthy enough to lead the Bulls on a deep playoff run?
2.) Oklahoma City Thunder (44-16, LW#3) Unlike out East, the Thunder and Spurs remain tied (in the loss column) for the Western Conference top-seed. After leading for a majority of the season, the Thunder still remain on the inside track for the top position due to a slightly easier remaining schedule.
3.) San Antonio Spurs (42-16, LW#1) Right on the heels of the Thunder, in terms of overall record, but the NBA schedule-makers didn’t do Coach Popovich any favors. Many people question his tactics of resting his main players during key stretches, but he knows what he is doing. Not only do the Spurs have their back-to-back-to-back games this week, but they also finish the season with 7 games over the final 11 days.
4.) Los Angeles Lakers (39-22, LW#5) This is the moment of truth for the Lakers. With Kobe Bryant continuing to rest his sore shin, the Lakers head into the second-to-last week with two games vs. the Thunder and one vs. the Spurs over the next 6 days. Win at least two of three, and the Lakers (while not likely to catch the Spurs for the 2nd-seed) will have just the momentum they need to welcome a rested Bryant for a playoff push. Although a spot among the top-two out West might not be likely, the Lakers could crack the top few spots in the rankings with another impressive week.
5.) Miami Heat (42-17, LW#2) Been preaching ‘patience’ to Miami fans for a few weeks, but the Heat have hardly made it easy. With the exception of the road victory over the Knicks (on Sunday), wins vs. quality opponents have been scarce for Miami over the second half of the season. Only three games (of seven) remain against current playoff teams, so (at least) the 2nd-seed should be secured. Coach Spoelstra has 10 days to get this team headed in the right direction, otherwise all hopes of a title will be in serious jeopardy heading into the playoffs.
6.) Los Angeles Clippers (37-23, LW#6) Once the Lakers started rolling, weren’t the Clippers supposed to simply accept their inevitable impending demise? Looks as though LobCity failed to receive the memo, as they remain on the heels of their building-mates for the Pacific Division crown with a slightly easier remaining schedule. Can Coach Del Negro go from ‘dead man walking’ to ‘secure’ with a late-season push?
7.) Boston Celtics (36-25, LW#9) Rajon Rondo hasn’t had a single-digit assist game since March 9th. No time to let you marinate on how impressive that fact is, as the Celtics remain in a battle with Indiana for the 3rd-seed in the East. With 5 games remaining (1 1/2 games behind), if Rondo is somehow able to manage leading the Celtics into that position, you’d think he would garner some serious MVP buzz, considering where Boston was heading into the All-Star break. Five games left, and each against potential East Conference playoff foes.
8.) Indiana Pacers (38-22, LW#8) While a softer patch in the schedule can easily be pointed out, the Pacers have been one of the more impressive teams over the second half of the season. Unlike the Sixers, Indiana is not a young team that is simply ‘backing into’ the playoffs after an impressive start to the season. Currently matched with Orlando in the 1st-round of the playoffs, is there anyone that wouldn’t favor these Pacers in that series…especially with a limited Dwight Howard (back)?
9.) Memphis Grizzlies (35-25, LW#7) Even though Memphis completed the week with a disappointing road loss to the pesky Hornets, the Grizzlies remain as one of the postseason teams you simply don’t want to face. Unless the Clippers are able to catch the Lakers, a 1st-round match-up with the Grizzlies seems inevitable.
10.) Dallas Mavericks (34-27, N/A) Throughout the season, I’ve questioned whether the Mavs would be able to defend their title, or if they would be a 1-and-done champion. While a majority of their off-season moves (outside of financial leverage) have failed to produce much success, I never count a defending champion ‘out’ until someone ‘puts’ them out of the discussion. Trouble is, without a bulk of the toughness and grit of last year’s title run, this Mavericks team resembles the 2006 squad a lot more than the title-winning team of last year.
Jabari A. Davis
@RealTalkOnSports on Twitter
NBA Real Talk on Facebook