The Top Ten Countdown: 4/9/12 Edition

There are no NHL rankings this week, instead you’re all getting a MEGA NHL playoff preview coming tomorrow, Hooray!

NBA

1.  San Antonio Spurs (1st in Western Conference, 40-14 overall, 4-0 this past week); Beat NO and UTH at home, BOS and CLE on the road. Ranked 2st last week in The Top Ten.

The Spurs are currently riding the longest win streak this far into April* since the ’05 Pistons (thanks @NBAguru, but seriously that’s an ESPN reach for a stat). The win in Boston on Wednesday night was particularly impressive because SA survived a late 3 pointer from Ray Allen and a buzzer beater attempt from Paul Pierce that clanked off of the iron. Tim Duncan didn’t get a DNP-old this week and turned in two 16 rebound games.

Even though the Thunder are the media darlings pick to come out of the West, the Spurs were in cruise control this week while blowing through a playoff team in the Jazz by 10 and outclassing the Eric Gordon led Hornets. In the process San Antonio pulled in front of the Thunder for the top spot in the West and is currently a game and a half out from having the best record in the association. This team still has one more championship run in them.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder (2st in Western Conference, 41-15 Overall, 1-3 this past week); Beat TOR at home; lost to MEM at home, MIA and IND on the road. Ranked 1st last week in The Top Ten.

Tough week for the Thunder as they were struck by a potential playoff kryptonite in the form of the Memphis Grizzlies, even thought the Thunder are 3-1 against the Griz this season the total point differential in those games adds up to 21 (3,5,7,6). A second round series against Memphis could spell trouble for OKC, but we’ll save that discussion for playoff time. I wanted to use this space to talk about just how underused Serge Ibaka is.

If you don’t know that much about Ibaka let me fill you in: he’s probably the most underused player in the league. Let’s get the negatives out of the way; his mid range jump shot has improved a smidge, but it still isn’t great by any means (42% this season, 41% last season). His on ball defense leaves something to be desired and he doesn’t have the attitude of a Kendrick Perkins. His hands leave something to be desired because he really should be averaging closer to double digits in boards, but he’ll let a ball slip by here and there. Alright now that we have those out of the way let’s take a look at the positives; he’s far and away the best shot blocker in the league. The precision at timing when to jump is something that Ibaka has down to a T. He’s had 10 or more blocks three times this season, including a ridiculous 14-15-11 triple double back on February 19th against Denver (that’s the game that Durant and Westrbook went off for a combined 91 points; it felt like a playoff game). He’s wayyyyyy better on both ends of the floor compared to Perkins and yet this past week he averaged just over 24 minutes of playing time but still managed to compile 23 blocks. I can understand why Scott Brooks isn’t playing him as much as he should be for these reasons; James Harden is the best player off of the bench in the league therefore he deserves the minutes he’s getting. Thabo Sefolosha is a lock down defender that has shown the ability to just shut down the best shooters in the league (ask Kobe). And Perkins gives Brooks that intensity that he’s so greatly looking for. Maybe I’m just complaining because I have Ibaka on my fantasy team, but there are plenty of times while watching Thunder games that Ibaka will make a difference only to be yanked and not return for an entire quarter. Hey, that’s why I don’t get paid the big bucks.

3. Miami Heat (2nd in Eastern Conference, 40-15 overall, 3-1 this past week); Beat PHI, OKC, and DET at home; lost to MEM at home. Ranked 4th last week in The Top Ten.

Lebron James is better without Dwayne Wade. Yes I said it. Now I’m not saying that the Heat are a better team without Wade, but it’s hard to ignore just how different Lebron’s identity is when his partner in crime isn’t in the lineup. On Wednesday against the Sixers, Lebron scored 14 straight points for the Heat in the fourth quarter en route to a season high 41. That is the Lebron that basketball enthusiasts want to see; he needs to be a stone cold killer in crunch time instead of being a 3 Musketeers bar (all fluff no substance). No one, I repeat NO ONE in the league can stop him on a drive to the basket, so why doesn’t he do this kind of stuff when Wade is in the lineup? Because he went to Miami knowing that he didn’t have to be the man anymore and he’s okay with that. He’ll always be comfortable handing the final shot over to someone else because he doesn’t want to have to face the questions that will come if he doesn’t convert. Wade isn’t afraid to do that; he was the alpha dog of a championship team back in ’06. It’s just a shame that we don’t see that Lebron when Wade is in the lineup because Miami would be unstoppable.

