It seems like things simply wouldn’t be “right” with the world, if there isn’t a steady stream of drama swirling around the Los Angeles Lakers. After a somewhat impressive 21-8 run, it appears that team may have finally reached it’s boiling point following their recent 3-game skid. In the midst of his oft-entertaining post-game comments, Coach D’Antoni even resorted to a “sham-mockery” claim when describing his team’s recent play.
MVP Race: LeBron James is going to win it…but guys like Kevin Durant and Chris Paul still deserve to be in the discussion.
Coach of the Year watch: Gregg Popovich (Spurs), Eric Spoelstra (Heat), Frank Vogel (Pacers), George Karl (Nuggets), Lionel Hollins (Grizzlies)
#1 Miami Heat 56-14: At 27-consecutive wins, the Heat have won as man (or more) than 11 other teams have won on the year. Regardless of where this streak ends, as the all-time NBA record of 33 consecutive wins is now in sight, is there a team out there that can seriously give the Heat an actual run for their money? Outside of an unforeseen injury, the Heat are playing the type of ball that can only be stopped by apathy and boredom.
#2 San Antonio Spurs 53-17: The WC playoff bracket, just like any other year, is going to be about the match-ups. That said, if the Spurs are able to navigate their way through that landmine-filled maze, they may be one of the teams that can potentially make the Finals more than worthy of the price of admission. Lost in all the talk of streaks…like the Nuggets, the Spurs also have 30+ wins at home. Only difference is, unlike the Nuggets, the Spurs are 10 games over .500 on the road.
#3 Denver Nuggets 49-23: The Nuggets nearly managed to fly completely under the radar of the mainstream media during a 15-game winning streak that permitted them to jump 3-4 spots in the playoff seeding. While praise is certainly in order for that, you still cannot ignore a 17-20 record on the road. In Denver, they are nearly as light’s out as you can be…but I still think it is fair to wonder what they will look like in a series, and without the full benefit of catching teams on the second night of a back-to-back with the altitude?
#4 OKC Thunder 52-19: Much like at the start of the year, OKC is once again flying under the radar. Playmaking ability in crucial situations in the midst of a tough series will remain a concern until they prove otherwise, but no one can deny this team’s ability to run a point total up with the best of them when things are rolling. Trouble is, they also tend to give up a ton of points to other teams that can do the same. Dropping their last two vs. the Nuggets (home AND away) has done little to restore that confidence.
#5 Los Angeles Clippers 48-22: After a 25-6 start, Lob City hasn’t been able to capture and maintain the same consistency the team enjoyed during the first undefeated December in franchise history. They endured some injuries, which makes all that depth so much more significant..but if we’re being honest about things, this is a team that has struggled against the better teams over the past month. As teams jockey for position, would Clippers fans prefer a match-up with the Warriors or Grizzlies?
#6 Memphis Grizzlies 47-23: Marc Gasol’s loss (abdominal tear), leaves the Grizzlies in a state of limbo. They have plenty of talent left to carry them into the postseason, but will absolutely need Gasol’s impact to have any measure of success in this year’s playoffs. In the interim, Coach Hollins will have to lean (even heavier) upon a total-team effort, which is precisely the mantra he’s preached from the start.
#7 Indiana Pacers 44-27: A few weeks back, I was criticized for not showing these Pacers enough love. Reality was (and is), while the Pacers remain as one of the teams non-Heat fans hope can truly give Miami a run for its money in a series, it is still fair to say this team has yet to prove it can do just that. @HOU, @LAC, vs OKC, and @WAS over the next 10 days. Let’s see what you’re made of, Indy.
#8 Golden State Warriors 41-31: After a rough stretch during January and February, the Warriors have gone 8-4 over their last 12 games, and seem as though they’ve ‘righted-the-ship’. Even through ankle issues, Steph Curry continues to impress with his breakout season. While Jarrett Jack might not ultimately win 6th man of the year, his contributions off the bench have been as key to this team’s success as any other player not-named Curry.
#9 New York Knicks 42-26: Nothing like a 4-game set with the Jazz, Magic, and Raptors (twice) to get things going back in the right direction. Kidding aside, the Knicks are finally getting healthy and looking to round into form over the last 14 games of their season. After such a great start, it would be a shame to see this squad at least have a relatively healthy shot at advancing in the postseason for the first time since the late 90’s.
#10 Brooklyn Nets 41-29: Much like their new-found cross-town rivals, the Nets have done a good job of “getting healthy” vs some of the struggling squads (DET, PHO, NO, DAL)…but a bit of extra consideration should be given to the fact that they’ve been able to do it primarily on the road. Success over their next stretch would be even more impressive. They complete their WC road trip by visiting Portland, Denver/Utah on a back-to-back, before stopping off in Cleveland on their way back to Brooklyn.
*Speaking of the Lakers, here’s an exclusive 41-minute interview with Dwight Howard*