Being a purist, I can’t say I like the 66-game season.
But it is leading to some compelling games in late March as both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference races refuse to be unbunched, the Clippers are on the precipice with coach Vinny Del Negro and are being picked apart by columnists who are starting to recognize the weaknesses that were apparent to only a few of us early in the season, and Olympic fever is starting to show some signs of life as we wonder whether Mike Krzyzewski (who has a lot of time on his hands now) wants to make Carmelo Anthony (who played power forward in Beijing) a three-time Olympian, or hand that position over to LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin or Kevin Love. It can’t help ‘Melo’s case that Mike D’Antoni is an assistant on Team USA and is in charge of the offense.
Of course, ‘Melo can help his own cause by playing like he player he once was, and he has 17 games left to do that.
But the numbers don’t lie, and Anthony is not only playing the worst ball of his career (20.0 ppg, .399 FG pct), he was dragging Amare Stoudemire down with him until the coaching change was made and Mike Woodson took over. You get the feeling that the Knicks’ fate rests more in Amare’s hands than it does in Melo’s.
Now that almost everyone’s NCAA bracket is busted (please excuse my Marquette reference in last week’s rankings), we encourage you to get your action fix by playing in our freeroll fantasy contests each Friday — or by joining DraftStreet as a cash player and doing it nightly, like our prolific fantasy writer, Kent Williams, has been doing with varied degrees of success. Please follow him on Twitter.
Biggest movers this week are the Hawks and Jazz. I continue to run hot and cold on the Grizzlies, with good reason. Also, I don’t believe the San Antonio Spurs care whether they finish first or second. Hence the swap in their positions.
Enjoy the week ahead and the warmer weather. Mark Heisler’s rankings will run Wednesday, and if you missed the first “Dear Donald” letter he has penned since leaving the Los Angeles Times, you can read it by clicking here.
|LAST WEEK: 3-0 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: WED at ATL
Would they have dropped from this lofty perch with a loss to the lowly Raptors on Saturday night? I was wondering that myself as Andrea Bargnani’s game-winner at the end of regulation went in and out. Then Luol Deng made it a moot point with a put-back at the overtime buzzer. Seems safe to say Tom Thibodeau has locked up COY honors. Please say a prayer for family of longtime Sun-Times beat writer Lacy Banks, who passed away last week.
|LAST WEEK: 3-0 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: SUN at OKC
Gained a split of the season series against Orlando by winning by 10 last Sunday, then went out and signed Ronny Turiaf, who can defend Dwight Howard in the playoffs should the teams meet in the second round. Six of next seven are back-to-backs, including a pair against the Thunder. Also still gave three games remaining vs. Boston.
|LAST WEEK: 2-1 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: SUN v. MIA
Need to stay ahead of the Spurs, who won the season series. Six of last 18 games are against Eastern Conference teams, but half those six are against Miami and Chicago — and they also still have two remaining road games at Staples vs. Lakers (think D-Fish will be stoked?). Durant and Westbrook became first teammates to both score 40 in a game twice in a season.
|LAST WEEK: 3-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: TUE at PHX
No more back-to-backs for Manu Ginobili, coach Pop says (that would take him out of lineup for 8 games) while noting that Tim Duncan probably ain’t suiting up tonight in Philly, either. Stephen Jackson has given them 16, 10 and 14 off the bench in last 3 since trade with Golden State. Of remaining 20 games, three are against Lakers and three are against Suns.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: THU vs. OKC
Welcome to the present, Laker fans. It’s been quite a few years, but the NBA has changed the rules and instituted a hands-off policy against defenders on the perimeter, which gives an enormous advantage to speedy drive-and-kick point guards. They are finally getting to see it with Sessions, who backed up Blake for all of four games.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: WED at NYK
Last week we told you their key game was Monday against the Bulls. And what did they do in that game? They scored all of 59 points, allowing Chicago to set a regular-season defensive record. But does it matter? Probably not. Magic appear locked in to be bracketed against Miami for the second round — if they make it that far.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: TUE vs HOU
Gotta love the passion that comes out in Texas fans whenever these guys, Spurs and/or Rockets play each other. Memo to Easy Dave: Can we move OKC to this division and have more of the same? Two more left vs. Rockets, with Rick Carlisle telling team Saturday “the playoffs have begun” prior to OT victory vs. Houston.
|LAST WEEK: 4-1 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: WED vs. CHI
Saturday night entertainment at Casa de Sheridan included Wizard of Oz with 6-year-old followed by Hawks-Wizards tight fourth quarter. Joe Johnson out cold-blooded Wicked Witch of the West. Putting together a pretty decent month of March, and Larry Drew has my vote right now for runner-up to Thibs in COY race. Good test week for them with five worthy opponents
|LAST WEEK: 2-1 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: SAT vs ATL
They have the Celtics’ number, that’s for sure. But let’s not be too quick to give them the Atlantic Division. They finish with six of seven on the road, and they lose tiebreaker to Knicks. And they are only 7-12 since Valentines Day.
|LAST WEEK: 2-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: SAT vs UTA
Opened the “Save Vinny Del Negro’s job” five-game homestand with impressive showing vs. Grizzlies as Nick Young quickly goes back to bench. If I was giving advice to Donald Sterling (which I don’t do, but Mark Heisler does) I would tell Donald J. Sterling to pick up the option year on VDN’s contract, take away lame duck status. Lame ducks get run over in this league (see D’Antoni, Mike).
