This week in the NBA would’ve been about the Denver Nuggets, winners of 15 straight games, including an impressive 10-point victory in Oklahoma City. Too bad for the Mile High Ballers that the Miami Heat keep streaking along. Miami fought back from a 13 point deficit in the fourth quarter in Boston to win, only to follow that effort with an epic 27-point second half comeback against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This week also saw Marc Gasol lost to injury and inexplicable losses by the Lakers, and those facts, coupled with the sudden surge of the Dallas Mavericks, have brought a new sense of intrigue to the Western Conference playoff picture. Speaking of California basketball, Sacramento continues to fight for the Kings, with a recent deal to finance a new arena in the Cowbell Kingdom that might possible keep the Kings from being stolen away in the night.
As the path to the playoffs heats up, here are the Top Ten teams in the NBA according to HeadlineMiami.com for the week of March 25th to March 31st.
The Miami Heat kept things interesting this week. Many people felt the game in Boston signaled the end to the streak, and when the team was down by 13 in the fourth quarter that all seemed true, but the LeBron James and the Heat responded with an improbable comeback. That improbable comeback was only the appetizer, though, as the Heat spotted the Cavaliers 27 points in the 3rd quarter before storming back to win the game. LeBron James dominated the competition again this week, earning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors for averaging 30.8 points, 10 assists and 8.8 rebounds for last week. Miami hits the road this week, with contests in Orlando, Chicago and New Orleans before an epic showdown in San Antonio.
2. San Antonio Spurs (53-17) Winners of seven of ten
The San Antonio Spurs held on to the second spot of Headline Miami’s Top Ten after winning two of three this week. Their only loss? To the Houston Rockets and James Harden’s beard. The beard buried a game-winner against Pop’s pros, spoiling a mini-four game winning streak by the Spurs. Tony Parker has returned and showed no ill-affects of the ankle injury, averaging 22.5 points and 6 assists in his two games this week. San Antonio trails the Miami Heat by 2.5 games for the best record in the NBA, and this week presents a challenging home stand against upper echelon playoff squads, the Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers and Miami Heat. By the end of the week, the Spurs might very well be known as streak busters.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (52-19) Winners of seven of ten
If the Thunder don’t start putting together wins against some of the better teams out there, people might find the defending Western Conference champs vulnerable. Since the start of February, the Thunder are just 5-6 against playoff-bound teams, including recent losses in Memphis and at home to Denver. The offense stagnated some this week, until a 58 point second half binge against the Portland Trailblazers. KD and co need a course correction this week, and look for them to do so against Washington at home, then on the road against Minnesota and Milwaukee.
Things in the Mile High City are looking up. If not for the Miami Heat’s historic run, this week’s NBA narrative would certainly have been pushed by the play of the Nuggets. Denver is tied with Miami with the best home record in the NBA at 32-3, but their biggest wins this week came away from the Pepsi Center. An impressive 10-point win in Oklahoma City followed a dramatic 119-118 victory in Chicago. The Nuggets came home to squeak one out against the 76ers before handling the Kings. Their 15-game run has vaulted up the Western Conference standings, up to the #3 seed. Denver holds a 0.5 game lead on the LA Clippers and a 1.0 game lead on Memphis. Denver takes their 15-game streak and 17-19 road record to New Orleans (a team with recent wins against Memphis and Boston), before a marquee match-up in San Antonio. Denver returns home to face Brooklyn later in the week.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (47-22) Winners of seven of ten
Despite the 110-106 win against Boston last Saturday, Memphis heads hung low when news of Marc Gasol’s injury disseminated. Gasol suffered an abdominal tear during the win and will be out indefinitely for the Grizzlies. Gasol is second on the team in scoring, rebounding and assisting, and is the team’s leading shot blocker. Much of the offense runs through Gasol, who is one of the league’s best passing big men. How the team responds to the devastating news is yet to be seen, but they’ll need to gather themselves quickly. This week holds road games in Washington and New York, then a home game against Houston, before ending on the road in Minnesota.
Lob City might have some of the top highlight reel plays this season, but the Clips need to get down to the business of winning if they want to ascend Headline Miami’s Top Ten. Los Angeles is just 17-13 in their last 30 games, and the long winning streak is but a distance memory. Nice wins this week against an improving Brooklyn Nets team and a middling Philadelphia 76ers team came after an inexplicable loss to Sacramento. The Clips stand 0.5 games behind Denver for the #3 seed, and hold just a 0.5 game margin on Memphis for the #4 seed. This week will present an opportunity for Lob City to test its playoff mettle, with a road trip through Dallas, New Orleans, San Antonio and Houston.
The extended Western road swing has been good so far for the boys in black. Brooklyn won convincingly in Detroit and Dallas, before a tough loss in LA to the Clippers. They bounced back with a hard-fought victory in Phoenix, playing without one of their leaders in Joe Johnson. By winning three of four to start the trip, the Nets have kept the Knicks and Pacers in their sights. With New York suddenly heating up again, Brooklyn will need to finish their trip successfully to stay close, as they currently trail in the standings by 2.0 games. The road trip continues in Portland, Denver and Utah this week.
The Pacers have hit a rough stretch. A post-All-Star break plateau has the Pacers idling at 5-5 over their last ten, and losing David West for a period of time looked to spell disaster, but Tyler Hasbrough averaged 15.3 and 10.8 boards in four starts last week, picking up three double-doubles, and helped get those wheels moving again. Indiana won three of four this week, but its lone loss came at the hands of the playoff-bound Bulls. The Pacers look to continue to speed ahead of the Eastern Conference pack with a home game against the Hawks, before a road swing that will take them through Houston, Dallas and Phoenix. The injury bug will have to lighten its sting soon though, as Danny Granger, George Hill, Lance Stephenson and David West all remain sidelined these days.
James Harden and his beard will be disrespected by the Headline Miami Power Rankings no more. The Clutch City crew debuts at #9, and they’ve earned that distinction over the last several days. After dominant wins against Utah and Cleveland, Houston thrust itself into the playoff conversation with a heart-pounding victory over the San Antonio Spurs. James Harden and his beard earned the Western Conference player of the week award after they averaged 24.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.3 steals this week. The recent winning has helped create a 3.0 game cushion over the Lakers, and has crept them within 0.5 games of Golden State for the #6 seed. A home game against Indiana comes before a road tilt in Memphis. The Rockets close the week with a home match-up against the Clippers.
The Headline Miami Top Ten might be a little generous with this ranking of the LA Lakers, especially after a horrific loss at home to the injury-plagued Washington Wizards, but what’s a list without some debate? The Black Mamba returned from his recent ankle injury to help build an 18-point second half lead, only to watch said lead evaporate. Former Laker Trevor Ariza scored 25, and Kobe missed a pair of potential game-tying shots. It was their second consecutive terrible loss, as they started the week with an inexplicable drubbing at the hands of the Phoenix Suns. Before this recent skid, however, LA had won six of seven. This week takes the Lake Show on the road, with an important contest in Golden State, then games in Minnesota, Milwaukee and Sacramento. The Lakers will need to heat up, as the Dallas Mavericks have suddenly thrust themselves into the playoff picture after winning seven of their last ten games. LA holds a 2.0 game lead on both Dallas and Utah for the #8 seed out West.
Up Next? New York Knicks (42-26), winners of four straight; Chicago Bulls (38-31), winners of two straight; and Dallas Mavericks (34-36), winners of seven of ten.
Out this week? Boston Celtics (36-33), losers of four straight.
- NBA Power Rankings (Top Ten) (dlfwriting.com)