The trade deadline has passed, swinging power from the Western Conference to the East thanks to a flurry of deals that sent two of the top ten players in the NBA to the Knicks and Nets respectively. Although the Spurs remain on top, the trade for Carmelo Anthony made an immediate impact for the Knicks moving them up six spots in the 9450 Power Rankings. Although, the league is said to be devoid of parity, I count nine teams (the top 8 and the new-look Knicks…sorry Atlanta) that have a legitimate shot to make the NBA Finals.
1. San Antonio Spurs (49-10) (1)
The injury bug has finally hit the Spurs. We’ll learn if it actually hurt them in the next two weeks when they play Miami twice, the Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks without starting point guard Tony Parker, who will be out 2-4 weeks with a strained left calf. George Hill will step in and start for the Spurs, who still hold 5.5 game lead over the Mavericks for the league’s best record and home court advantage throughout the playoffs and Finals.
2. Dallas Mavericks (43-16) (3)
Winners of six straight and nine out of their last 10, the Mavericks are deep, healthy and confident. Jason Terry recently said they will eventually catch the Spurs for first place in the division. With Parker out and the Mavs hot, now is their opportunity.
3. Boston Celtics (43-15) (2)
You give up your starting center in order to fill the James Posey Role from the championship squad in 2008 with a solid player in Jeff Green. Couldn’t Mr. Ainge have made a smaller deal for an Anthony Parker-type player and still have kept Perk? Seems like Ainge just didn’t want to pay a center with a bad knee $50 mil.
4. Chicago Bulls (41-17) (5)
The Bulls elected to value chemistry over a trade at the deadline, although they did try to work a deal for O.J. Mayo and Anthony Parker. Hey, if they could get by without Bron, I am damn sure MVP candidate Derrick Rose and the Bulls can get by without Mayo. The Bulls currently rank third in offensive efficiency and first in the NBA in defensive efficiency giving up a paltry 97.3 points per every 100 possessions.
5. Los Angeles Lakers (42-19) (6)
The Lakers have quietly won four straight, including the first three since the All-star break and are flying under the radar thanks to the combination of standing pat and a flurry of moves by teams all around them in the standings. L.A. has been in chill mode all year. Hopefully, they can flip the switch in May for the playoffs.
6. Miami Heat (43-17) (4)
The Heat are now below .500 against teams with winning records. But they will have plenty of chances to improve on that mark as their next 10 games are all against teams with winning records and 13 of their remaining 22. Bron’s latest Channing Frye impersonation (see: Phoenix) failed against the Knicks. When will D3 step in and demand the ball late in games for the Heat?
7. Orlando Magic (38-22) (8)
I loved Dwight Howard getting on his team for their lackadaisical performances of late. I loved even more how he went out and put up massive numbers. Over his last five games, Dwight Howard is averaging 30.2 points and 13 boards a contest. A foil to SVG’s daily outbursts, Dwight is finally getting serious and becoming a leader for a team with a new crew and in desperate need of a captain.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (36-22) (7)
Everyone praised Sam Presti for the shrewd trade and subsequent contract extension for Kendrick Perkins. I agree, but still feel like it was a year late. They get a big man at the deadline last year, the Thunder win that Laker series. Believe that. I will say this for Presti, he probably knew that and made sure he did not make the same mistake this year as the Thunder gear up for a Finals run.
9. Atlanta Hawks (36-24) (9)
I thought the Hinrich deal was a steal for the Hawks, ridding themselves of the capable but old and defensively challenged Mike Bibby. Then, I watched Hinrich play…he looked like a younger Bibby – capable but defensively challenged. He is also hurt and missed Monday’s game. I like this deal less and less.
10. New York Knicks (30-27) (16)
The points and boards will be there for Melo. but let’s talk about his defense. When did Melo ever say “I got Bron on D from here on out” during his tenure in Denver? The answer is never. But the Knicks, especially Amare, looked inspired by Melo’s defensive prowess and intensity, holding the Heat to 84 points and only 53 points after the first quarter. They are Finals contenders. Consider me seduced.
11. New Orleans Hornets (35-26) (12)
The addition of Carl Landry will provide much needed insurance in case Emeka Okafor or David West go down again. Not that Chris Paul didn’t love playing alongside Aaron Gray and Jason Smith for 35 minutes a night.
12. Portland Trail Blazers (33-26) (10)
Gutsy win Sunday night against the Nuggets. Brandon Roy coming back for 25 minutes a night and the addition of Gerald Wallace will provide much needed depth for the Blazers. With trades sending out Donta Cunningham and Joel Pryzbilla, the Blazers are thin at the front court, but incredibly deep at the wing positions with young athletic shooters and finishers aplenty. the perfect combo for point guard and facilitator, Andre Miller
13. Denver Nuggets (35-26) (11)
Danilo Gallinari looks comfortable in his new surroundings as do Raymond Felton and Wilson Chandler. The Nuggets are deep, symbolized recently by Gallinari going down with a broken left big toe, Wilson Chandler stepping in to start and the Nuggets not breaking stride, in Monday night’s 100-90 win over the Hawks.
