There are less than a dozen games left in the NBA regular season, and the most dramatic race still going on is a five-team scrum in the Western Conference for three playoff spots. Those five clubs – the Warriors, Rockets, Lakers, Jazz and Mavericks – are separated by five games in the standings.
None of the previous 25 was any easier than Miami’s 26th consecutive win. LeBron James (32 PTS, 10 AST, 8 REB, 3 STL, 3 BLK) played 34 minutes — way more than expected or even necessary — and Chris Bosh (15 PTS, 6 REB, 3 BLK) was the only other regular to get involved, as Dwyane Wade was given the night off to rest a tender knee.
Reader Brian C. is back in a big way.
Brian C. had been an active participant in The Bernucca List earlier this season, providing the correct answer for two lists. But we hadn’t heard from him in a while.
Meanwhile, fellow readers such as Ody P. narrowed the gap on season leader Brian Rivel, who has nailed the correct answer to three lists.
But Brian C. is back in the picture as he was the first with the correct answer to last week’s list, which was “active players making at least $10 million this season who never have been All-Stars.”
The season toteboard is now all even at the top as Brian Rivel and Brian C. have three wins apiece. Perhaps Brian Rivel will resurface for this week’s list, which is after the jump.
The said Irving had an MRI and CT scan Monday at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health that revealed the non-displaced fracture. Irving will not have surgery but rather will be treated with taping and a splint.
Irving is expected to miss four weeks. He will be re-evaluated in two weeks, when his status will be updated.
With the opening of training camps in late September, there is now more offseason behind us rather than in front of us.
With six weeks to go, many teams are looking to fill the final spot or two on their rosters. And as we pointed out last week, there is not much to choose from.
Although there has been talk about some of these teams possibly adding another player, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Golden State, Indiana, the Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis, New York, Oklahoma City and Phoenix appear to be done and ready to start the season.
Dallas, Detroit and Oklahoma City have 15 players with guaranteed contracts. Chicago, the Lakers and New York are over the luxury tax and Memphis is right against it. And Golden State, Indiana and Phoenix appear to have the roster flexibility to stand pat.
That leaves 20 teams – two-thirds of the league – who need at least one specific player to round out their roster. In our estimation, both Cleveland and New Orleans have multiple holes to fill.
With the gradual trend toward small ball, perhaps we are overreacting a bit. But the greatest positions of need appear to be the big spots of power forward and center. Fifteen teams – half the league – seem to have a roster that is short one big man. One of those teams is the defending champion Miami Heat.
So what does each team need? Let’s take a look.
Who needs a small forward?
ATLANTA: Moving Marvin Williams made financial sense, but it left the Hawks short at the 3-spot. Yes, Josh Smith can play there – and will, alongside Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia. But he is more effective at power forward, and his backup is shooting savant Kyle Korver, who has trouble defending the wing.
BOSTON: The Celtics have had a terrific offseason but need some insurance behind Paul Pierce, who turns 35 in October. Bringing back Jeff Green, who can play both forward spots, alleviates part of the problem. But the C’s need a true small forward. Hmmn, perhaps Mickael Pietrus?
CLEVELAND: This is one of two positions at which the Cavaliers need depth. Right now, their small forwards are Omri Casspi and C.J. Miles, who is expected to play some at shooting guard as well. They made a $2.7 million qualifying offer to Alonzo Gee, who averaged double figures last season and is finally getting attention from other teams.
NEW ORLEANS: The Hornets’ current small forwards are Al-Farouq Aminu and rookie Darius Miller. Yes, Ryan Anderson can and will play there alongside Anthony Davis and Robin Lopez in a big format. But he is too slow to defend that position. Bringing back Lance Thomas is an option.
Who needs a power forward?
CHARLOTTE: The Bobcats don’t seem interested in bringing back D.J. White, which leaves them with a power forward tandem of the inconsistent Tyrus Thomas and the learning-on-the-job Bismack Biyombo. With a center trio of perimeter-based B.J. Mullens and the foul-prone Brendan Haywood and DeSagana Diop, they could probably use a thug as a third power forward.
LA CLIPPERS: We have said throughout the offseason that the moves made by the Clippers have given them the best top 10 of any NBA roster. But their personnel shuffle cleared out Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans, and LA could use someone behind the injury-prone Blake Griffin and the slender Lamar Odom. Trey Thompkins is not the answer. Maybe the underutilized Ronny Turiaf is.
MINNESOTA: Yes, Kevin Love is penciled in for 40 minutes every night. Behind him, however, are combo forwards Derrick Williams and Andrei Kirilenko, neither of whom throw a scare into anyone underneath the basket. What the Wolves really need is a guy who can play both big spots, backing up centers Nikola Pecovic and Greg Steimsma in an emergency.
