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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

NBA Leaderboard, Part XIX

The Celtics and Pistons have mixed in some rather indifferent performances along with some good wins recently. They are pretty much locked into their playoff positions but both teams have a lot to prove this postseason, albeit for different reasons; the Pistons are trying to return to the NBA Finals after disappointing playoff runs in 2006 and 2007, while each member of the Celtics' "Big Three" is seeking his first trip to the NBA Finals.

Best Five Records
-------------------

1) Boston Celtics, 55-15--clinched playoff berth
2) Detroit Pistons, 50-20--clinched playoff berth
3) New Orleans Hornets, 48-21
4) L.A. Lakers, 49-22
5-6) Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, 48-23

First place in the Western Conference literally changes on a daily basis. Right now, the Hornets are on top by .006 percentage points. It is interesting that when Lakers Coach Phil Jackson was asked who he thinks is the favorite to finish with the best record he picked his own team, perhaps because their remaining schedule is favorable (eight home games and three road games remaining). Still, the Lakers' success despite the injuries to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol is really quite remarkable. None of the other top teams has suffered a comparable loss of inside presence (Houston had Yao Ming for most of the season, while the Lakers have been without Bynum and Gasol for most of the season). Then again, maybe that statement is a psychological ploy by Jackson to try to get his players accustomed to playing with the pressure of high expectations, something that no one on the roster other than Kobe Bryant has experienced. Can anything that happens in the Western Conference playoffs this year truly be considered an upset when the top eight teams are separated by fewer than six games?

Top Ten Scorers (and a few other notables)
------------------

1) LeBron James, CLE 30.8 ppg
2) Kobe Bryant, LAL 28.3 ppg
3) Allen Iverson, DEN 26.6 ppg
4) Carmelo Anthony, DEN 25.5 ppg
5) Amare Stoudemire, PHX 24.7 ppg
6) Dwyane Wade, MIA 24.6 ppg
7) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 23.6 ppg
8) Michael Redd, MIL 23.3 ppg
9) Richard Jefferson, NJN 23.0 ppg
10) Corey Maggette, LAC 22.3 ppg

13) Tracy McGrady, HOU 21.8 ppg
14) Chris Paul, NOH 21.7 ppg

26) Paul Pierce, BOS 20.0 ppg

30) Kevin Durant, SEA 19.6 ppg

38) Kevin Garnett, BOS 18.8 ppg

41) Ray Allen, BOS 18.2 ppg

Amare Stoudemire moved past Dwyane Wade into fifth place. Stoudemire averaged 30.4 ppg in his last five games, four of which the Suns won, and he is averaging 28.3 ppg on .569 field goal shooting in March. Corey Maggette has had a solid season for the injury-riddled Clippers and he quietly slipped into the top ten.

Chris Paul averaged 24.4 ppg in his last five games and he is averaging 25.3 ppg on .587 field goal shooting (!) in March. His numbers and his team's success are attracting a lot of attention from MVP voters. LeBron James will win his first scoring title but talk of him winning the MVP this season has cooled because his Cavaliers will likely fall short of 50 wins. It increasingly seems like the MVP will either go to Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul and the determining factor may very well be which player's team finishes with the better record. Frankly, it does not make a lot of sense to decide the winner of an individual award based on one or two games in the standings but at least Bryant has a tangible, definable and reachable goal in sight: lead the Lakers to more wins than the Hornets and he will almost certainly get an award that he should have won the past two seasons. Bryant will have to do this without Bynum and possibly without Gasol, so it certainly will be hard to question his MVP credentials this season if the Lakers do in fact finish first in the West. Circle April 11 on your calendar: that is when the Hornets visit L.A. for a game that may very well decide not only the top seed in the West but also the winner of this year's MVP award.

I am pleased to report that the light seems to finally be coming on for Kevin Durant--and not the green light for him to shoot whenever and wherever he wants. His Sonics just endured an 11 game losing streak but he has shot much better in March than he did earlier in the season, averaging 21.1 ppg on .532 field goal shooting. He only has shot 3-10 from three point range in March but that is actually a good sign from the standpoint that his long range attempts are way down: he attempted at least 41 three pointers in each of the first three months of the season but that number dropped to 12 in February. Durant is not a great three point shooter at this stage of his career and it is good that he realizes that. One cautionary note is that the rest of his statistics are still at roughly the same pedestrian levels that they have been all season long (he is averaging 4.0 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.0 bpg and .98 spg for the season).

Top Ten Rebounders (and a few other notables)
----------------------

1) Dwight Howard, ORL 14.5 rpg
2) Marcus Camby, DEN 13.5 rpg
3) Tyson Chandler, NOH 12.2 rpg
4) Al Jefferson, MIN 11.6 rpg
5) Tim Duncan, SAS 11.5 rpg
6) Carlos Boozer, UTA 10.7 rpg
7) Emeka Okafor, CHA 10.7 rpg
8) Lamar Odom, LAL 10.6 rpg
9) Antawn Jamison, WAS 10.3 rpg
10) Shawn Marion, MIA/PHX 10.2 rpg

12) Al Horford, ATL 9.9 rpg

22) Dirk Nowitzki, DAl 8.8 rpg

24) Ben Wallace, CLE/CHI 8.7 rpg

28) LeBron James, CLE 8.2 rpg

31) Jason Kidd, DAL/NJN 7.6 rpg

Dwight Howard has all but clinched his first rebounding title and when he does so he will break Dolph Schayes' record for being the youngest player to lead the league in this category. Chris Kaman dropped off of this leaderboard due to all of the games that he has missed. He had been a top five stalwart since the beginning of the season. His absence enabled Tim Duncan to move into the top five. It has been a "quiet" season for Duncan, yet in addition to his rebounding prowess he ranks fourth in double doubles, eighth in blocked shots, 30th in scoring and 36th in field goal percentage.

Lamar Odom averaged 16.8 rpg in his last five games and he is averaging 13.1 rpg in March, enabling him to move all the way up to eighth place.

Shawn Marion has not played for the last four games but with Kaman, Yao Ming and Zach Randolph being dropped due to not meeting minimum requirements he moved into the top ten. If Marion does not return to the lineup soon then he too will be dropped from the list.

Top Ten Playmakers
----------------------

1) Steve Nash, PHX 11.2 apg
2) Chris Paul, NOH 11.2 apg
3) Deron Williams, UTA 10.3 apg
4) Jason Kidd, DAL/NJN 10.1 apg
5) Jose Calderon, TOR 8.4 apg
6) Baron Davis, GSW 7.8 apg
7) LeBron James, CLE 7.3 apg
8) Allen Iverson, DEN 7.3 apg
9) Raymond Felton, CHA 7.0 apg
10) Chauncey Billups, DET 7.0 apg

It's a photo finish! Steve Nash and Chris Paul are in a dead heat for the assists title, but Paul is picking up steam while Nash is cooling off: Nash is averaging 9.9 apg in March, including 8.2 apg in his last five games; Paul is averaging 12.8 apg in March, including 11.2 apg in his last five games. The rest of the top ten stayed the same other than Deron Williams and Jason Kidd switching spots.

Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:02 AM

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