Even the East is juicy this year
Doyle Rader and Travis Huse discuss the NBA’s Eastern Conference, namely the playoff situation (what do you think of this segment’s tentative name?):
DR: Before we get rolling on how we feel the Eastern Conference playoffs will look, I want to address something that I saw last night. Now, I didn’t watch this game, I feel sorry for anyone that did, but I kept an eye on the score throughout the night because, well, I simply didn’t believe what I was seeing. The Detroit Pistons demolished the Cleveland Cavaliers 116 – 77. Now, the 77 points that Cleveland scored are deceiving. On the surface it appears to be a respectable, albeit low, total. It most certainly was not. At the end of three quarters the Pistons were up 100 – 50. Yes, they had a 50 point lead. 50 points! My God! This is the NBA. I know that there is a very vague level of parity that exists in the league, although it often cannot be found on a nightly basis, but what an embarrassment. At least the Bobcats weren’t the worst team in the NBA for one night.
OK, had to get that off my chest. What do you think about the Eastern Conference playoff picture?
TH: I don’t even know how you let the Pistons drop 100 on you. In the middle quarters, the Pistons scored 71. The Cavs only scored 6 more points than that in the entire game. Oof.
Home court appears to be set, with the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, and Indiana Pacers spread enough apart that no one will be able to chase them. Bulls’ losses at Miami and Indiana could give the Heat a slight chance to make the top seed, but that’s a tough thing to imagine. Due to the NBA Playoff format, Boston will nab the 4th seed after winning the Atlantic Division. The remaining four spots are a murkier view. With Dwight Howard‘s back injury and the myriad of front office issues the Orlando Magic have faced, it’s hard to imagine them competing with the Atlanta Hawks for the right to play Boston. That being said, they seem to be a more cohesive, team-first organization without Howard. Teams with a distinct desire to win will remember this when Dwight-a-palooza 2.0 hits next season, and will likely pass. He’s more meant for the organizations that have a need for PR purposes than ones who need to win. Every team has a joker, a guy you can’t rely on (Luke Babbitt, Metta World Peace, Stephen Jackson with 29 NBA teams), but it’s not exactly the best formula for winning if that guy also happens to be your superstar. Recent history has shown that in order to win, your best bet would be with a humble star (Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki), instead of the splashy names. Orlando’s not a postseason threat to anyone in limbo, but they might make a last push in order to save face. Knicks can have the 7th seed, whatever.
The 8th spot is something to consider, though. Could the Philadelphia 76ers really fall out of the picture with only 5 games left in the regular season? Absolutely. The Milwaukee Bucks are only a game and a half behind, and they play the 76ers at home. Since the trade deadline, this Bucks team is almost, sorta, maybe clicking, somehow. A loss here could spell doom for Philly.
DR: Humble stars? Are you forgetting Kobe Bryant? He may actually be humble off the court but on the court he is quite loquacious with his game.
You’re right about the Magic, though. They are dead in the water and I’m pretty sure that Atlanta has the tie breaker over them so it’s doubtful that they move up in the standings, especially with Howard resting his back injury for the foreseeable future. Some have even speculated that he could sit out the playoffs too. Drama Dwight knows how to play ‘em doesn’t he? The Magic will be a first round exit; the top three teams in the East are too good.
As for Philly, they are taking all their cues from the 2007 Mets. This was a team that I predicted was the scariest team in the East at midseason. I was way off with that one. It is simply mind blowing that they could fall apart this bad. There has been plenty of blame to throw around but it is the whole team that needs to accept responsibility for this showing. Andre Iguodala scored more than 20 points last night for the first time ALL SEASON. This is a well balanced team at virtually every position, and hypothetically, they can rely on scoring from all their pieces but this is crunch time and their balance is dwindling. It is completely conceivable that Milwaukee catches them.
New York is locked into the 7th seed behind the might of Steve “Discount Double Check” Novak. What a flawed and exciting team. I’m pretty sure that they can only exist with one star healthy at a time if they have any hopes of winning. Jeremy Lin led the team at one point, Stoudemire did it early on, now it’s Melo’s turn. It’s the oddest damn thing that they cannot coexist.
TH: Kobe’s an outlier, though, simply because of his self-concept as the post-Jordan Jordan. He’s his biggest critic, and he forces his teammates to play at the best of their ability. Dwight, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James have been habitual excuse-makers, and it shows when they’re really tested in the playoffs.
As for the Knicks, I still think they can mesh. Mike Woodson has done a great job with Melo so far, and if he can get Stoudemire to buy into him (not his plays even, but Woodson the man), they’ll work. Melo’s triple-double against the Celtics is firm evidence that he’s much more likely to defer a bit to his teammates than ever before. As soon as the Knicks can get Anthony to pass the ball, we’ll see an increase in his shot selection, and they’ll be able to run high pick-and-rolls with STAT, and then they’re golden. The Knicks need two things on offense, from my perspective. They need unselfish play from Anthony in pick-and-roll situations, and they need to move the ball from left to right in the halfcourt. If they get defenses paying attention to that sort of movement, it will free up a TON of space for the stars to drive.
DR: With Amar’e coming back from injury soon, Woodson has indicated that he will insert him backing into the starting lineup. Thus, Carmelo will move back to small forward as he has been playing the four spot. I just wonder if this is going to hurt their defense moving forward since Stoudemire isn’t known as a defensive anything. But it looks like we will see a Knicks Heat first round series so that should be fun.
Anyway, there is one team flying under the radar right now and that is fairly unbelievable. The Indiana Pacers are cruising! They have won 10 of their last 11 games and are simply clicking on all levels. The change of tempo that Leandro Barbosa has brought to this team is remarkable. Danny Granger is efficient and resisting the ‘hero-mode’ urge more than usual. Roy Hibbert is a double-double machine and Tyler Hansbrough has returned to his ever scrappy play that we saw in the first round against the Bulls last year. Oh, and they have David West. This team IS dangerous, yet, no one is talking about them at length outside of the guys at eightpointsnineseconds.com. Whether they play Orlando or Atlanta in the first round, the Pacers should see the second round for the first time in a while.
TH: I love this Pacers squad so much. They were a boatload of fun last season, and all the guys they added are quality. Of course I have to love George Hill, but David West was such a wonderful pickup for these guys. I truly feel that this time next year, once the Magic and Celtics and Hawks suck, they will cement themselves as a perennial contender and a new Bulls-Pacers rivalry will form, maybe one that puts Indiana on top.
DR: The job that Frank Vogel has done with this team is remarkable. They have won more games already this season, in a shortened year, than they did all of last year. There aren’t many teams that can make that claim who are making the playoffs.
I think, though, one of the biggest concerns going into the playoffs is the health of the star players. Derrick Rose has been hurt, Rajon Rondo landed hard on his coccyx last night, Howard is hurt, how will Amar’e integrate, and to a lesser extent, Zaza Pachulia is also hurt. Teams like the Bulls and Celtics need to be healthy if they expect to compete deep into the playoffs. I know players will play hurt in the post season with everything on the line but with the season wrapping up it might be wise just to rest players. Miami is already doing it. In fact they will probably be the most rested team by the time the postseason begins.
TH: I’m not going to lie, I burst out laughing when Zaza’s name came up. Only in Atlanta. Not exactly worthy of the “Highlight Factory,” but with Al Horford out, you take what you can get.