With less than a dozen games remaining in the regular season, we thought it might be a good time to put our heads together and wax lyrical on the home stretch. Crack open a tinny and enjoy.
1. The Spurs look to be hobbling across the finish line thanks to an injury to Timmy D. They’ll likely still finish with the league’s best record, but have they already peaked?
Ash: I don’t want to say anything about the Spurs after I tipped them not to make the playoffs.
J.O: Hard to argue against that when Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have been in and out of the lineup with injury last several weeks. They’ve taken full advantage of their schedule and beaten most of the below .500 teams they should’ve beaten. That said, it’s not so much that they peaked, but rather can their big guns stay 100% healthy.
Robd: No they haven’t peaked, everyone else has just caught up. The Lakers got better, the Mavs got better, the Heat got better and the Bulls got better. The Spurs didn’t. I still don’t see them beating LA even if they have home-court. Tim Duncan is simply too past his prime – that’s why they won’t win another championship.
Joel: The Spurs have definitely not peaked. Pop has developed a playoff team that has experience in its starting 5 and a strong bench with DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner and George Hill. Tim Duncan will be back. It’s a minor injury sprain and Pop has always been over cautious with injuries. Either way, Duncan is usually rested this time of year. They have had impressive wins against the Heat as well as the Mavs in Dallas this month. Their current two-game losing streak is just the second time the season and is the team’s longest losing skid indicating how consistent they have been. In their last two losses, they had a chance on the final possession to win the game in Denver as well a 10 point lead in Portland with six minutes remaining. Be ready for a Spurs-Lakers showdown in the Western Conference Finals.
Tizzle: Spurs have made it clear all season they don’t think they are the best, but obviously their record says enough. Their run is coming to an end, but you never write off the Spurs going into the playoffs, and it’s the first time in a while they don’t need to warm up – they’re entering the playoffs as one of the league’s top outfits. I’m sure Timmy D will work through any ankle pain.
Jobba: There is always a huge risk of playing so well so early. Teams early on have done it (the Hornets are in this category too) get much more attention and it inevitably ends in them coming to the back of the pack. But this is the Spurs. Greg Popovich and Tim Duncan alone are two reasons why they never peak, they genuinely play good basketball. But there is no doubt that Tim Duncan is the key to all of the Spurs chances. He frees up space for Ginobili and Parker. He allows Blair to play undersized, and allows Matt Bonner to be get open jump shot after open jump shot. Duncan is the key, if he’s not 100% the Spurs have little chance of another banner.
2. The Bulls are now #1 in the East. Are they really the team to beat in that Conference? Does lack of experience matter for them?
Ash: Honestly, I think so. I thought it would take the Bulls another year, but Derrick Rose is playing so well I think they are the team to beat right now. They can definitely make the Finals if their lack of strength at the 2 doesn’t hurt them.
J.O: The Bulls are very interesting. They have plenty of new pieces, have gelled well and of course- D.Rose. Their experience will only be a factor when and if they meet Boston. The Celtics in my opinion, with a healthy big four, are still the team to beat. I think Chicago can beat Orlando and Miami due to the fact they are tougher, better coached, particularly on defense and of course – D.Rose.
Robd: They might finish #1 out East, but they’re not the team to beat. I’d still tip Boston or Miami to beat the Bulls in a 7-game series. In the playoffs you’ll see teams smothering Derrick Rose – how will he cope with teams like the Celtics bullying him? In a 7-game series I just don’t think the Bulls have enough tricks – or depth – to beat the other elite teams. Give them one more year.
Joel: The Bulls are the most dangerous team riding with momentum and it will take something special to stop Derrick Rose. The Bulls will have a strong advantage if they finish with the number one seed with the home court throughout the playoffs. Their lack of experience is not the problem. It’s their lack of a bench that will determine their playoff push. Gibson, Korver and Brewer have had limited effect in the regular season. If foul trouble occurs for the Bulls, you could not have full faith in their bench with extended minutes.
Tizzle: With Rose they are invincible. Obviously pretty scared with the downfall of my Knicks, but even more scared to see what Rose will do to them in the opening round if we match up. Experience always counts, but confidence is the most powerful weapon in the NBA, and with D. Rose leading you, who wouldn’t have confidence?
