- By Jason Dougas Lewis
- In Basketball
Western Conference teams jockeying for playoff positions; Heat look unstoppable; Lakers dodged a bullet by trading Bynum.
Blake Griffin had the Clippers in a good position at the top of the Western Conference, and the Jazz also had good footing in the playoffs. But both teams have struggled as of late and dropped in the standings. Photo by Jason Lewis
Dwyane Wade is healthy and playing like a super star. Add LeBron James playing at a MVP type level and Chris Bosh contributing in his role, and the Heat are nearly unbeatable. Photo by Jeff Lewis
Article originally published by the Los Angeles Sentinel. www.lasentinel.net
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor (2010-2013)
Can anybody stop the Heat?
As of right now in the NBA, it is the Heat and then everybody else. There is not a legitimate argument for any other team in the league being on par with them, let along better.
The Spurs and Thunder are looking really good over in the Western Conference, but even they are not on the Heats’ level. With the Heat flirting with the 1971-72 Lakers record of 33 consecutive victories, it is clear that this team is dialed in and nearly unstoppable. It is to the point that you can look at their schedule and pencil in a win next to every game. Outside of their game against the Spurs later this month, at San Antonio, they will be heavily favored in every contest.
The Heat are finally playing like the super team that everybody thought that they would be when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh all decided to sign with the team. It took some time, but with some adjustments they are playing up to their potential.
Over the course of the first two seasons the Heat seemed to have an identity problem. James and Wade functioned similarly, so it was hard for them to play well together on the court. Even with those issues, they were still able to make it to back-to-back NBA Finals, winning last year. They hit several bumps in the road on their way to winning the title last season, but those issues appear to be resolved.
The offense is now run through James, and he has the decision to either drive to the basket or distribute the ball. Either choice that he makes, defenses are left at a huge disadvantage. If they double James, Wade is waiting on the other side of the court, and James will find him. Or he will find Bosh, who knocks down open mid-range jump shots. If teams single James, he is going right to the basket.
James may be the run away MVP, but one thing that is working extremely well for him and the Heat is that Wade is healthy, and he has regained his super star status. With Wade playing like a top five player in the league, and James once again playing at a MVP level, it is hard to pick against them in any single game.
The Heat should not have any problems making it back to the NBA Finals because the Eastern Conference is not very strong. The only team that looks like they can give them fits is the Pacers, but do not count on that being a long series if the Pacers make it that far. The Knicks are fading and probably will not give the Heat any problems if the two meet in the playoffs. Do not be surprised if the Heat run the table in the East.
The only team that may be able to beat the Heat in a series is the Spurs. The Heat seem to be in the Thunder’s heads, and chances are that the Thunder and Spurs will be playing for the Western Conference title.
Western Conference playoff races are heating up
The Eastern Conference is pretty much decided, but out in the West, there are three different races going on.
The Spurs and the Thunder are battling it out for the top seed and home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Only one game separated the two teams earlier this week, with the Spurs holding a slight lead.
Behind them are the Clippers, Nuggets, and Grizzlies. Before the All-Star break it looked like the Clippers were keeping pace with the Spurs and the Thunder as one of the best teams in the West. But it is a long season, and the Clippers have settled into the second tier group.
The Grizzlies took the third spot from the Clippers, who took it right back. Earlier this week only ½ of a game separated the three teams, with the Clippers barely in front.
It is somewhat surprising to see the Grizzlies and Nuggets in this position. After trading Rudy Gay, it looked like the Grizzlies would just fade away, but they have been one of the best teams in the West since the All-Star break. The Nuggets do not have star players, but they pushed their winning streak to 13 games when they knocked off the Thunder on Tuesday.
As for the Clippers, Knicks forward Kenyon Martin may have said it best when he said that all of that high speed, up and down basketball that the Clippers play works well in the regular season, but come playoff time, when teams slow down the pace, it does not work. Well it is getting close to playoff time, and the Clippers are 0-4 against the Spurs, Thunder, Nuggets, and Grizzlies since the All-Star break. If they are not careful, they may take a step back from last year instead of a step forward.
The third playoff race is for the final spot, and it is also to avoid playing the Spurs or Thunder in the first round.
The Lakers are winning games right when the Jazz, Rockets, and Warriors have all had slumps. With the way the Lakers have been playing since the All-Star break, it looks like they can hold off the Jazz, who started this week a game behind for the final playoff spot, and it looks like the Lakers could move up as far as the sixth seed, which would allow them to avoid the Spurs and Thunder.
Earlier this week the Lakers were two games behind the Warriors, and the two teams play each other twice. Out of those teams, who ever can get to the sixth seed can have a chance to compete in the first round. The other team teams may be going home early.
Lakers dodged a bullet with Bynum
The Lakers held on to center Andrew Bynum just long enough for him to become an All-Star, and then shipped him out at the right time, just as he had enough value to land center Dwight Howard.
It looks like the Lakers may have pulled a fast one, because the 76ers had plans to build their team around Bynum, but he has not played a game yet this season because of knee issues, and now he will have surgery on both knees, ending his season, which never really began.
The 76ers received a whole lot of nothing in that four-team trade, while the Lakers received Howard. Both players can test the free agent market in the offseason, and both players will seek a max deal, but will the 76ers, or anybody else, be willing to give a max deal to Bynum? It is obvious that the Lakers are banking on Howard signing a max contract with them.
Howard looks like he has nearly regained his form from the back surgery that he had last year, which is the only major injury of his career. But for Bynum, his knee issues have always been a problem, and the Lakers traded him right before Bynum hit his breaking point. He may never again be an All-Star player. Coupled with his maturity issues, it looks like the 76ers were sold damaged goods.