As I see it, there are five different types of NBA teams at this point in the season:
1) Great teams locked into a high-playoff seed, looking to stay healthy and sharp for the playoffs.
2) Playoff-bound teams jockeying for seed position and/or a division title.
3) Average teams fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot.
4) Bad teams tanking for the lottery.
5) The Minnesota Timberwolves, ravaged by injuries but without its own lottery pick and therefore without a tanking incentive.
What a weird place to be. Here’s a brief rundown of where things stand as we head down the home stretch:
In my season preview post, I predicted a 25-41 season and thought that should be considered a success. Since I doubt very much that the Wolves will drop their last 11 games, they will have exceeded my expectations and I can say that I’m very pleased with how things went this year–at least until the injuries hit. I think most fans would agree that the team was surprisingly-good this year, even if you thought they underachieved under Rambis and dropped some close games that should have been victories. The current winning percentage (.454) amounts to a 37-win season, which would be a massive, 20-game jump from last year. The Rick’s have been great for Minnesota Hoops.
- 11 Games
- 7 Home/4 Away
- 4 Tankers
- 3 Fighting for Playoff Spot
- 3 Jockeying for Seed Position
- 1 Locked into Top Seed
- Projected Closing Record: 4-7
- Projected Season Record: 29-37
If the Wolves finish as I predict, at 29-37, they’ll likely have the 9th or 10th worst record in the NBA. The Hornets will take these lottery odds from the Marko Jaric trade of way back when. This would put the chances that this really blows up in their face (meaning NOLA picks in the Top 3) at between 4 and 6 percent. When adjusted for “Our League Has a HABIT, and I’m just going to call it a HABIT” variables, and the league ownership of the Hornets, that number increases to something in the range of 103-105 percent.
What to watch for?
On the Wolves, you mean? Not a whole lot. With Luke Ridnour’s ankle injury, we’ll probably be treated to a big dose of Malcolm Lee, which will be interesting–perhaps in ways both exciting and ugly. Derrick Williams’ minutes yo-yo with his early-game performance. I’d guess we’ll see more 40:00+ games as well as some extended stretches on the pine. K-Love will do what he does, perhaps at 35 or so minutes per night instead of 41. Pek’s bone spurs, according to Jim Peterson, can’t be aggravated but only painful, so maybe he’ll keep playing some. It would be nice to see competitive basketball in April after such a promising start with Rubio in the lineup.
Around the League
Lots of stories around the league to watch as the playoffs draw near:
* Chicago – 28-6 with Rose in the lineup (68-win pace)… will he ever be healthy? If he gets healthy, are they a legitimate threat to Miami, or just a regular season sensation and playoff pretender?
* Miami – LeBron has put together two of the most confusingly-bad playoff performances in league history in each of the last two seasons. Will that change this year? If it does, is Miami a lock to win the title, or could there be a 2009 Orlando-type matchup problem that ousts him anyway?
* New York – What a difficult team to read. I watched them play 3 Quarters of brilliant basketball at Indy tonight, just to piss it away in the 4th. Boom Dizzle looks competent for stretches and then not so much. Steve Novak is the best standing shooter in the world. Melo is getting his groove back. Mike Woodson has them defending (and winning; 9-3 since he took over), and has the backing of his college coach. The Knicks could be a scary first round opponent.
* Oklahoma City – If you can block Clay Bennett and Seattle from your mind, this has to be the “easiest team to cheer for” in the championship conversation, doesn’t it? I personally prefer Chicago (big D-Rose fan, just a preference) but it’s impossible not to see and acknowledge all that there is to like about Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Harden, that crowd, and everything about the Thunder. So here’s the problem: I’m not at all convinced that they’re coming out of the West. Durant still lets small guys bother him (Jason Kidd and Tony Allen could tell you why Barkley always insists that Melo–not Durant–is the best pure scorer in the world), there doesn’t seem to be a discernible difference in their halfcourt chemistry, and the West is loaded with teams that could potentially go to the Finals. If the Thunder DON’T win the West, I’m afraid that Scott Brooks will be the fall guy, possibly with Russ Westbrook next to him.
* LA Lakers – This could be one part comedy, another tragedy. If I had to bet, I suppose it would be that the Lakers drop their opening playoff series in 6 games, with Kobe averaging something like 35 points on 27 shots per game, followed by a poor man’s version of the Kobe-Shaq Divorce, where Bynum is dealt for 60 cents on the dollar and the Lakers die a slow death that has seemingly begun. But isn’t that too simple for this situation? Bynum now shoots 3’s and ignores the coach? This Laker situation has a WWE element to it that could bring on some weird, soap opera drama. Metta World Peace has been tweeting a lot, lately. I used to cheer for the Lakers because, for whatever reason, I was a Kobe fan. Now I’m just confused and a little bit intrigued by whatever the hell it is that goes one in Tinseltown. It could be fascinating to see this team in the playoffs. Ramon Sessions gives them a shred of credibility if Brown and Bryant can get Bynum under control.
* Memphis – It seems that Memphis is no longer the trendy “sleeper” pick. Everybody knows how good they are–and more importantly, how good they could be if they ever get healthy. With Z-Bo working his way back into the rotation, they’ve won 5 of their last 6 games. In my view, they’re only a half-step behind OKC as the favorite in the West.
What are you looking for in the last month of this crazy season?