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NBA Saturday: The NBA Season’s Home Stretch
Posted By Joel Brigham On April 6, 2013 @ 9:29 am In NBA | No Comments
What to Watch For In Last 11 Days
With only 11 days left in the NBA season, most teams only have about six or seven games left on their schedules. For a lot of teams that either have their playoff or lottery position already locked up, that means the interesting part of the regular season is already over, but that doesn’t mean there’s no reason to watch the rest of the games leading up to the playoffs. Here are a few things to keep an eye on between now and April 17:
The Bottom of the Western Conference Playoff Picture
There isn’t a television executive alive that wouldn’t rather see the L.A. Lakers nab the eigth spot in the Western Conference playoffs rather than the Utah Jazz, but despite the fact that both teams have only six games left, it still isn’t a sure thing that L.A. gets themselves into the postseason. Utah owns the tie-breaker between the two, but L.A. has the more favorable schedule and the slight half-game lead. It’s easy to see L.A. running away with this, but the race is anything but over and the Jazz just won’t quit. There is serious potential for this story to remain relevant right up until the last couple of games of the year.
Other Potentially Awesome Playoff Pairings
It’s easy to look ahead to the postseason, but that’s mostly because there are so many excellent playoff matchups that look to be really, really good. If L.A. does make the postseason, for example, they’ll face up against either San Antonio or Oklahoma City, either of which would make for some excellent television.
Also in the Western Conference is a likely rematch between the L.A. Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies, easily the most entertaining matchup of the first round last season, and a potential Oklahoma City/Houston pairing that would pit James Harden against his former team.
Out East, a possible series between the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers would be a defensive slugfest between Central Division rivals, and New York vs. Boston series has the potential to be pretty interesting as well, especially considering it may be Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce’s last rodeo together.
At the same time, many of these pairings could fall apart, but watching the season’s final games will allow fans to root for the best playoff matchups.
Who Will Be The Kings of Mediocrity?
On the other end of the spectrum we have the Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic, who are deadlocked in a battle to be the worst team in the league this year. It’s not like there’s a clear-cut number one pick in this June’s draft—it could be either Nerlens Noel or Ben McLemore, depending on your view of the prospects—but it’s always interesting to see which team will end up with the best lottery odds. The two teams are only a half a game apart right now, but having the worst record means an extra 51 ping pong balls out of 1,000, and 5.1 percent is nothing to sneeze at as far as odds are concerned. Who will “earn” the league’s worst record? You’ll have to watch to find out.
Will Chicago Pack Up Derrick Rose?
As recently as Thursday, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was still telling reporters that Derrick Rose was “close” to returning, even though Chicago has only seven games left in the season. Of course, Thibodeau has been telling reporters that Rose was “close” for weeks now, so this isn’t exactly a startling news flash.
What would be news is if Chicago finally, mercifully decided to shut down Rose for the season. If he returns at this point, he’ll be on a minutes limit anyway, and it’s hard to imagine him being ready to go for the postseason with so little in-game preparation. But as Lloyd Christmas in “Dumb and Dumber” even understood, even one-in-a-million is still a chance, and Bulls fans will watch until the very last game in hopes that their MVP gets back out on the floor.
The Scoring Title
Well, if Carmelo is going to go ahead and average over 40+ points per game from here on out, the scoring title—which seemed for a while to be Kevin Durant’s—is back up for grabs. Really, Anthony’s hot streak is worth watching right now all by itself, but the fact that all these buckets he’s pouring in will actually nudge him towards his first scoring title is something to keep an eye on. As it stands right now, Anthony and Durant are 0.1 ppg apart, with Durant keeping a slight lead. Eleven days, however, is more than enough time for that to change, especially considering how well Anthony is playing.
After Friday night’s 41-point showing against the Bucks, it’s obvious Melo is the league’s hottest player, but Durant could make a bit of history should he be able to stave him off. Only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain have ever won more than three consecutive scoring titles, and this would be Durant’s fourth in a row. Whoever wins, this is probably going to be an exciting run right down to the wire.
Seeing How the 50 Predictions Pan Out
Way back in the fall, as the preseason wrapped up, I made 50 predictions about how the NBA season would unfold, and while I typically do a round-up of how those predictions ended up, it’s fun to keep an eye on the predictions that still can go either way. You can look through these here and here, then berate me for how wrong I was in the comments section below.
