The Chicago Bulls have shown they have a squad that is perfect for the shortened season. Their squad is deep, young and hungry and haven’t missed a beat even with all their injury problems. Despite having the best record in the league (41-11), the return of Derrick Rose is paramount to their success going forward. His return could bolster their pursuit of home field advantage for the playoffs – their tough run in includes two games against rivals the Miami Heat. More importantly, he needs some game time before the playoffs. They have shown they can win without him in the regular season – they are 13-5 without their superstar. But the playoffs are a different story and the Bulls will have no chance without Rose on the floor.
The Miami Heat have looked unbeatable at home this year. They have won 15 in a row and are 21-2 at the American Airlines Arena, which is the best home record in the NBA. But on their travels, they have looked anything but unbeatable and following two blow-out losses to Oklahoma City and Indiana Pacers this week, they fell to 15-11 on the road. They have struggled to match the intensity of their opponents as every team gives them their best shot. Home crowds are always up for the occasion too, as they might only get to see the superstars on the Heat roster, such as LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, once a year. Ability alone can get the Heat past the less-talented teams but not against the top outfits who have ruthlessly exposed their lacklustre approach. In March, Miami were 1-6 away to teams currently in a playoff spot. It’s a trend that cannot continue, starting in Boston on Sunday.
The New York Knicks’ season has been a series of runs up and down the standings. Their failure to gel, the emergence of Jeremy Lin, the return of Carmelo Anthony, the firing of their coach and the injury to Amare Stoudemire have all been contributing factors. Their season hasn’t been short of a storyline and has been a constant battle to find the correct chemistry and system in their side. This has coincided with a series of runs which has seen them yo-yo up and down the standings. In January, they lost nine of ten games. The initial stages of ‘Linsanity’ coincided with seven wins in a row. When Anthony returned, they lost six on the trot, prompting the sacking of coach Mike D’Antoni. They have won eight of nine games since Mike Woodson took over the reins and they are back in the playoff picture. A couple of players have picked up injuries recently, but it is just another twist in their topsy-turvy season. One thing is for sure, if they continue their upward trend, no-one will want to face them and all their talent in the playoffs.
The Most Valuable Player trophy is usually given to a player who excelled for a team that won a lot of games in the season. Throughout the history of the league, it has been the mantra the voters have followed. Can Kevin Love buck the trend? James has endured his biggest regular-season slump in a few years and it has blown the race wide open. Kevin Durant, the other major contender, isn’t consistently the best player on his own team. Love has been a force all season, separating himself from a talented pack at the Minnesota Timberwolves, and he has undisputedly become the best power-forward in the game. Since Ricky Rubio went down with a season-ending injury, Love has stepped up again and again. He has averaged 30.5 points and 14.3 rebounds since Rubio got hurt – a run which included a 50 point game against Oklahoma City. Perennial losers, the Timberwolves find themselves just outside the playoff places. If the 23-year-old and his side can make another push over the last month of the season, the voters will have to consider his accomplishments.
There is one thing you can bank on in the Western Conference: Oklahoma City and San Antonio Spurs will finish with the two best records. After that, there are no certainties. Four losses separate the LA Lakers in third place and the Denver Nuggets in ninth. The Portland Trail Blazers in 12th can consider themselves still in the race, and a good run could put them right in the mix. In the Eastern Conference, Miami and Chicago have separated themselves from the pack and things appear geared towards them fighting it out for a place in the NBA finals. The same can’t be said in the West and with so little between all the sides, home advantage will be a huge incentive for the remainder of the season. Expect an exciting month ahead in the conference.
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