NBA Leaderboard, Part XVIIBoston and Detroit have already clinched playoff berths, a tribute to the fine seasons that they are having but also an indication of how weak the East is; only Miami and New York are out of contention for the last playoff berth, while the remaining teams are all within four games of earning the right to be swept by Boston in the first round.
Best Five Records
1) Boston Celtics, 50-12--clinched playoff berth
2) Detroit Pistons, 46-17--clinched playoff berth
3) L.A. Lakers, 45-19
4) San Antonio, 44-19
5) Houston, 43-20
Two strong teams have clinched playoff berths in the depleted East but the biggest story in the league is the historic, ongoing 19 game winning streak that the Houston Rockets have put together. Although Dallas and Phoenix each put together 17 game winning streaks last year but failed to even make it to the Conference Finals, five of the previous six teams to win at least 18 games in a row in one season won the championship. The Rockets do not "look" like a contender in terms of their roster composition--after Yao Ming suffered a season-ending injury what remained was a lot of no-name players plus 40-plus year old former All-Star center Dikembe Mutombo flanking an oft-injured but highly talented Tracy McGrady. The Rockets do not "feel" like a contender because they still don't even have the best record in their conference and because, incredibly, they could very well miss the playoffs if they go on a three game losing streak at some point. However, regardless of how they "look" or "feel," the Rockets are playing like a contender; what I mean by that is that they are playing great defense (as measured by defensive field goal percentage, a very important stat), they are playing hard every night and they are sharing the ball on offense. McGrady was left off of the All-Star team--and deservedly so considering his early season injuries and the numbers produced by the players who made it--but he has a chance of joining Rod Strickland as a player who made the All-NBA team after not making that season's All-Star team. Strickland did it in 1998 when he led the NBA in assists; he averaged at least 17 ppg and 8.8 apg for five straight seasons but never made the All-Star team.
Top Ten Scorers (and a few other notables)
1) LeBron James, CLE 30.8 ppg
2) Kobe Bryant, LAL 28.2 ppg
3) Allen Iverson, DEN 26.9 ppg
4) Carmelo Anthony, DEN 25.8 ppg
5) Dwyane Wade, MIA 24.6 ppg
6) Amare Stoudemire, PHX 24.0 ppg
7) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 23.6 ppg
8) Michael Redd, MIL 23.4 ppg
9) Richard Jefferson, NJN 22.9 ppg
10) Chris Bosh, MIA 22.6 ppg
12) Yao Ming, HOU 22.0 ppg
25) Paul Pierce, BOS 20.3 ppg
32) Kevin Durant, SEA 19.5 ppg
37) Kevin Garnett, BOS 18.8 ppg
40) Ray Allen, BOS 18.4 ppg
LeBron James has put up a lot of amazing numbers this season but chew on this one for a moment: he has scored at least 20 points in 41 consecutive games. Also, James' 24 point outing versus Portland snapped his streak of 21 games with at least 25 points and ended a four game stretch in which he scored at least 37 points in each outing, highlighted by his 50 point game at Madison Square Garden.
Kobe Bryant has not exactly been slacking off, though; he is averaging 32.4 ppg in five games in March, during which his Lakers have gone 4-1. Bryant and the Lakers now face a daunting four game road trip that could very well define their season: at New Orleans, at Houston, at Dallas, at Utah. Bryant has had four games since February 1 when he did not score at least 20 points: the game in which he injured his pinkie, the game after the injury happened and two blowout victories over the L.A. Clippers. Speaking of Bryant's mangled digit, when Brett Favre played with an injured thumb on his throwing hand a few years ago I thought that he was going to not only be immediately inducted in the Hall of Fame but possibly canonized as well--yet no one is really talking about the fact that Bryant is playing at a high level and perhaps leading his team to the best record in the Western Conference despite playing against doctor's orders. One reason that we don't hear much about Bryant's ailment is that he does not talk about it--unless someone asks--or use it as an excuse/crutch, unlike some star players who make sure that everyone knows exactly how badly they feel.
Dwyane Wade is shutting things down for the season--insert joke here about the Miami Heat shutting down before the season even started--which means that he will not be listed on the final regular season leaderboard because he did not play in 70 games or score 1400 points.
Top Ten Rebounders (and a few other notables)
1) Dwight Howard, ORL 14.5 rpg
2) Marcus Camby, DEN 13.9 rpg
3) Chris Kaman, LAC 13.1 rpg
4) Tyson Chandler, NOH 12.3 rpg
5) Al Jefferson, MIN 11.7 rpg
6) Tim Duncan, SAS 11.6 rpg
7) Emeka Okafor, CHA 11.1 rpg
8) Yao Ming, Hou 10.8 rpg
9) Carlos Boozer, UTA 10.6 rpg
10) Antawn Jamison, WAS 10.3 rpg
14) Al Horford, ATL 9.8 rpg
22) Dirk Nowitzki, DAL 8.7 rpg
23) Ben Wallace, CLE/CHI 8.7 rpg
31) LeBron James, CLE 8.1 rpg
33) Jason Kidd, DAL/NJN 7.7 rpg
Dwight Howard has been overshadowed a bit because of all of the trades out West, Houston's winning streak and the fact that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have basically turned the MVP race into a two man duel--but it is worth noting that Howard's ppg-rpg-bpg-fg% numbers (21.8-14.5-2.4-.603) are among the most dominant that we have seen in quite some time; Shaquille O'Neal never rebounded quite like that, Tim Duncan never rebounded or shot like that and rebounding/shot blocking specialists like Marcus Camby never scored or shot like that. Howard is still learning how to play offensively and he is already a force.
Side thought/question that I am not really sure how to answer but is interesting to ponder: Has Chris Kaman emerged as one of the league's top centers or is this just a fluky season in which he is padding his stats on a losing team that does not have the services of Elton Brand? The Clippers have become irrelevant again, so most people's answer would probably be "Who knows?" and/or "Who cares?" Considering Kaman's age and his more or less steady improvement since his rookie year, my suspicion is that he will be a very good center for years to come.
Top Ten Playmakers
1) Steve Nash, PHX 11.4 apg
2) Chris Paul, NOH 11.0 apg
3) Jason Kidd, DAL/NJN 10.4 apg
4) Deron Williams, UTA 10.2 apg
5) Jose Calderon, TOR 8.6 apg
6) Jamaal Tinsley, IND 8.4 apg
7) Baron Davis, GSW 7.9 apg
8) LeBron James, CLE 7.4 apg
9) Allen Iverson, DEN 7.2 apg
10) Raymond Felton, CHA 7.1 apg
If Steve Nash and Chris Paul maintain their March apg averages (10.8 apg and 12.2 apg respectively) then Paul can actually make a serious run at the assists title; the race is definitely not over.
Allen Iverson is considered a "gunner" and LeBron James is often called a "pass first" player. Iverson averages 26.9 ppg and 7.2 apg while attempting 19.6 FGA/game; James averages 30.8 ppg and 7.4 apg while attempting 22.4 FGA/game. If you ever wondered how powerfully the media shapes our perceptions, just look at those numbers again. This is not about which player is better or about "loving" one guy or "hating" the other; all I am saying is that there is a disconnect between what the numbers say and what a lot of people believe.
It is also interesting to look at their teams' records and prospects. Iverson's Nuggets are 37-26, including a 21-17 record against the Western Conference, but they may miss the playoffs; James' Cavaliers are 37-27, including a 17-12 record against the Western Conference, and they could very well return to the NBA Finals.
Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com
posted by David Friedman @ 6:47 AM