PHILADELPHIA: No team got bigger in the offseason than the 76ers. Unfortunately, all of the monsters they added or re-signed – Andrew Bynum, Kwame Brown, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen – are centers. They can play a pair side by side, but that will make them a bit slow down low. And given the injury histories of Bynum, Brown and Hawes, Philadelphia could use a true power forward.
TORONTO: You could argue that the Raptors need a center more than a power forward because their long-term look seems to be Andrea Bargnani at center and Jonas Valanciunas at power forward, where Ed Davis is the backup and needs to play. But Toronto may start the season with Bargnani at the 4 and Amir Johnson and Aaron Gray sharing the 5. Whatevere the case, the Raps need another big.
UTAH: C’mon, the Jazz don’t need a power forward! Up front, they’ve got Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and … that’s it, folks. Marvin Williams can play the 4 in a small alignment, but Utah has no 7-footers and clearly needs another power forward.
Who needs a center?
BROOKLYN: Retaining Brook Lopez was a nice consolation prize to losing Dwight Howard, especially given what the Nets have put around their center. But he needs a backup, and after striking out on Nazr Mohammed, Brooklyn has to have a second center because none of its power forwards are big enough to man the pivot.
CLEVELAND: This is the other position the Cavs need to fill. Right now, their centers are rookies Tyler Zeller and Micheal Eric and undersized incumbent Anderson Varejao, who figures to play some at power forward as well. If they add a pivot, they should try to find a veteran.
HOUSTON: The Rockets didn’t get Dwight Howard but they did land Omer Asik, who has averaged 13 minutes per game in his career. His backup appears to be rookie stringbean Donatas Motiejunas. But Houston has a problem because it has the maximum 20 players on its offseason roster.
MIAMI: Many believe the Heat can repeat having added defense-stretchers Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to the mix. But they still have a huge hole in the middle that Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman and rookie Justin Hamilton are not going to effectively fill. With Roy Hibbert, Tyson Chandler, Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard as potential playoff foes, Miami needs a center who can walk and chew gum at the same time.
NEW ORLEANS: Top overall pick Anthony Davis will play both big spots throughout his career. But his athleticism and activity likely will be maximized at power forward alongside Robin Lopez, whom we’re not sure is a 36-minute center. The addition of a small forward would help Ryan Anderson play more at the 4, and Hakim Warrick also is here. But the Hornets desperately need another true center; they just don’t have enough size.
PORTLAND: The potential plan is to start two rookies – Damian Lillard at point guard and Meyers Leonard at center. LaMarcus Aldridge and Eurobig rookie Joel Freeland can play the middle in a pinch, but the Blazers need another real center, and preferably a veteran. To add one, Portland could dump Sasha Pavlovic, whose salary is being paid by Boston.
SACRAMENTO: DeMarcus Cousins is a top-three center whose skills also allow him to play power forward, where the Kings are set with Jason Thompson and rookie Thomas Robinson. The backup center is 6-6 Chuck Hayes, whose big heart disappeared as soon as he got a big contract. Sacramento needs a true pivot, and it would help if he had some veteran leadership for this bunch of young bigs.
SAN ANTONIO: The Spurs don’t often play two true bigs together, but when they do, the best tandem is Tim Duncan at power forward and Tiago Splitter at center. San Antonio’s other “big men” are perimeter-based Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner and undersized center DeJuan Blair, who is on the trading block. The Spurs have a roster spot and should use it on a true center.
Who needs a shooting guard?
DENVER: Yes, the Nuggets just acquired All-Star Andre Iguodala to play shooting guard. But shooting is not one of his stronger skills, and his backups are the equally off-target Corey Brewer and rookie Evan Fournier. Denver needs another knockdown guy to take the heat off Danilo Gallinari.
MILWAUKEE: Although Monta Ellis is routinely among the league leaders in minutes played, his backup right now is rookie Doron Lamb. The Bucks let Carlos Delfino walk away and need to replace him with a veteran who can stroke it a little. Milwaukee could give some shooting guard minutes to Mike Dunleavy, but that’s not the best answer.
Who needs a point guard?
NEW ORLEANS: This is the third position the Hornets need to fill. At the most important position on the floor, they plan to start rookie Austin Rivers, with Greivis Vasquez and his vast experience of 136 career games behind him. As a third point guard, New Orleans could use the practice presence and experience of Mike James, who last season showed he can still play a little bit.
ORLANDO: The Magic are somewhat unsettled at many positions but have some stability at the point with Jameer Nelson. Behind him, however, is recently signed speed burner Ish Smith, who has to show he can make the jump from third-string to backup. Orlando needs a third point guard, preferably someone who has seen some court time.
WASHINGTON: Similar to the Magic, the Wizards are set with John Wall. But his caddies are Shelvin Mack, whose point guard skills are lacking, and A.J. Price, who cannot shoot and took a step back last season in Indiana. Washington has the roster room and the cap space to add another ballhandler.
Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. During the season, his columns appear Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.