19. March 2011 00:58
A surprising number of playoff contenders have cooled off since the All-Star Break. Boston, Atlanta, New York, and Dallas all lost Friday night, and are worse percentage-wise since the Break than they were before.
Here are the records of the top 8 teams in the East since the Break:
New York 7-7
Boston was 40-14 before the Break. Recent trades and some injury issues have the Celtics working toward building a new chemistry rather than steamrolling the league. They were barely in Friday's 93=77 loss to Houston.
New York fell at Detroit Friday night 99-95, getting outscored by 12 points in the fourth quarter on night two of a back to back.
Atlanta isn't just 5-9 since the Break, they're 6-12 over their last 18 games. The Hawks were squashed by Miami 106-85 Friday evening, in a game that strongly resembled an 102-87 loss to Denver earlier in the week, and a 101-87 home loss to the Lakers not too long ago. If you can't compete with playoff caliber teams on your home floor...how are you going to do anything in the playoffs?
The eight teams as a composite 60-49 since the break. That's a .546 clip lately, for a group of teams that was a combined .609 performance before the layoff.
The eight teams currently slotted to make the Western playoffs:
LA Lakers 11-1
San Antonio 9-3
Oklahoma City 10-4
New Orleans 7-5
No losing records in this group. The Lakers obviously found a new gear. The big news here may be the cooling off of Dallas. Not only are they 8-5 after a 40-16 first half. They're 3-5 their last eight games on the heels of an 18-1 rampage. They've been overdue to lose some close games. Dallas has dropped decisions of 1-point (twice), 3-points, 5-points, and 6-points in the mini-slump.
It's much harder to take Dallas seriously as a championship threat given these two recent scores:
LA Lakers 96, Dallas 91
San Antonio 97, Dallas 91
Almost identical games, both coming at home against the Western conference favorites. Again, if you can't beat these teams at HOME late in the year...
*Orlando's Jameer Nelson hit a 3-point shot at the buzzer to lead the Magic to an 85-82 over the Denver Nuggets. This was a true defensive struggle, with neither team topping 40%. Get ready for more of this from Denver in the playoffs stylistically.
*Carmelo Anthony was just 2 of 12 from the floor in New York's loss at Detroit. Chauncey Billups was 4 of 10 shooting and had 8 turnovers. Since returning from injury, Billups is 4 of 22 on treys, and has only been to the charity stripe for 14 free throws in four games. Toney Douglas had another great outing. He was 4 of 8 on treys, scored 20 points, had 11 assists, and had the best plus/minus on the team with +2 (in a 4-point loss) in 33 minutes.
*Big game for San Antonio's "big three." Tony Parker scored 33 points on 14 of 22 shooting. Manu Ginobili scored 25 on 7 of 16 shooting. Tim Duncan had 22 points, 8 rebounds, and a plus/minus of +17 in 32 minutes. The bench has been getting a lot of credit for San Antonio's great play this year. Friday, the bench was 6 of 26 shooting, and the Spurs still beat an archrival on the road.
*Monster night for LeBron James. He scored 43 points in 31 minutes in Atlanta. The Heat need to figure out a way to level out their recent extremes. Their "average" game over the last 10 is a 3-point win, but their record is 4-6.
It's a shame the Friday schedule was so hectic for basketball fans between the NBA and March Madness. On a quieter night we could have gone more in depth with the marquee matchups and added some NCAA notes. More time for that next week. Have a great weekend. See you again Monday night...