Jobba: Is there a team to beat in the Eastern Conference? The Heat, the Magic and the Celtics can all look unbeatable on their day. I think it will, more than the West, come down to who plays who. If the Bulls get the Magic or the Heat, I’d pick the Bulls. If its the Celtics, it would be hard to pick. If the Bulls don’t see the Celtics at all, I’d pick them to go all the way. They have the best point guard in the game, they have a legitimate post threat, they have a wing who can score (Deng) and defensive minded coach. All the main boxes of a championship winning team bar an x-factor player. Experience doesn’t matter. The Bulls have made playoffs before. Boozer has played for Utah with one of the best coaches in the game, and Tom Thibedau was on the Celtics’ coaching staff when they won the championship. Regardless, its all a moot point, don’t think anyone is beating the Lakers.
3. Are the Celtics trying to fool everyone again with a less-then-stellar final month of the season? Can the turn it on to get back to the Finals?
Ash: I’m not fooled a bit by the Celtics. They did the same thing for half of the last season. They’ll be back for the playoffs and go deep if – and this is a big if – they can survive the loss of Perkins.
J.O: Yes…Eastern Conference Finals that is. Quietly, I’m hoping they meet Chicago to decide that title. As long as KG, Pierce, Allen and Rondo are healthy and firing- anything is possible. Boston still has Glen Davis to pinch hit off the bench, as well as newbies Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green and Delonte West. Healthy bodies like the O’Neals – Shaq and Jermaine would go a long way too.
Robd: They can absolutely get back to the Finals, but they need their big men. If Shaq and JO are serviceable that makes up for the lack of Perkins – just – enough to get back there. This team reminds me of the 2004-2007 Pistons. Disregard what they do in the regular season. They flick a switch come May.
Joel: GROUNDHOG DAY! The Celtics are once again suffering the Dog Days of April. With the season’s most head-scratching loss to the Bobcats yesterday, Doc Rivers labeled his team’s play as “shocking” and “selfish”. They played without urgency as Doc stated “you screw around with the game and the game will screw around with you”. People are targeting Ainge’s trade as the main reason for the loss of chemistry. However, this is a savvy professional team. They know what it takes to win. Pierce has acknowledged that the Celtics have another gear. Last week, in consecutive away games in New Orleans and New York, the Celtics rallied from 15-point deficits to win. The Celtics will be ready to go with the O’Neals on board.
Tizzle: I think the Celts will get all of their horses back in time for the race, and their size and depth will take them to the ECF if they keep all their guys injury free. They have the edge on Miami in the supposed big brother role, and have defense to defuse the Magic. Chicago and Celtics in another classic?
Jobba: The Celtics made all those changes to their squad, they have constant injuries and are managing players for the finals. All this put together means that right now they are poor. Finals time they will be good. Though that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. There is too many good players the Celtics have in too weak a Conference for them not to be a legitimate Finals contender on their day. BUT all thing have to start to gel sooner rather than later.
4. Despite their tumultuous season, the Lakers look like the team to beat right now. What stands in their way of a 3-Peat?
Ash: In the West, nothing, unless Kevin Durant has another leap in him right now (which I don’t think he does – not yet) or if they get Denver in the first round and the Nuggets are really as good as I think they are (but that’s another story). I think the Heat and the Celtics can both beat them in a 7 game Finals series. I don’t think the Bulls can.
J.O: Andrew Bynum’s health.
Robd: Nothing. As I said before the season started, if healthy, the Lakers are unbeatable. The title is still theirs to lose.
Joel: For mine, there’s only one team in the West that stands in the way of the Lakers returning to the Finals – themselves. The Spurs will prove to be respectable opponents taking the Lakers to 7 games but the frontline assembly of Gasol, Bynum, Artest and Odom will prove too difficult. If the Lakers face anyone in the finals except the Celtics, it is an automatic that they will 3-peat.
Tizzle: An Andrew Bynum injury – which is as likely as me buying another Honeycomb Big M this week (certain).
