The San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics continued their dominance over the league last week.
Both teams slipped up but responded with impressive character victories. Could their meeting on Mar. 31 be a Finals preview?
If their next meeting is anything like the last game (a 105-103 Boston win), the NBA would be in good shape with seven games between these two powerhouses.
Elsewhere in the league, the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies moved up the rankings. The Pacers won their fourth straight game under interim coach Frank Vogel while the Grizzlies sit just a half game out of the playoffs.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Cleveland Cavaliers (24 straight losses) and Washington Wizards (0-25 on the road) will collide on Sunday for one of the NBA’s best games this season. Something has to give.
The NBA has it all.
On to the rankings:
1. San Antonio Spurs (42-8) Antonio McDyess’ tip at the buzzer capped a wild win Thursday night in Los Angeles. Not only do the Spurs have staying power, they’re seven games clear of their closest competition.
2. Boston Celtics (38-12) Is there a tougher team than the Boston Celtics? Rajon Rondo summoned his inner Kobe Bryant with 26 points in a 91-80 win over the Orlando Magic Sunday. The only object in the Celtics’ pursuit of No. 1 is a team winning 84 percent of its games.
3. Los Angeles Lakers (35-16) The Lakers are playoff-proven and maintain a 10.5 game lead in the Pacific. Matt Barnes is looking like a legitimate starter when he returns from injury. Mitch Kupchak just needs to find a taker for Ron Artest’s $34 million contract. Simple, right?
4. Miami Heat (37-14) The Heat has won six straight and is finally healthy. A Sunday showdown in Boston could be the game of the year.
5. Chicago Bulls (34-15) The Bulls’ road only gets tougher with away games against the Blazers, Jazz, and Hornets this week. The trip will serve as a gut-check. An 11-point loss to the Warriors certainly leaves something to be desired.
6. New Orleans Hornets (32-20) The Hornets are the sixth best team in the league but only the third best in their own division. Does that say something about the Southwest or what? New Orleans will have to try and tread water in Emeka Okafor’s absence.
7. Dallas Mavericks (35-15) The Mavs have won eight straight games, beating some quality opponents in that stretch. One wonders if they’ll ever be the same come the playoffs with no Caron Butler and an aged Jason Kidd, though…
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (33-17) The quote of the week comes from the selfless Kevin Durant. Has there ever been a selfless player that leads the NBA in scoring? You decide. “People were kind of baffled that we chose (Russell Westbrook) … and now he’s an All-Star. That’s a great story. I’m very excited for him. I think I’m more excited than he is.”
9. Orlando Magic (32-20) Let the rumors about Dwight Howard leaving Orlando, not next season, but the season after….commence. Howard has done his best Superman impression while his castmates fumble their lines.
10. Atlanta Hawks (33-18) The Hawks boast a better record than the Magic, but Atlanta doesn’t have Dwight Howard. A deep Atlanta team makes the Hawks a daunting first-round match-up.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (27-25) The Grizzlies are currently ninth in the West, but the Nuggets are likely to move Carmelo Anthony and the bandaged Blazers can only hold together for so long. From a glass-half full perspective, Memphis is only five games out of the 5th seed in the West.
12. Utah Jazz (30-22) The wheels continue to come off for Jerry Sloan’s Jazz. Utah lost home games to the Rockets and Thunder and allowed 121 points to OKC. Utah is no guarantee to make the playoffs.
13. Denver Nuggets (30-21) With Carmelo Anthony trade rumors resurfacing, fans are left to wonder if the Nuggets are going to go the way of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although Anthony will leave via free agency in the summer. Masai Ujiri can do better than Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler.
14. Portland Trail Blazers (27-24) The Blazers opened the week with a marquee win over the Spurs, but they quickly lost that momentum courtesy of losses to the Nuggets and Pacers by a combined 32 points. They’re in a dogfight for the playoffs.
15. Phoenix Suns (23-25) The Suns are enjoying a solid stretch featuring wins over the Celtics and Hornets. Vince Carter has played better than most (outside of the Suns organization) expected. A home-and-home with the Warriors is up next.
