Thursday, March 19, 2009

One Month Left! Western Conference Standings

Records and standings are through March 17

1. Los Angeles Lakers (53-14): Watching the Lakers play is a joy for the basketball-loving eye. Besides the loss against the Sixers the other night, they are playing so well right now, I wonder what will happen when Mountain Drew Bynum comes back. At least it’s nice to have him in there during the Finals this time (coughbarringinjurycough)

2. San Antonio Spurs (45-22): I read that Tim Duncan is still bothered by his achy right knee, which should concern some. Manu Ginobili will probably be back in two weeks, but if the Spurs are healthy come playoff time, I think they can make life for the other contenders very, very difficult.

3. Houston Rockets (44-25): Losing Tracy McGrady for the season might have been the best thing that happened to the Rockets these last couple of months. It seems like everybody’s role is more defined, and Ron Artest is probably not coincidentally shooting at a better percentage. Von Wafer has been one of the most surprising players this season. But if they would have to play the Hornets in the first round, will it be another early exit?

4. Denver Nuggets (43-25): Renaldo Balkman!

5. Portland Trail Blazers (42-25): Let’s just hope Greg Oden can return and have a strong finish to end his otherwise disappointing season. But man, wish I saw more Blazers games this season, what a fun team.

6. New Orleans Hornets (41-25): They wouldn’t be in sixth place if Tyson Chandler was playing in OKC, but I still have the feeling that this team can play better than they have shown so far. What’s wrong with the Hornets this season?

7. Utah Jazz (42-26): I think they are one of the teams you don’t want to meet in the first round. They might be in seventh place, but are more than a decent team with one of the best point guards in the League in Deron Williams.

8. Dallas Mavericks (41-27): They have a solid lead over the Suns right now, so the Mavericks have nothing to fear. Except for a first-round playoff exit next month.

9. Phoenix Suns (36-31): I root for the Suns to make the playoffs, but my mind tells me otherwise. I just don’t think they can put a nice string of wins together, which means for the first time in his career, Shaq will miss the playoffs.

10. Golden State Warriors (24-43): I wrote a piece about Don Nelson last month, and I still stand by that. There’s nothing more I can say about it.

11. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-47): Sure, they will lose over 50 games this season, but a healthy Al Jefferson combined with Kevin Love covers the rebound department next season. It’s a start.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder (19-48): Playoffs 2010?

13. Memphis Grizzlies (17-49): Great young nucleus in Mayo, the other brother Gasol, Gay, Warrick and Conley. It’s interesting to see how Mike Conley will develop if he still is in Memphis next season.

14. Los Angeles Clippers (16-51): Something needs to happen in Clipperland. The coach, the owner, several players, it just is one big mess. There are too many guys who need shots to be successful. They shouldn’t overhaul the roster just for the sake of it, but define roles for the players who are on that roster. A different coach would help too. And a different owner maybe?

15. Sacramento Kings (14-53): Are the Kings still in Sacramento within the next couple of years?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One Month Left! Eastern Conference Standings

Records and standings are through March 17

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (54-13): Besides Ben Wallace, everyone is healthy, LeBron is still playing at such a high level you might wonder what can stop this team. As cliché as it might be, the Cavs can only stop themselves, especially in the fourth quarter when LeBron is sometimes is forcing shots while three-point gunners Delonte West and Mo Williams are wide open.

2. Boston Celtics (50-18): Still in second place, but they have to watch out for the Magic. Leon Powe has played really well in KG’s absence, who could return as early as Friday, when the Celtics play the Spurs. That might be a good idea, since Powe is now out for two weeks with a sprained right knee.

3. Orlando Magic (49-18): “I want a championship for Patrick Ewing” – Dwight Howard, in a Q & A with You gotta love this guy.

4. Atlanta Hawks (40-28): I expected a little bit more from Al Horford this season, because it often seems like that when he is playing well, the Hawks are playing well. He had four double-doubles in the last six straight wins for the Hawks, and all they need from him is a little consistency.

5. Miami Heat (36-30): The Jermaine O’Neal experiment seems to be working out quite nicely, but stay healthy big man. Let’s hope that Dwyane Wade has enough energy left come playoff time.

6. Philadelphia 76’ers (34-31): Andre Iguodala made a huge game-winning three at the buzzer against the Lakers last night, which gave the Sixers a four-game winning streak. They need to keep on rising in the standings to avoid the Cavs, Celtics and Magic in the first round.

7. Detroit Pistons (33-33): With injuries to Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace and more recently Richard Hamilton, the Pistons now face their toughest task of the season: maintaining that seventh spot and not fall into the frenzy that we call the eighth spot, competing with three or four teams to get into the playoffs.

8. Chicago Bulls (31-37): John Paxson made a great trade, because John Salmons (38 points in a win against the Celtics last night) and Brad Miller (21 and 14) are proving to be very valuable assets for the Bulls. If I had to pick who will be in the playoffs next month, and my options are the Bulls, Bucks, Bobcats, Knicks or Nets, I’d say Chicago.

9. Milwaukee Bucks (31-38): I’m impressed with how this team has performed in the last couple of weeks, especially Richard Jefferson and Charlie Villanueva. Losing two starters in Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut could’ve easily broken them down to the bottom the Eastern Conference, yet they’re still there, not giving up on their season.

