At the season's halftime, the Pistons are number one
With the NBA closing in on its All-Star Weekend, the Detroit Pistons have yet to lose 10 games, the Dallas Mavericks have found their defense and the tragedy-plagued New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets are among the NBA's playoff-hungry teams. Ron Artest, Ricky Davis, Wally Szczerbiak and Peja Stojakovic are sporting new colors, while LeBron and his Cavaliers look poised to make a playoff run. So with so much to look forward to in the season's second half, we present our midseason analysis of the glorious game of basketball, composed by our sharpest NBA experts.
| Abe's Top 10 Power Rankings:|| Ethan's Top 10 Power Rankings:|
|1. Detroit Pistons (40-8)||1. Detroit Pistons (40-8)|
|2. Dallas Mavericks (38-10)|| 2. San Antonio Spurs (38-10)|
| 3. Phoenix Suns (32-17)|| 3. Dallas Mavericks (38-10)|
| 4. San Antonio Spurs (38-10)|| 4. Miami Heat (30-19)|
| 5. Los Angeles Clippers (29-18)|| 5. Phoenix Suns (32-17)|
| 6. Cleveland Cavaliers (29-19)|| 6. Los Angeles Clippers (29-18)|
| 7. Miami Heat (30-19)|| 7. Cleveland Cavaliers (29-19)|
| 8. New Jersey Nets (26-21)|| 8. New Jersey Nets (26-21)|
| 9. Denver Nuggets (26-24)|| 9. NO/OK City Hornets (25-23)|
| 10. NO/OK City Hornets (25-23)|| 10. Indiana Pacers (24-22)|
Ethan: Pistons over Heat
The Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat boast the two best records in the East, although several teams, such as the Cleveland Cavs and New Jersey Nets, are capable of putting together dangerous winning streaks that could shake up the conference standings. That being said, the Pistons, whose five starters have all been to the Conference Championship at least once before, have the experience to put away younger teams. The Heat, on the other hand, have tremendous depth and a virtually unstoppable inside-outside game in point guard Dwyane Wade and center Shaquille O'Neal. After a heart-breaking loss in the NBA Finals last season to the San Antonio Spurs, the Pistons are hungry to prove their worth. Under new head coach Flip Saunders, expect the Pistons to edge out the Heat in seven games.
Western Conference Finals Predictions
Abe: Suns over L.A. Clippers
The Clippers have surprised the NBA this year by defending their home court (L.A. is 16-7 at home this year) and feeding their monstrous low-post presence, Elton Brand. Brand has anchored the Clips in this season, averaging a solid 25 points and 10 rebounds per game. Point guard Sam Cassell has also provided veteran leadership and a shooter to the team that was once just the skimpy younger brother to the Lakers at Staples Center. The Clippers will storm through the Western Conference playoffs not because of their superior talent, but because of their work ethic and collection of young and enthusiastic young players, with Cassell guiding them. But the Phoenix Suns aren't rookies to the postseason. MVP candidate Steve Nash gives the Suns a go-to guy and a playoff-tested warrior who can run the show (Nash averages 11 assists per game). Shawn Marion, Raja Bell, Eddie House, Kurt Thomas, Boris Diaw…the names go on for Phoenix, and finally all these guys can play defense, too, fueled by Diaw's intensity on the boards and his shot-blocking ability. The X-Factor here is the presumed return of superstar forward Amare Stoudemire. When Stoudemire gets back from his season-long injury, it's over ("it" being the Western Conference playoffs).
Ethan: Mavericks over Spurs
Keep your cowboy boots on Spurs fans and face the facts: the combination of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse and Josh Howard may pack enough firepower and stifling defense to do the unthinkable: defeat the World Champion Spurs. With six players averaging in double figures, the Spurs will have to play an offensive-minded game and keep up with the fast-pace of the Mavericks, who, behind Nowitzki, average close to 100 points per game and hold opponents to just under 94 points per game. The teams have split a pair of games and will face each other two more times this season. They boast the same record, but, as of late, Dallas has been playing some stellar defense and should continue their balanced play well into the playoffs.
NBA Finals Predictions
Abe: Pistons over Suns
Plain and simple, these are the teams best built for the playoffs in their respective conferences. The Pistons' team play and excellent defense will propel them to the Finals, while the Suns will integrate Amare Stoudemire into their already explosive squad when he returns. Unlike last year's NBA Finals match-up of two teams that like to slow it down and play half-court defense, this match-up will pit Phoenix's high-flying, fast-breaking group of youngsters against the veteran Pistons, who would rather run their offense patiently and slow down the game's tempo. At the end of the day, the Pistons will be victorious because they are incredibly well-coached, well-disciplined and experienced. Plus, the Pistons wouldn't mind sticking it to Larry Brown, their ex-coach who jumped ship over the summer to take over the drowning Knicks. As for the Suns, they will simply end up another one of the Pistons' victims.
Ethan: Pistons over Mavericks
Don't let the defense fool you. In a match-up that pits the third- and ninth-ranked defenses against each other, this year's NBA Finals should in fact be a balanced battle of offense and defense. The Mavericks are ninth in the league in scoring, while the Pistons follow closely behind at 11th. Both teams also have at least four players scoring in double figures. The only difference between these two similar teams is experience. In the Pistons, coach Flip Saunders has a veteran squad capable of getting it done on both sides of the floor. Saunders is working with a unit that knows its potential, is used to winning and is eager to prove themselves after a narrow defeat in last year's finals. The Mavericks may have a more potent offense, but it's been proven that, in the finals, defense and teamwork prevail. If the Piston's can stifle a dangerous Heat squad, then a victory over the Maverick's shouldn't come as a surprise.
