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Sunday, January 01, 2006

NBA Midterm Report Card, Pt. I

Most NBA teams have played more than a third of their regular season games, so now is a good time to issue midterm grades. I'll start by evaluating my predictions (follow this link to read my complete Eastern and Western Conference previews: http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/2005/10/nba-eastern-and-western-conference.html)
Here is how I ranked the top eight teams in each conference (since the three division winners in each conference automatically receive the top seeds, San Antonio and Houston cannot be seeded one and two, but, as I noted at the time, I listed the teams based on how much I liked their chances to advance in the playoffs):

East
----

1) Miami 2) New Jersey 3) Indiana 4) Cleveland 5) Detroit 6) Philadelphia 7) Milwaukee 8) New York

West
----

1) San Antonio 2) Houston 3) Dallas 4) Denver 5) Phoenix 6) L.A. Lakers 7) Sacramento
8) Seattle

Here are the current standings:

East
----

1) Detroit 2) New Jersey 3) Miami 4) Cleveland 5) Milwaukee 6) Indiana 7) Philadelphia 8) Orlando

West
----

1) San Antonio 2) Phoenix 3) Minnesota 4) Dallas 5) Memphis 6) L.A. Clippers 7) Golden State 8) L.A. Lakers

I give my East picks an A- midterm grade--seven of the eight teams are correct at this point, albeit not in the right order. Detroit is doing much better than I expected and New York is doing much worse. The top seven teams seem unlikely to change (barring an injury to a key player), while the identity of the eighth team switches almost daily. This may sound crazy to mention, but as poorly as the Knicks have played they are only 5.5 games out of eighth place with more than 50 games to go.

I picked Miami and New Jersey as division winners and both are in first place after slow starts. Indiana has been dragged down by the ongoing Ron Artest saga. Milwaukee, my "sleeper," is doing better than most people expected. Boston, Chicago and Washington, three playoff teams from last year, have dropped in the standings as I predicted.

My Western Conference picks earn a C. High points include recognizing that Phoenix would do well even without injured star Amare Stoudemire (see also this post:
http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/2005/12/wild-wild-west.html) and ranking the Lakers in the top eight, contrary to many other prognosticators. Injuries have wrecked the Houston Rockets to this point and have played a significant role in the Denver Nuggets' struggles as well. Three of the four teams that are ranked higher than I expected have done poorly in their past 10 games: Minnesota (3-7), L.A. Clippers (3-7) and Golden State (4-6, but on a three game winning streak--two contradictory trends!). I correctly predicted that Seattle would finish lower in the standings than last year, but failed to realize how far the Sonics would fall.

As for the teams themselves, only two earn A+ midterm grades: Detroit and San Antonio. Last year's Finalists are the class of the league right now. New Jersey, Miami and Cleveland earn A's in the East, while Dallas and Phoenix deserve A's in the West. The four conference finalists will most likely be drawn from this pool of seven teams. The resolution of the Ron Artest situation is the proverbial "other shoe" that has not dropped. Where he arrives--and what Indiana receives in return--could have a major impact on several teams' chances.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:55 PM

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