Note: if Wednesday night’s Thunder-Heat game was indeed a finals preview I can’t f’n wait for June. You really get the sense that those two teams aren’t the best of friends which would make for some added drama and is the type of rivalry that the NBA needs.

4. Chicago Bulls (1st in Eastern Conference, 43-14 overall, 1-2 this past week); Beat BOS at home; lost to HOU at home, NY on the road. Ranked 3rd last week in The Top Ten.

I can finally stop typing the Derrick Rose-less Bulls! The reigning MVP returned to the lineup on Sunday, just in time for an Easter ESPN classic game against the Knicks that featured a 43 point performance from Carmelo.  Rose didn’t quite look 100% as his jump shot was rusty at times, but he still scored 29, including 22 in the second half; he could have put the game away but missed two free throws with under a minute to go in the game. The highlight for the Bulls this week wasn’t the return of Rose however; it was the character win on Thursday night against the Boston Celtics. After being down by 15 at one point in the first half, Tom Thibodeau refocused his guys who consequently shut down Boston in the second half. Popovich or Thibodeau for coach of the year, anyone have a coin?

5. Los Angeles Lakers (3rd in Western Conference 35-22 overall, 2-2 this past week); Beat NJ and LAC at home (yes yes the Clippers logo was on the floor, but come on now);  lost to HOU at home, PHX on the road. Ranked 5th last week in The Top Ten

When Skip Bayless stated that he would rather have Andrew Bynum than Dwight Howard I thought it was just another case when he was trying to be different for the sake of being different, but I have to give him credit because Bynum has been uber impressive at points for most of the season. That is when he isn’t causing havoc like getting thrown out for taunting the opposing bench, or for stating that he just “chills” during timeouts instead of being in the huddle listing to Mike Brown. The Howard-Bynum debate even works when you talk about who is more immature. Howard is creating a crowd of controversy down in Orlando, but still tries to play the innocent card (I seriously wished that Stan van would have drilled Howard with a steel chair and walked out of the building to a course of cheers or boos; I still can’t figure out who the face(good guy) or heel(bad guy) is. Which would you rather have, someone who asked management to  replace the head coach and drug the organization through a will he leave or not saga that is going to reappear next season, or a guy who plays with his emotions on his sleeve to a point that he can’t control them anymore. Someone who is borderline uncoachable at this current point, but has a sure fire top ten of all time player willing to take him under his wing. Remember Kobe has been through this before; he became a dark force that almost buried the Lakers franchise and then became a stealth fighter who is obsessed with winning. Give me the guy who doesn’t check out of games and has the potential to be a real offensive force (Bynum), over the guy who has no idea what he wants and has been mailing in games this season (Howard).

6. Memphis Grizzlies (5th in Western Conference, 32-23 overall, 3-1 this past week); Beat GS and DAL at home, MIA on the road; lost to DAL on the road. Unranked in The Top Ten last week.

I wasn’t buying into Grizzlies are a legitimate sleeper hype, but after Friday night I was sold. Memphis not only snapped Miami’s 17 home win streak, they took the streak; played jump rope with it for 48 minutes and then broke it over their collective knees. Seven players finished in double figures and Z-Bo finally looked like he was sorta-kinda back from his MCL injury (14-14). A Grizz-Clips first round series has six or seven games written all over it and then a potential date with either the Spurs or Thunder. The Spurs would be out for revenge from last years’ first round upset and the Thunder would be holding on for dear life against a team that they just always seem to squeak by.

7. Boston Celtics (4th in Eastern Conference, 32-24 overall, 2-2 this past week); Beat PHI at home, IND on the road; lost to SAS at home, CHI on the road. Ranked 7th last week in The Top Ten.

