THE EAST STILL GETS A TEAM IN THE FINALS, RIGHT?
If you peruse the papers today, there appears to be some shock around the country about how awful the Eastern Conference has been this season.
Is this really a new thing?
Sure, the Pistons and Heat have won two of the last three titles, but at no point during those two seasons was the East the better Conference.
This season, the East appears even worse. The Atlantic Division doesn’t have a winning team right now, and Orlando looks like they might run away with the Southeast.
However, coming into the season, I thought the Central was the only strong division in the Conference, and so far it’s living up to that billing, sort of. The Pistons and Cavaliers are two of three teams in the East with winning records.
You read that right. There are three teams in the Conference with winning records.
As I wrote yesterday, I think the Bulls will turn things around once they get back home. If that happens, you’re looking at a pretty strong division race, and I will be willing to go out on a limb and say the Central will provide the East’s Finals representative this year.
I know, what a limb.
ON THE ROAD WITH THE CLIPPERS
For the five of you that have been reading since prediction time, you’ll recall that I picked the Clippers fourth in the Pacific Division. Even I thought I was crazy when I did it.
But if the Clippers can’t win on the road, they’re actually going to fulfill my prophecy.
The Clip Show dropped another road contest last night, giving away a game in Minnesota by scoring two points down the stretch.
It wasn’t a good week overall for Mike Dunleavy’s crew.
They lost a ‘road’ game to the Lakers on Tuesday when they couldn’t stop Kobe Bryant.
Then, the Clippers came out sluggish the next night and got smoked by the Seattle Sonics.
And there’s more bad news to accompany a 0-3 week.
Chris Kaman is out indefinitely with a sprained ankle. Plus, the road trip continues tonight against red-hot Denver, and then Los Angeles heads to Sacramento to wrap up the trip.
Before the Minnesota game, Mike Dunleavy told the Los Angeles Times, "I know we can play better, and I know we have the right guys. We just need the light bulb to come on, and I don't know when it will. I keep hoping it's going to be the next game."
If that light doesn’t come on before this mini-trip is over, the Clippers could very well find themselves in last place heading into a re-match with the Lakers next Saturday night.
In a division this good, that’s never a place you want to be.
WHO SHOULD START FOR THE KNICKS IN THE BACKCOURT?
The Knicks are a difficult team to sit and watch. I tried Saturday night when they hosted the Bulls.
What I saw was a horrible first-half, an inspired run sparked by Renaldo Balkman of all people, a lot of sloppy play (N.Y. had 25 turnovers), and a smattering of boos from the Garden faithful.
The Knicks are not good, but in an Atlantic Division that’s completely up for grabs, they have as good a shot at the playoffs as anyone else.
So, let me help Isiah Thomas, who can’t figure out what his backcourt lineup should be.
Stop jerking with Steve Francis and start him. Start Stephon Marbury as well to avoid the inevitable blowup (whoops, too late) and bring Jamal Crawford off the bench in spurts.
To me, too much is being made about Francis and Marbury, and not enough is being made about the constant inconsistency of Crawford.
There’s no question Crawford has tremendous talent and athletic ability. I would never take that away from him.
However, Crawford’s decision making has always been questionable, and that’s being polite.
The Knicks looked great when they put the ball in Steve Francis’ hands and let him make plays last night.
But when Crawford has the ball, he’s always looking to score, even in impossible situations, and this Knicks team has way too much talent to put up with that kind of mentality.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when Crawford plays less than 30 minutes, the Knicks are 3-2, and when he plays 30 or more, they’re 2-8.
Maybe that’s not fair, and maybe I’m trying to defend an argument, but in my opinion, Crawford is best as an energy spark off of the bench. Isiah Thomas needs to realize this once and for all and limit his playing time to maximize his efficiency.
-Is it really fair to blame the Grizzlies’ problems on Mike Fratello? What is he supposed to do without Pau Gasol?
-Ben Wallace apparently really likes wearing a headband, so much so that last night he defied a Scott Skiles’ team rule that says Chicago players can’t wear one. This led to a benching and a team meeting after the game. This is something to keep an eye on.
-My belief is that you can pick out the championship contenders by looking at road records. In other words, teams that win on the road are legit. So, who’s legit right now? Detroit, Utah, Denver, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. The Nuggets are the only team on this list that surprises me.
-My five MVP candidates from the first month of the season: Dirk Nowitski, LeBron James, Deron Williams, Carmelo Anthony and Carlos Boozer. I’d give it to Dirk if you made me choose right now.