Rookie of the Year
Abe: Chris Paul
The New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets have risen to the top tier of the NBA despite tragedies, scandals and disappointments that have shaken up the franchise. Perhaps the biggest reason why has been the play of first-year point guard Chris Paul. Paul is averaging a ridiculous 16.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.7 assists in 35.7 minutes per game. For a team in desperate need of stability and unselfishness at the point guard spot, Paul has been the Hornets' savior. Though he has been banged up of late, Paul has proven to his critics that he can be a superstar in the NBA, and his rookie season has been nothing short of spectacular. In addition to ranking sixth in assists, the Wake Forest product is second in the NBA in steals, averaging 2.2 a night.
Ethan: Charlie Villanueva
Charlie Villanueva, the rookie from University of Connecticut, has emerged as one of the most valuable rookies in the Eastern Conference, if not in the entire league. While not exactly a turnaround team, the former cellar-dweller Raptors have in the last two seasons shown promise of becoming a .500 team. Villanueva has done his part to make sure that the Raptors' "bottom of the barrel" days are over. Villanueva has been displaying remarkable maturity and poise while posting solid numbers. At 6-11, Villanueva is certainly a threat in the post, but his silky jumper and consistent three-point shooting make him dangerous from outside as well. Villanueva posts a 47 percent field goal average while scoring over 12 points and five rebounds per game. He currently averages over 26 minutes per game, a number that will likely increase with the absence of forward Jalen Rose.
Most Valuable Player
Abe: Steve Nash
Just like last year, point guard Steve Nash has led the Phoenix Suns to first place in the Pacific division. And just like last year, Nash is leading the NBA in assists, with 11 per game. Last year Steve Nash won the NBA's MVP award. But what makes Nash's 2005-2006 campaign so much more impressive is that he is leading a Suns team without one of its key components — All-Star power forward Amare Stoudemire. Stoudemire's presence has been sorely missed this season, and yet Nash has kept his teammates together with his leadership, court vision and clutch shooting. He may not lead the league (or even his own team) in scoring, and may not be flashy, but Steve Nash is most definitely the NBA's Most Valuable Player.
Ethan: LeBron James
Mark my words, in two years or fewer, Lebron James will be wearing another ring on his little finger. If he doesn't carry his team to an NBA championship this year, Lebron will propel the Cavs, with as many triple-doubles as it takes, to the top of the pack by the 07-08 season. James is the most well-rounded, talented and athletic player in the league. Court-vision, ball handling, monster hops, a sweet J, highlight reel dunks — you name it and he has it. Not only that, the Cavs are poised to win their division and have the third best record in the East. Why? Lebron James.
Abe: Los Angeles Clippers
Until this year, the Los Angeles Clippers were the laughing stock of the NBA, the punchline to every basketball joke, the untalented little brother to the "real" Los Angeles team, the Lakers. Well, no more, Clippers fans! L.A. is finally among the NBA's elite, finally better than the Lakers and finally (finally!) playoff-bound. The Clippers are currently 11 games over the .500-mark for the first time, at 29-18. No, not for the first time this season — for the first time ever in the team's history. The fact that the Clippers are above .500 is the surprise, and the fact that they're in the playoff hunt is utterly unbelievable. But with power forward Elton Brand putting up monster numbers and veterans Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley providing moral support, there could be more surprises to come from L.A.
Ethan: New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets
After a horrendous 18-64 finish last year, the Hornets have rebounded to a 25-23 record midway through the season. The Hornets largely have rookie point guard Chris Paul to thank for their recent success. His 16.4 points per game, and 7.7 assists rank first among all rookies in the league and his leadership on the floor has propelled the Hornets to their best start since Baron Davis was in town two seasons ago. The Hornets have persevered in one of the toughest divisions in the league (Southwest) while also having to deal with personal issues including the suspension of forward Chris Anderson. The Hornets define a turnaround team. A late season push could easily have the Hornets, Cellar dwellers only the year before, knocking on the playoff's door this year.
Abe: Seattle Supersonics
The fact that you probably haven't noticed Seattle this season is indicative of the disappointment they have been. Last season the Sonics were competing in the playoffs. They now find themselves fourth in the Northwest division, with a putrid 19-30 record. Seattle's problem is certainly not in its talent — former All-Stars Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen and energetic young point guard Luke Ridnour and solid power forward Nick Collison make up the Sonics' core group, with veteran balers Flip Murray and Danny Fortson coming off the bench. Rather, it's clear that the Sonics' problems lie with their coach. The Sonics lost head coach Nate McMillan to the Portland Trailblazers in the offseason, a loss that has haunted them ever since.
Ethan: New York Knicks
The New York Knicks had high hopes for this year. During the offseason they acquired former Pistons coach Larry Brown, the fourth-most winningest coach in league history. Coming off of two stellar seasons with the Pistons, the Knicks management believed that Brown would be the catalyst for a recently dormant Knicks team. In a controversial trade, they also sent Antonio Davis and Tim Thomas to the Chicago Bulls for center Eddy Curry. So far, the Knicks have showed no sign of reversing their losing ways. They have posted only 14 wins in 48 games and are far from playing the type of defense that Brown is known for. At the beginning of the season Curry was regarded as one of the most promising big men in the Eastern Conference. However, he has posted mediocre stats so far, 14 points per game to go with a little over six rebounds.
Ethan Kuhnhenn. Ethan Kuhnhenn is a junior in the Communication Arts program and is entering his first year as a SCO staff member. When he's not fishing in his new bass boat, you can probably find him at Taco Bell chilling with his best friend, the cheesy … More »
Abe Schwadron. Abe is a huge basketball, baseball, and football fan that likes to read up on sports in SLAM, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN magazines. Hobbies include streetball, poker and film-making. A sneaker addict, Abe likes to keep his kicks fresh. Abe likes reggae and hip-hop music, … More »