Derrick Rose’s inability to stay healthy this year has to be a concern at this point for the Bulls.
Rose has missed 16 games and counting, first with a toe injury then back spasms and now a groin injury. Chicago is an impressive 12-4 without Rose but this record is a bit misleading since 10 of the games were against sub.500 teams. The Bulls ability to get to the Finals with Rose is suspect considering their limited offensive options in crunch time. If Rose is missing or limited during the playoffs (you would have to think it would take a significant injury to keep the reigning MVP out of a playoff game) the Bulls may struggle to get out of the first round let alone make it out of the East. Even though they will likely be the second seed, it will take a minor miracle to deny the Heat a trip back to the Finals.
How are the Clippers suddenly in danger of missing the playoffs? Many people have fallen asleep on the Clippers after their strong 19-9 start, assuming they would make the playoffs especially since they’ve been a top four team in the West virtually all season. They still maintain their top four status, though barely as they are tied with the Mavericks for the 4th seed, but a close look at the Western Conference standings shows that 9th place Houston trails Los Angeles by only a game and half.
In addition, the Clippers remaining 18 games isn’t conducive to them cruising into the playoffs as they have 10 games left against teams above .500. If things get tight down the stretch they’ll have to make the postseason by winning road games as four of their last six are away from the Staples Center. The Clippers are an underwhelming 11-13 on the road this season. One final factor going against the Clippers; they’re the Clippers. More often than not when something can go wrong it does for this very unlucky franchise.
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The other tenants in the Staples Center are in a much different position. The Lakers are on fire right now, winning 15 of their last 21 going into last night’s game against the Grizzlies. They also have solved their biggest weakness, the lack of a quality point guard, with the deadline trade for Ramon Sessions. With a player that can actually break down the defense and create scoring opportunities for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers don’t always have to go through Kobe Bryant to create offense. The Lakers still lack depth and an Andrew Bynum injury always lurks around the corner but as it stands right now they are definitely a threat to win a championship.
While Carmelo Anthony is still struggling New York’s other big money player, Amar’e Stoudemire, seems to have turned the corner in a big way. Over his last 10 games, Stoudemire is averaging 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks while shooting a sparkling 58.9 percent from the field. Beyond the numbers, STAT looks noticeably quicker and has the extra lift in his hops that has been the difference between scoring inside and getting his shot blocked. Most importantly, his minutes have remained in the low 30’s, increasing the likelihood that he won’t wear down or get injured in the playoffs like he did last year.
Update: And just like that, Amar'e is out.
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You never want to see a strike or lockout in any sport but I am glad that the NBA lockout this year resulted in a four-month regular season. Unlike the normal six month, 82 game season there has not been a lull this year. Games have come fast and furious and the urgency for teams to play well has been heightened with the margin for error 16 games less. I would go one step further though. I would keep the four-month season but cut the amount of games down to 60. This would eliminate the ridiculous back to back to backs and seven games in nine days, resulting in better, crisper play. This will never happen though since David Stern and the owners are more concerned about making money then they are about putting a better product on the court.