The Celtics were veryyy close to pulling off a four game sweep of playoff teams this week. Paul Pierce’s buzzer beater against the Spurs went airy and if Thursday’s game was in Boston I think the Celtics would have pulled off the W. The Pacers and Sixers were both blown out by the Celtics, but let’s focus in on that Sixers game. Remember when Boston was all but finished in the Atlantic division race back in Feburary? It appeared that Philly was going to ride out a 20-9 start to an easy division title, well in the words of Lee Corso “not so fast my friend!” While the Sixers have floundered back to just above .500 (29-27), the Celtics have won 9 of their last 12 and have taken a commanding three game lead in the division. They’ve went from staring at a first round matchup with the Heat, to looking at a very beatable Atlanta team.

Note: Wanted to add this in, Rajon Rondo has had double digit assists in his last 17 games. If he had a reliable jump shot he would be the best point guard in the league (haters rise!!).

8. Indiana Pacers (3rd in Eastern Conference, 34-22 overall, 3-1 this past week); Beat NY and OKC at home, WAS on the road; lost to BOS on the road Ranked 8th last week in The Top Ten.

The Pacers are wishing that the season ended right now because if it did they would draw the Orlando Magic in the first round, a team that is just begging for the season to end so they can attempt to move past the Dwight Howard-SVG saga. If the Grizzlies are the darkhorse in the West, then put that title on the Pacers. Rudy Gay is the key for the Memphis; Danny Granger is the key for Indiana (I guess it’s ironic that I’m the darkhorse in my fantasy basketball league and my teams’ name is Granny Danger). Efficient and Granger were two words that weren’t paired together early on in the season, but now they deserve to be paired together. Let’s try it: Danny Granger has become the Pacers most efficient player over the last seven games (he’s shot 52% from the field and averaged 24 points over that span). While Paul George has struggled with his shot (just 12-37, 32% last week), Granger has excelled and once again taken over the alpha dog role that a team like Indiana needs if they are going to live up to the darkhorse label (George and Granger could play awful and they would still send the Magic packing in five).

9. Los Angeles Clippers (4th in Western Conference, 34-22 overall, 3-1 this past week); Beat SAC at home, DAL and SAC on the road; Lost to LAL at home. Ranked 9th last week in The Top Ten.

The highlights of the week come to you courtesy of Blake Griffin. I will say that I thought there should have been an offensive foul called on the second dunk. It looked like Blake put his elbow square in the back of Gasol, which last time I checked is an offensive foul. Gasol wasn’t the only player that was pissed off by Griffin’s play this week. Demarcus Cousins stated that he thought Griffin was being babied by the league because he is “the poster child of the league”. I think that title belongs to Lebron last time I checked, but Cousins is on to something. Griffin is on his way to being one of the most marketable players in the league, he’s in the second biggest market in the country, he has a great sense of humor and could very well be the next NBA player that jumps into acting (keep the Kazaam 2: Revenge of Kazaam’s Brother From Anotha Motha away from Griffin). All of those aspects make Griffin the next player to be beneficiary from the “star” calls that DO exist in the NBA.

The key to the Clippers moving past the first round lies in the hands of Chris Paul. He’s ranked 5th in clutch time statistics according to 82games.com (the stat is points per 48 minutes of clutch time, the last five minutes of a game). Here’s a typical CP3 scenario; he’ll cruise through the first 42 minutes while getting everyone else involved and then takes over when he has to. It’s recipe for success in the regular season, but just wait until he gets double teamed in the playoffs and he has to defer to a mid range Griffin jumper or a Randy Foye three. Randy Foye!

10. Dallas Mavericks (7th in Western Conference, 30-23 overall, 1-3 this past week); Beat MEM at home; Lost to LAC and POR at home, MEM on the road. Ranked 6th last week in The Top Ten.

The Khloe-Lamar take over Dallas era is officially over as the Mavericks have officially cut ties with Odom (he’ll be placed on the inactive list for the rest of the season, which give Mark Cuban the ability to move him in the offseason). Now come the reports that Khloe is worried that Lamar is depressed. TMZ is the last thing that needs to be knocking on the door right now, so it would be in the best interest of Odom if Khloe just stayed away from the media for the time being. Odom only scored in double digits twice since the all star break and just looked like a shell of himself for the entire season. I think at some point Lamar will be reunited with Kobe in LA and everything will go back to being just peachy. With or without Odom the Mavericks have to get their act together as they are currently just two games away from being knocked back into the 9th seed. When an old Vince Carter is your 3rd best scoring option your playoff chances are going to be a roll of the dice.

Follow me on twitter @scottdargis.

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