14. Memphis Grizzlies (33-28) (13)
Welcome back O.J. Mayo! Having been traded to the Pacers at the deadline only to be told that the Grizzlies (or Pacers, depending on who you ask) missed the deadline by a minute, O.J. Mayo returns to the bench for the suddenly deep and possbily playoff-bound Grizzlies. The addition of Shane Battier will provide stability for a team that has had its share of drama this season.
15. Philadelphia 76ers (30-29) (14)
Coach of the year candidate Doug Collins has his team above .500 for the first time this year. While this is great news, they look to be stuck in the 7th or 8th position for the playoffs. Although only a game behind the Knicks for the 6th spot, the Sixers will have to go on another major run to catch and stay ahead of Gotham.
16. Phoenix Suns (31-27) (17)
Channing Frye hit a game winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Indiana Pacers. According to the Elias Sports Bureau it was the first time in his 6-year career that he hit a go-ahead field goal with 5 seconds or less remaining. The next night, he did it again. He is LeBron, only the exact opposite. Look out for Suns who have won 8 out 10 and are just a half game out of the final playoff spot in the West.
17. Utah Jazz (32-28) (15)
Since the Deron trade, Al Jefferson has average 26 points and 13 boards, perhaps feeling the pressure to produce following the acquisition of Derrick Favors. The Jazz are only a game out of the final playoff but will have to fight of the surging Suns, Grizzlies and Rockets for the spot, all the while getting acclimated with a new head coach and starting point guard in Devin Harris. Not out of the question, but a tough task nonetheless.
18. Houston Rockets (30-31) (18)
Chase Budinger has been inserted into the starting lineup replacing the departed Shane Battier and the results have been quite good. They have won all three games Chase has started at small forward and 5 out of their last 6 overall to climb back in the hunt for the 8th and final playoff spot. As a fantasy basketball owner, I have convinced myself to pickup Budinger. He better be available.
19. Golden State Warriors (26-32) (20)
Well, they matched their win total of last season at 26. But the playoffs are unlikely and the root cause will once again be the defense. Head coach Keith Smart was supposed to inject some defense into this one sided club, but the Warriors remain uninterested giving up 105.8 points a game, good for 28th in the league.
20. Indiana Pacers (26-32) (19)
This is a make a break road trip for Frank Vogel’s Pacers. Six of their next seven are on the road against teams like the Thunder, Mavericks, Rockets and Knicks. Second round pick Lance Stephenson saw his first action against the Suns, with Mike Dunleavy out of the lineup Vogel may look to Stephenson to score off the bench and to at least see what he has with the talented player with plenty of off the court issues.
21. Charlotte Bobcats (26-33) (21)
Air Jordan has imploded a team destined for mediocrity. Look for Philly-kid and Duke-boy Gerald Henderson to get a significant run at shooting guard replacing the recently traded Gerald Wallace. Sure, there is Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison, but allowing Larry Brown to get his way and draft D.J. Augustin when you already had Raymond Felton and all your scouts insisted on drafting Brook Lopez, must keep 23 up at night…no it probably doesn’t.
22. Milwaukee Bucks (22-36) (22)
Thought this team had another run in them, but injuries to Corey Maggette and Andrew Bogut have this team waiting til next year. On the bright side, Michael Redd is on pace to get back sometime soon.
23. Los Angeles Clippers (21-40) (23)
The Baron Davis trade cost the Clips a lottery pick in this year’s draft. Getting rid of a team cancer before he corrupts your rookie superstar…priceless.
24. New Jersey Nets (17-43) (25)
16 months and counting for the Nets. You have 16 months to convince Deron that the Nets will surround him with talen in time for their move to Brooklyn. D-Will and Brook Lopez make a nice combination. Every one else could be moved in order for the Nets to be any sort of competitive next year.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-46) (28)
I picture GM David Kahn roaming the streets of Minnesota in a dirty red sportcoat and full beard downing a carton of milk…”Jonny Flynn was a bad choice.”
26. Cleveland Cavaliers (11-48) (30)
Break up the Cavs! They are 3-4 on their current 8-game homestand, including victories over the Lakers and Knicks. They’re playing hard for coach Scott despite another injury. This time Antwan Jamison, who was nearly traded at the deadline, is now out with a fractured pinky.
27. Toronto Raptors (16-44) (26)
The knock on DeMar Derozan is that he can score, but he doesn’t do much else. To that point, in February, Derozan averaged 19 points, but only 4 rebounds and 2 assists, while averaging over 36 minutes a contest.
28. Sacramento Kings (15-43) (29)
The Sacramento Kings sold out their game against the Clippers as fans show support for their last place team in the final game for Arco Arena. Arco will now be called Power Balance Pavilion. I still think they’re moving to Anaheim.
29. Washington Wizards (15-43) (27)
When Mike Bibby gives up $6.2 million just to NOT play for your team, it may be time to try something new. When will the Flip Saunders era end?
30. Detroit Pistons (22-39) (24)
A mutiny? Really? You guys came up with a mutiny? This was your solution to all your problems? Idiots.