|LAST WEEK: 4-0 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: SAT at LAC
This week’s big risers taking six-game win streak with them as they pile up the frequent flyer miles this week, playing in Atlanta, Jersey, Boston, Salt Lake and El Lay. Five of next six are on the road, where they are 7-16. Yes, 7-16 — also known as a worse road record than that of the Nets, who are 10-16 away from the Rock.
|LAST WEEK: 3-1 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: MON vs MIA
If there is one team that is hoping the Knicks do not rise up and seize the Atlantic Division, it is these guys. They would open in New York in a 4-5 matchup against a team that has manhandled them in much the same manner as they manhandled the Bucks in Milwaukee on Saturday night, winning by 21 amid Hansbrough-Dunleavy dust-up.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: TUE vs. MIN
Gilbert Arenas a combined 2-for-9 in his first two appearances, for which we will forgive as him shaking of the rust. Check back in a week and we will judge him on a larger body of evidence. How is it that they were a better team without Zach than with him? Have lost 6 of 8 after 11-2 stretch.
|LAST WEEK: 2-1 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: WED vs UTA
Finished 4-4 on their eight-game road trip, which ain’t all that bad for a bunch of guys who are at their best doing 55 mph in the left-hand lane. Yes, they closed the trip with an embarrassing loss at Philly. Well, you try spending two weeks away from home and see how you are doing at the end of your sojourn. Are 2-1 vs. Knicks and have clinched head-to-head tiebreaker over Milwaukee. Relatively easy week ahead, then a toughie.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: TUE at DAL
OT loss to Maverick spoiled what would have been quite a good week. Has anybody in the NBA improved their value more than Goran Dragic? In 9 games since Kyle Lowry went out, Dragic is averaging 37.3 minutes, 17.0 points, 9.4 assists and 1.89 steals while shooting 51 percent overall and 46 percent from the arc.
|LAST WEEK: 3-1 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: MON vs MIL
Mike Woodson is 5-1 since taking over, and his big test comes Monday night against the Bucks. Knicks are 0-2 vs. Milwaukee and need to win that one and a rematch April 11 to tie the season series. Right now, they are as likely to win the division as they are to miss the playoffs. The defensive intensity is there, but ‘Melo’s offense is not. Last time he led all scorers in any game was Jan. 31.
|LAST WEEK: 1-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: SUN at MIN
Tough time to be on a seven-game road trip on which they pretty much have to go 3-4 at the worst to hang onto their playoff position. Lead the league in scoring, but 29th in points allowed (Ben Gordon was the latest beneficiary of their benevolence). Have lost season series vs. Utah. Have two left vs. both Rockets and Suns. McGee 2-for-7 on FTs since trade.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: TUE vs SA
Steve Nash had his third 17-assist game of the season Friday night, the 44th of his career. (Jason Kidd is next among active players with 26). Marcin Gortat appeared to have forgotten everything he ever learned defending Dwight Howard in practice. D-12 outscored him 28-4 as Polish Hammer finally made his return to Orlando.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: MON at NY
Playoff teams should not be allowing 125 points to anybody, and as Scott Skiles said after Indiana dropped that total on them, it is time they started knocking off a few teams above them if they are going to make a serious bid for that eighth spot. Maybe on Tuesday at home against Atlanta, if not the previous night in New York?
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: SUN vs DEN
Something to watch for this summer: Will Kevin Love supplant Carmelo Anthony as the starting power forward for Team USA? Something to watch for in meantime: K.Love has eight 30-15 games this season. The rest of the league has seven. I read that here.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: THU vs NO
Kaleb Canales is just the fifth coach in NBA history younger than 34. The others were George Karl (Cleveland in 1984-85), Stu Jackson (New York in 1989-90), Sidney Lowe (Minnesota in 1992-93) and Lawrence Frank (New Jersey in 2003-04).
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: SAT vs NJ
Came awfully close to a 4-0 week, hence the bump up. Isaiah Thomas is generating some ROY support — 2nd place edition behind Kyrie Irving.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: SUN vs POR
David Lee was one assist away from a triple-double when he got ready to inbound Sat. night vs. the Kings and held the ball too long for a 5-second violation. (No big man to lob it to?) Richard Jefferson has taken 53 shots since his arrival. Andris Biedrins has taken 57 all season.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: FRI vs. MIA
Kudos for taking Chicago to OT, nearly pulling of their best win of season. Coach Casey’s guys have not quit, and they put a temporary end to Woodsonity in New York by beating Knicks in their only lifeless performance since D’Antoni left.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: FRI vs MIA
Anderson Varejao could return before the end of the season, to which we ask: For what? The time to tank has arrived. The lottery awaits — and no franchise knows better than anything can happen in Secaucus.
|LAST WEEK: 0-4 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE
They are 28th in points, 28th in rebounds. Not a good combo. Ben Gordon’s 9-for-9 on 3s vs. Denver tied NBA record set by Latrell Sprewell in 2003 and tied by Gordon in 2006.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE
Swept the season series from the Bobcats, but patience is running thin for Deron Williams. He picked up four technical fouls this week.
|LAST WEEK: 1-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE
Chris Kaman did not want a buyout because he can keep padding his numbers over the remainder of the season before becoming a free agent. An astute financial move. In other news, Lance Thomas started for them Saturday night and they nearly beat Spurs.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE
Welcome was Washington, Nene. You just joined a team that is capable of blowing 22-point leads on consecutive nights, as you just witnessed.
|LAST WEEK: 0-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE
Stephen Silas got to coach them again Saturday night, and Avery Johnson left his starters in until 2 minutes remained to make sure Nets got a W.