By John Schmeelk
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The playoffs are only about two weeks away, and there has been some serious power-shifting going on in the NBA. Let’s take a look at some of the trends and other quirky stories as we head into the playoffs.
A Country for Old Men: Both the Spurs and the Celtics are playing great basketball and look to be true contenders heading into the postseason. The Celtics recently put a great game together against the Heat and look like they’ve found the fountain of youth. Boston has won nine of eleven, and has finally developed a chemistry with their main cogs healthy. Ray Allen has accepted his role off the bench, Paul Pierce is doing his thing, and the Kevin Garnett/Brandon Bass combination is working perfectly. Their defense is as good as ever, and they’ve hit a serious hot streak with their shooting. Once they cool down, I still wonder if this team can generate enough offense to beat Chicago or Miami in a seven-game series. Even so, it will be a tough second-round series.
The Spurs are 15-3 in their last eighteen and Gregg Popovich’s plan to rest his older players when the schedule calls for back to backs looks to be paying off. Tim Duncan isn’t the superstar he used to be but he gets the job done when he needs to. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are up to their old tricks and DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw and the D-League All-Stars provide some nice depth. The Oklahoma City Thunder do not want to see the Spurs in the playoffs.
Cool Down in Miami: So what’s wrong with the Heat? Are they simply bored, as some experts suggest, or are they really in trouble? I lean towards the latter. Erik Spoelstra is clearly unhappy and is having trouble finding a consistent rotation and player combinations. Last night they lost to the Bulls in a game where Derrick Rose scored only two points and shot 1-for-13. The big three just aren’t getting enough help from their supporting cast. Early in the season, the Heat looked like a run-and-gun offense that spread the floor in the half court, but in recent weeks they have slowed down and looked far more sluggish. Not having home court will hurt as well, as they’re only 16-13 on the road.
Dwight in Disarray: You have to wonder whether or not teams really want to hitch their wagon to this guy. During this saga he has looked like nothing more than a petulant child that can’t make up his mind. The Magic are now in an impossible spot. How can they hold on to Stan Van Gundy when Dwight Howard was outed for trying to get him fired? Then again, how can the Magic fire Van Gundy when there’s no guarantee Howard will be around for more than one more season? I think Orlando should trade Howard this offseason for a great package and be done with it. Either way, they are ripe for a first-round exit.
The MVP Race: LeBron James is the best player in basketball and it has been that way for a long time, but that doesn’t necessarily make him the league MVP. Considering how the Heat have faltered down the stretch and will finish behind a Bulls team that has had to play without Derrick Rose, I have a hard time giving him the nod over Kevin Durant. If Durant can keep the Thunder above the Spurs in the Western Conference and earn home court, he should get the nod. If the Spurs pass them, it becomes a bit of a toss-up.
The Seeding: Right now both conferences are very up in the air in terms of where teams will end up. There are a handful of teams I would want to avoid if I was a higher seed. In the East the Celtics are clearly a threat and the Knicks are the first-round matchup that the Bulls and Heat will do all they can to avoid. Out west, the Mavericks and Grizzlies are both capable of upsetting better seeds and making runs to the Western Conference Finals.
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