16. Indiana Pacers (21-27) Maybe Jim O’Brien was the problem. (link to last week’s article) The Pacers are 4-0 under interim head coach Frank Vogel and looking like a playoff lock in the East. Paul George has gone under the radar as one of the more talented rookies in the 2010 Draft class.
17. New York Knicks (26-24)
18. Philadelphia 76ers (23-27)
Once upon a time the Knicks were 18-12 after beating the Bulls for the second time on Christmas Day. Now they are in a fight for their playoff lives. The Knicks have an excellent chance to make the playoffs, but the first round match-up will be no picnic. They’re jockeying for position with Atlantic rival Philadelphia. The Knicks and Sixers split a home-and-home last weekend and are in a dead heat in the East.
19. Los Angeles Clippers (19-31) Since the Clippers have virtually no shot at making the playoffs, Blake Griffin’s All-Star selection is a real coup. Eric Bledsoe was selected to the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge as well.
20. Golden State Warriors (22-27) The Warriors are very quietly getting hot. They have beaten the Bulls and Jazz in their three-game streak. Upcoming games against the Suns and Nuggets are opportunities to make up some ground in the standings.
21. Houston Rockets (24-28) Kevin Martin was one of the All-Star game’s biggest snubs, following only LaMarcus Aldridge. Martin’s averaging 23.3 ppg, probably the quietest 23.3 ppg average in recent memory. His lack of help kept him out of the Game.
22. Milwaukee Bucks (19-30) So much for that easy upcoming schedule. The Bucks have dropped four straight and sit on the outside looking in in the Eastern Conference playoff push. If Milwaukee wants to make the playoffs, the next two games against the Raptors and Wizards have to be wins.
23. Charlotte Bobcats (21-29) It’s always a bad sign when the coach points to a performance in a losing effort as a reason to why the team will not lose. “If he plays like this the rest of the season, I like our chances against anybody,” coach Paul Silas said about Gerald Wallace’s 25 and 10 effort in a 12-point loss to the Heat. The Bobcats lost the following game as well.
24. Detroit Pistons (19-32) The Pistons are miraculously only three games out of the playoffs. Think about that for a second. If John Kuester somehow manages to miss the promised land, this Tayshaun Prince quote could have him seeking employment elsewhere: “Somebody used the term playing behind the 8-ball, and that’s what we’ve been doing without (Rip Hamilton). When you’ve got a young team and one of your vets isn’t out there, I won’t call it a distraction, but when you go out there, the guns ain’t loaded.”
25. Sacramento Kings (12-35) The Kings lost two games to the Celtics and Spurs last week, but remain this high because of those impressive wins over the Lakers and Hornets. Unless someone below them does something like, uh, win a road game, the Kings will remain this high despite likely losses to the Jazz and Mavericks.
26. Washington Wizards (13-37, 0-25) For those that don’t feel like doing the math, the Wizards are an above-500 team at home, going 13-12 in 25 games, and a whopping 0-25 on the road. Even five road wins would’ve had them in the thick of the playoff race.
27. New Jersey Nets (15-37, 3-24) The Nets are another bumbling team on the road, granted the misery doesn’t end there. Consecutive losses to the Sixers, Pistons, and Pacers by a combined 43 points doesn’t inspire much confidence going forward…unless you’re looking for a better spot in the Draft.
28. Toronto Raptors (14-37) A win over the Timberwolves snapped a 13-game losing streak. Jay Triano can motivate his players with moving out of the Atlantic basement and beating out the Nets for fourth. That’s about it north of the border basketball-wise.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (11-39) “I feel we come in here and say the same thing every time. We’re right there. If a few more things go our way, if they don’t shoot the mess out of the ball, we get a few stops and that’s the game,” Kevin Love said. Good, now I don’t have to say it.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-43) The Cavaliers are chasing losing infamy (Losers of 24 straight). Where have we heard that before. If Antawn Jamison needs advice, any one of the Nets would be willing to talk to him. Luckily for Jamison, he’ll probably be another team come the trading deadline.