Happy April Fool’s Day, but I have no jokes for you.
I am glad to have the month of March behind us, because the next our weeks are going to be riveting in the NBA with the playoff races the way they are.
Remember, our body clocks and our minds are trained to believe that there are 10-12 days left in the regular season.
But this is the post-lockout season, remember?
So the drama will last an extra couple of weeks. That means that as much as it seems Milwaukee and Minnesota are out of contention, it simply isn’t true. Teams still have 20 percent of their schedules in front of them, which is not a small percentage.
So beware those who may prematurely write someone off, or prematurely bestow MVP honors on a certain player. That race is as up for grabs as the conference seedings races, and there is a case to be made (actually, we have been making it here all season) that Kevin Love very much deserves to be in the debate.
Big movers this week include Clippers, Celtics and Nets.
Yes, the Nets, who can have a major impact on the Atlantic Division race if they can keep up their winning ways.
|LAST WEEK: 2-1 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: SUN at OKC
If Derrick Rose does not play in today’s epic tilt against the Thunder, that’ll make it 10 straight games he has sat out (Bulls are 7-2 in their last nine). Personally, I want to see him go against Russell Westbrook, who overtook Rose on coach Mike Krzyzewski’s depth chart during 2010 Worlds in Istanbul. This will be only Thunder-Bulls game of the (regular) season.
|LAST WEEK: 3-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: SUN v. MIA
Quite a week they had, and if they can match it this week (Bulls, Grizzlies, Heat, Pacers) they’ll be in the top spot in these rankings next Sunday. But keep in mind that any slippage could be especially costly because they need to stay ahead of the Spurs, who won the season series. Five-game road trip when season has 10 days left may decide the West. They are at LAC, PHX and LAL on that trip.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: WED vs OKC
Three games left vs. Boston, beginning today, two vs. Chicago and one vs. Oklahoma City. We’ll ultimately judge them more on those games than we will on their 15-point loss at Indiana, which showed all the signs of a team sleepwalking through the NBA’s dog days. LBJ 8-of-16 vs. DAL and 11-of-18 vs. TOR. Before that, he hadn’t shot 50 percent in four games. Still shooting .511 (last season he finished at .510).
|LAST WEEK: 4-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: WED at BOS
OK, they’ve won 10 of 11 — but they are not breathing down the necks of the Thunder just yet. April brings three, count ‘em, three games against the Lakers — but the rest of the schedule is more favorable than OKC’s. Can’t help but wonder if Pop will lift his back-to-back sitdown plans if first place in conference is within reach. Home court in a Game 7 vs. OKC would be huge.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: WED vs OKC
Funny sight Saturday afternoon: After Kobe went 0-for-15 in first three quarters, ex-teammate Trevor Ariza was smiling when Bryant’s game-breaking 3-pointer was in the air in win over Hornets. Ariza knew it was going in. Mamba is still the player I’d choose to take the last shot in any game. He is squarely in MVP debate. “Where would they be without him” question looms large in his favor.
|LAST WEEK: 4-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: WED vs LAL
Can we consider Vinny’s job saved? For all the hand-wringing in Los Angeles, well-documented here by Mark Heisler, we’ve got a team that begins the week tied for the second-longest winning streak in the league (5 games), which happens to be a season-high for Mr. Sterling and his lame-duck, unworthy-of-having-his-option-picked-up coach. Can win season series and clinch tiebreaker by beating Lakers.
|LAST WEEK: 1-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: SAT at PHI
Why do I have them this high when the Nets had a better week (think Dwight noticed?). Because they can play with Miami, who they might meet in the second round (although April 18 game vs. Boston looking more and more important for seeding purposes, with Celts already having clinched season series), and because “mind-boggling” (Stan’s words) works both ways.
|LAST WEEK: 2-1 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: MON vs LAC
Dirk has scored 20-plus points in 10 of last 11, comeback in Orlando two nights ago was uber-impressive as Jason Terry, sans headband and high socks in first half after losing a wager to Jameer Nelson, was allowed to wear them in 2nd half (with Nelson’s permission) as Mavs came back from 15 down. Won’t catch Spurs, but could pass Lakers/Clippers for No. 3 seed.
|LAST WEEK: 4-0 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: WED vs SA
Highest ranking of the year for the Men in Green, who go into Miami on Sunday looking for their third five-game winning streak of the season (first 4 all by double digits). Have knocked Sixers off their perch in Atlantic, but still figure to be ultimately undone by their lack of size and rebounding (30th in NBA). Beginning very difficult stretch of schedule with seven quality opponents coming up.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: SAT vs BOS
Beat the Heat by 15 and then lose to the Nets by 16? OK, the Nets did have their best week of the season, but still … If they beat the Celtics on Saturday night, they win the season series 3-1. But more importantly, they create some separation. If teams finish with same record, Boston gets third seed because division winner is first tie-breaker.
|LAST WEEK: 2-3 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: SAT at CHA
Get ready to see them climb. Of next 8 games, two apiece against Bobcats, Pistons and Raptors. So it is not out of the question that they catch Orlando and jump all the way to the No. 3 seed. If that happens, there should be a groundswell of support for Larry Drew to finish runner-up to Thibs for COY. But final four are Celtics, Knicks, Clippers and Mavs.
|LAST WEEK: 3-1 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: WED at DAL
Tied with Miami and San Antonio among playoff teams for most remaining games (16), and play five in six nights this week starting with back-to-back-to-back vs OKC, GS and Dallas, followed by back-to-back against Heat and Mavs. Gonna need more out of Mike Conley, who had zero assists and zero steals (despite being the league leader in latter category) against Houston on Fri. night.