What else is keeping you tuned into the final handful of games this season? Is there are player or team worth watching? A milestone you’re hoping to see? A youngster you’re hoping gets more minutes down the stretch? Hit up the comments with your two cents, and stay tuned to HOOSPWORLD as we cover the last week-and-a-half of the year leading up to the playoffs.
In Case You Missed It: Can Denver Compete For Title Without Gallinari?
News broke yesterday that Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari had torn his ACL and would miss the remainder of the season. Yannis Koutroupis and Stephen Brotherston discuss what that means for third-seeded Denver’s title aspirations this year.
Indiana Isn’t Quite Ready to Contend
The Indiana Pacers are either one win or one Chicago Bulls loss away from winning their first division title since 2004, but despite their rise to the Eastern Conference’s upper crust this season, they still don’t look like they’ve got what it takes to entrench themselves in the conversation for championship contender. Not yet, at least.
This was personified by Friday night’s brutal 97-75 home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, last year’s Western Conference representative in the NBA Finals, but there have certainly been other hints over the course of the last few weeks that do not suggest Indy is not playing its best basketball heading into the postseason.
While it’s true that they did very well on their recently-wrapped four-game road trip, sweeping the quartet of games and stealing away solid wins against the Rockets and Clippers, the more telling story is whom they’ve lost to over the last month. There was a loss to the Miami HEAT somewhere in the midst of their impressive streak, one to the Lakers when Kobe Bryant was injured, one against division rival Chicago, and then last night’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Those are the types of teams you’d like to see a potential contender win, but they haven’t been winning them. It’s not that losing Danny Granger for the season is the problem; Indy has played well all year without him. It’s also not that Roy Hibbert has had a disappointing year, because something has switched on in his brain over the course of the last 7 games, during which he has averaged 21 points and 10.6 rebounds. Can’t blame the defense, which is still tops in the league, and head coach Frank Vogel has been excellent all year, as well.
So what’s the problem? Offensive consistency. Indiana has nights where they roll on all cylinders and score the ball at will, but other nights they simply can’t fill it in and instead win the game because of smothering “D.”
In the playoffs, though, most teams play out of their minds on the defensive end, so that becomes less of an advantage. Having bona fide stars that can score the ball consistently is something real title contenders have to have. Miami’s got them, and so does San Antonio. Obviously, the Oklahoma City Thunder do, too, but Indiana doesn’t. They have to find their scoring from different players each night, and that doesn’t always work in the NBA playoffs.
There are a lot of young, burgeoning stars on this team, so a lack of experience could frustrate Indiana’s championship aspirations, as well. A trip to the Conference Finals, though, would further their trajectory in that direction, as they’ve gone from a first-round exit two years ago to a second-round exit last spring. Eastern Conference Finals is the next step, but there will still be Miami to get through once they’re there. No more convincing reason exists for Indy not making the Finals than the conference’s top overall team. Even if the Pacers were at their best offensively every night, they still wouldn’t be as good as the HEAT. That’s not necessarily their fault, but it is the truth.
Losses like Friday’s don’t help anything, either, no matter what their record may be against other teams. Even two regular season wins over the HEAT this season don’t mean all that much. What has happened most recently suggests there’s still a little ways to go for this team to be considered a true title contender.
But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They can still make forward progress this season. Expecting them to take home rings, however, may prove a little misguided.
Kevin Ware’s Top 10
If there’s one thing we’ve all learned about Kevin Ware in the week since he experienced one of the most horrifying, nightmarish things any of us have ever seen on live television, it’s that he’s an incredibly likeable young man. The entire country has rallied around this kid, in large part because it’s impossible not to feel bad for someone who goes through something like that, but also because Ware has proven to be a really good sport in the wake of all he’s been through.
Notoriously shy, Ware also has come out of his shell quite a bit, something Louisville head coach Rick Pitino lauded him for earlier in the week. While Ware’s team has spent the week in Atlanta preparing for Saturday night’s game against Wichita State, Ware himself has been in hot demand on the interview circuit, culminating Thursday night with a guest spot on the Late Show with David Letterman.
There was a little back-and-forth small talk, but the highlight of the interview was the conclusion, in which Ware read off the Top 10 Things Going Through Kevin Ware’s Head When He Broke His Leg.
It shows what a great sport this kid is, and it’s nice to see him in such high spirits on the mend. It will be five of the more entertaining minutes of your day. Enjoy, and enjoy the NCAA games later tonight.
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