Jobba: The Lakers 3-peat seems a good chance right now. What would stand in their way? An injury to Gasol or Bryant, and maybe, just maybe the Spurs or the Celtics. I would assume the only teams that would be capable of defeating the Lakers right now would be those with overwhelming experience. And lets face it, if it is a Lakers v Celtics Finals series, conventional wisdom goes out the window.
5. Is Derrick Rose a lock for MVP as some of the media have suggested? Who else is in the running?
Ash: I’d have to say he’s a lock right now. I’m really impressed with Rose this season – I knew he was good, but I don’t think anyone realised just how good he is. And I feel like a genius for taking him in the fourth round of my fantasy draft (after getting Kevin Durant in the first and Amare in the second, and trading Danny Granger for Chris Paul).
J.O: No one.
Robd: A day ago I wrote that this was still an open race, but it seems like every game Rose plays he’s just cementing his case. Today’s clutch 30-point 17-assist effort was sublime. The race is over. Start engraving.
Joel: Derrick Rose IS. A. DEADBOLT. IT. AND. THROW. AWAY. THE. KEY. LOCK. Playing 40 minutes a night and having missed just one game this season, Rose is leading the Bulls, who have have had significant injuries, to the best record in the East by two and a half games. In his third year, Rose is averaging 24.8 points and 7.8 assists with 4.2 rebounds as well. Moreover, Rose’s defense has improved considerably with Tom Thibodeau as coach.
However, honourable mentions must go to LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard who have been the prototype of being the MVP. Literally dragging their teams to the playoffs despite overhauls in the starting lineups due to injuries or trades. Portland has had so many injuries that Coach McMillan is a shoe-in to become the first player-coach since Bill Russell. While Orlando GM Otis Smith has made more trades than Wall Street in the last week.
Tizzle: No question, most consistent star in the league, and the other one has Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade as a supporting cast so no comparison. I wonder if MJ is proud or jealous/angry?
Jobba: Yes. Rose for should be voted in first, second and third in the MVP race.
6. No one is confident in the Miami Heat right now, yet they could still very easily finish #1 out East. How far do you see them going come playoff time?
Ash: I think they can definitely make the Eastern Conference Finals. How far they go from there depends on who they play. If they’re facing Boston, I don’t think they can win. If it’s Chicago or anyone else, I think they can make the Finals and beat the Lakers.
J.O: I’m no fan of the Heat, but they’re in a great position to disappoint all of us haters. Their halfcourt style of play is quite boring to watch when its LeBron or Wade ball-massaging, and everyone else is standing around watching. However, that’s a style that could work in the playoffs.
Robd: I’ve said this to a lot of people recently when they ask me about the Heat. Logic – and history – tell you that two superstars and no depth aren’t good enough to win you a championship. But I really think we have to throw logic out the window when we’re talking about Lebron and Wade. Sure, they would need 5 or 6 superhuman performances each to beat the Celtics or Lakers in a 7-game series, but do you seriously doubt they’re incapable of that? I wouldn’t.
Joel: The Miami Heat are an enigma to themselves as well as everyone else. OK, they don’t have a point guard or a defensive centre but they need to stop crying about it because they still have two of the top 5 players in Lebron and Wade on the one team! The Heat’s blueprint is to run, sprint and then run some more at every available opportunity. If they get eliminated, at least they will have a had a good run at it.
Tizzle: Very possibly they could be thrown out in the 2nd round, and until they prove themselves I’d rather back the Celtics or Rose and the Bulls. Will be interesting to see if they ’step up’ in the playoffs or not. Surely these guys will go all out, and when it’s all said and done, there is just as much a chance they fizzle, as they match up with the Lakers in the final 7 games as was their expected destiny.
Jobba: Í don’t see the Heat being at all effective in the playoffs, because I think they are the closest thing to a one-trick pony. Teams who have been successful have done three things. They have got back in defensive transition. They have sunk in the key and they have forced the Miami stars to settle for jump shots. The Heat will still win games in any series, they are just too talented not to. However, I see them not winning 7 game series against teams like the Celtics, the Bulls, or the Lakers.