|LAST WEEK: 2-1 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: FRI at LAL
Marcus Camby moves into starting lineup and goes for 16 boards and six blocks against Grizzlies, reminding everyone that he can be a difference maker for an upstart in the postseason. And these guys are the definition of upstarts, two deep at every position and loaded with vets. Goran Dragic the clubhouse leader for Most Improved Player award, unless Stern vetoes that, too.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: SAT vs ORL
Before we count them out of the Atlantic Division race, let’s remember that they have two left vs. Toronto and three vs. New Jersey, although they play nine of their last 11 on the road. Plus they have tiebreaker vs Celtics (2-0) no matter what happens next Sunday when teams meet for third and final time. Why the big drop? They lost by 21 to the Wizards, that’s why.
|LAST WEEK: 3-1 THIS WEEK: 2 games KEY GAME: TUE at IND
Linsanity is over with Jeremy out for 6 weeks, though they should have Amare Stoudemire back before the end of the regular season. Mike Woodson is 9-2 since taking over, they’ve won seven in a row at home, and J.R. Smith just came of the bench for 20 points and five steals. How is it that both he and Iman Shumpert are behind Landry Fields (11 straight single-digit scoring games) on depth chart?
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: FRI vs PHX
Haven’t won two in a row since March 4-5, which is reason for their placement below banged-up Knicks. Yet they did beat the Bulls in Chicago last week, sandwiched around road losses to the Wolves and Raptors (?!?!). Went 2-for-17 and had 25 turnovers vs. Bobcats yet still won by 11. Need to finish ahead of Jazz, as Utah has the tiebreaker. Make-or-break games are Apr. 15-16 home-and-home vs. Rockets.
|LAST WEEK: 1-4 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: WED vs POR
Seven-game home winning streak goes out the window as Derrick Favors (0-for-13) misses a gimme tip-in just before buzzer in loss to Kings in which Devin Harris sits final 16 minutes in favor of Earl Watson and Alec Burks. Quad-OT loss at Atlanta seems to have had carryover draining effect. Allowed 38 1st quarter points to Clippers team playing their 20th game of March.
|LAST WEEK: 1-2 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: WED at UTA
Mainstream media’s obsession with where Steve Nash will play next year is out of control. Miami, New York, Toronto? Can we worry about this year? Suns just won 11 of 17 in March, and they’d be the talk of the league if they hadn’t lost their last two. Five games left vs. Utah, Denver and/or Houston. Tuesday begins stretch of seven of eight on the road. Five of last six are at home.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: SAT vs POR
This could be a 4-0 week they have upcoming (Wash, Cleve, Char, Port), which would vault them ahead of Knicks if NY loses its only two games — both on the road. Still have a 2-1 season series lead on ‘Bockers, who travel to Milwaukee Apr. 11 as Bucks close five-game homestand.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: SUN at POR
Not for nothing, but like their Midwestern brethren ranked one spot above them, they could have a 4-0 week ahead of them (Blazers, Kings, Warriors, Hornets). And let’s face it, they pretty much need a 4-0 week to keep hope alive. If Kevin Love doesn’t win Player of the Month honors for March, they should abolish the award.
|LAST WEEK: 2-2 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: SUN vs MIN
Johnny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet since Rockets trade: Combined 22 points in 77 minutes. J.J. Hickson in first start after waiver claim: 29 points (13-for-19 shooting) and 13 rebounds in 36 minutes vs. Clips, though Chris Paul keeps ball out of Jamal Crawford’s hands for final shot of one-point loss.
|LAST WEEK: 3-1 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: TUE at LAL
Won three in a row for first time all season by beating Sacramento, giving them a better road record (12-16) than home record (7-19). Only seven games left at the Purgatory Center before move to Brooklyn, one of which, on April 18, gives them a chance to play spoiler vs. Knicks.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE
Keith Smart says they have lost 11 games due to mistakes in final 2 1/2 minutes. Three months ago, who would have guessed that DeMarcus Cousins was their biggest keeper and Tyreke Evans was most expendable. Number of teams with no key games remaining has been expanded to eight.
|LAST WEEK: 0-4 THIS WEEK: 5 games KEY GAME: NONE
Might as well tank the rest of their games, because Utah owns their first-round pick unless it is top 7. (Nets once owned their pick, but gave it up in Deron Williams trade.) Outscored 32-16 by Nets in fourth quarter, leading Gerald Wallace to say he might just consider sticking around for the move to Brooklyn.
|LAST WEEK: 3-1 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: NONE
Just came off a 3-1 week, and here’s a factoid you probably didn’t realize: Since the beginning of February, they have a winning record (15-14).
|LAST WEEK: 1-2 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE
Another stat you might not know: Jose Calderon is now tied with Chris Paul for third in the league in assists at 8.8. In assist-to-turnover ratio, Paul has a slight edge: 4.36 to 4.26.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE
An excellent read on the Hornets from SI’s Ian Thomsen. Almost wants to make you believe they have hopes for a winning record in next five years.
|LAST WEEK: 0-5 THIS WEEK: 3 games KEY GAME: NONE
This is the price you pay for losing seven in a row, the last six by double digits.
|LAST WEEK: 1-3 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE
About to play five games in six nights. Good luck with that. Highlight of season was 21-point rout of Sixers. And yes, they’d beat Kentucky.
|LAST WEEK: 0-4 THIS WEEK: 4 games KEY GAME: NONE
If they lose the rest of their games, they surpass ’72-73 Sixers for worst winning percentage in NBA history. I read that here.