10. Charlotte Bobcats (29-38): I am not a Larry Brown fan, but I didn’t expect to see the Bobcats making a late run for the playoffs. When Gerald Wallace doesn’t have a concussion, he’s such a joy to watch. Raymond Felton has been playing very well since the All-Star break, and Raja Bell and Boris Diaw are proving much-needed veteran leadership to this team. Not bad, not bad at all.

11. New York Knicks (28-38): If David Lee and Nate Robinson aren’t back next season, how can Donnie Walsh justify that to the Knicks’ fanbase? Everybody is talking about 2010, but the Knicks have a pretty decent team right now, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they could reach the playoffs next year with the same roster. Next month? I doubt it.

12. New Jersey Nets (28-39): Losses against the Warriors and Clippers certainly didn’t improve New Jersey’s playoff chances. Losing Devin Harris to injury doesn’t help at all. And if disaster week wasn’t over yet, Sean Williams might be suspended.

13. Indiana Pacers (24-44): You’ve got to give them at least this: they’re scrappy. Every time when someone goes down, another player steps up. Whether it was Stephen Graham earlier this season, or Marquis Daniels more recently, the Pacers aren’t tanking it and fight for every game.

14. Toronto Raptors (24-44): Without a doubt the most disappointing team of the ’08-’09 season. Wow.

15. Washington Wizards (16-52): Even the President cheers for the visiting team.

Monday, March 16, 2009

If Knowledge is the Key….

….Then just show me the lock.

I went to see Q-Tip performing live with his band for the first time in sixteen years in my country, and had a great night. His set list contained every song of his brilliant album The Renaissance, but also classics from the Tribe we all used to love (and still do, who am I kidding?). “Scenario”, “Find a Way” and “Check the Rhyme” were all included, just to name a few. But don’t forget about “Award Tour”, which made it clear to me who should win the individual awards this NBA season. Yeah, we’ve still got about five weeks to go, and not every pick was as easy as others. But like Tip, I’m on point.

Most Valuable Player: Dwyane Wade. He’s eighteenth in blocks per game. The next guard on that list? Rasual Butler at number 54. He’s second in steals, and also leads the League in scoring. Oh, and he adds 7,6 assists per game too. Some say the Heat’s record isn’t good enough for him to win it, but if you look where they were last year and where they are now, that’s one hell of an improvement. Sure, he has a better supporting cast than last season, but a healthy Wade is leading them back to the playoffs, no matter on what end of the court he is. I have to give props to him and fellow superstar LeBron James for finally playing some D. For all the Kobe haters: at least he did that his whole career. But yeah, Wade is my pick this year.

Sixth Man of the Year: If the Mavs go to the playoffs and the Knicks don’t, it’s Jason Terry. If the Knicks go the playoffs and the Mavericks don’t, Nate Robinson has been making a case for himself with his play since the All-Star break (I know they’re not in the same conference, I’m not an idiot. Well, I am actually, but let’s try to stay on topic, which means handing out awards).

Most Improved Player: I have to go with Devin Harris. Fine, call me biased, I don’t care. I can understand that people don’t think he should win it for the simple fact that he is a product of the system (I use that term a lot nowadays) coach Lawrence Frank is running. Harris is a free man like Morgan, within an offense that maximizes his abilities to penetrate and create off the dribble. So it’s not surprising he’s a better player now than he was when he played in Dallas. But as a Maverick he was basically nothing more than a role player; as a Net he’s the face of the franchise.

Rookie of the Year: Speaking of the Nets…. nah, I know Brook Lopez won’t get it, because Derrick Rose is singlehandedly making the Bulls interesting again. I’m not a fan of his coach, Vinny Del Negro, but I like where the Bulls are heading, and with Rose Chicago has its first true star in years.

Executive of the Year: Maybe not the most interesting award for some fans, but it had to be named, since one man is very deserving. And that man is the general manager of the San Antonio Spurs: R.C. Buford. Drafting George Hill with the 26th pick should be considered as one of the steals of the Draft, and signing Roger Mason jr., and more recently Drew Gooden is clearly a case of the rich getting richer. A perfect example that small market teams in the NBA can survive when upper management is interested in winning while keeping the organization healthy and balanced at the same time. The Spurs don’t play panic ball on the court, but neither play panic ball off the court. They stick to what they know and it has served them well in the past ten years.

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, but if Phil Jackson wins it, I’m fine with that too. Pop played without Manu Ginobili in the beginning of the season, and lost Tony Parker too. But newly acquired Roger Mason jr. showed why the Wizards could have used him this season now more than ever, and has been the starting shooting guard for the larger part of the season. Popovich handed the point guard duties to rookie George Hill while Parker was out, and made Matt Bonner the starting center of this contending team, getting away with it too. 37-year old Bruce Bowen (still a willing and capable defender) is coming off the bench his season, while former NBA iron man Michael Finley is the starting small forward at 36 years old. So many people wrote the Spurs off, yet they’re the second-best team in the West, so that really says something.

Defensive Player of the Year: You make the call. It’s the only award I’m indecisive about.