March Madness in the NBA

Look who’s back at it.

Welcome back to Beyond the Arc. After two months dedicated to completely digesting the action across the NBA, it’s time to recap where we are. It’s been awhile so lets get right into it. Here is a look at the current playoff picture.

Since our NBA Dojo Christmas Special, a lot has happened. Russell Westbrook, who last played in the Thunder’s Christmas Day Game against the Knicks, returned and has averaged 20.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 7.4 apg in the eight games he’s been back; including a triple double in only 20 minutes. If you can’t wrap your mind around that, he tallied a triple double in less than a half. The Thunder look like the biggest threat coming out of the Western Conference with the play of Kevin Durant, currently one of two players who are averaging a PER above 30.0. (The other player’s name may sound familiar. It starts with L and ends with eBron). The East is still a two-man race between the Heat and the Pacers but the other six spots are up for grabs. The Knicks, after all they’ve been through, are only three and a half games out of the eighth spot. How interesting would it be it the Heat played the Melo and the Knicks in the first round if New York finishes the season strong? Ultimately it will come down to Indiana and Miami. Whoever gets the #1 seed between those two is my pick for the Eastern Conference Finals.

I have to point out the impressive streak the Philadelphia Sixers are on right now. They are currently on a 16 game losing streak. I repeat, a 16 GAME LOSING STREAK. There is still two months of basketball left and we now have our first participant in the ‘Riggin for Not-Picking Wiggins’ Draft. I firmly believe that Andrew Wiggins will not go first overall. Joel Embiid may be the most talented player in this class. The freshman center out of Kansas has played terrifically this season and is destined for a top-five selection. Under the assumption he ducks out of school after his first year, but as I’m writing this I stumbled upon this tweet that may have me second-guessing myself.

That being said, the Sixers have put the “Tanking” thought in the other teams’ minds. I’m looking at you, Boston, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Orlando, and Utah. Your time to lose multiple games in the hopes of landing a top-five draft pick is coming!! Look for the first of three NBA Mock Drafts at the beginning of next week with a little more insight on the teams looking towards the lottery.

For now, lets break down the top-15 teams looking towards the playoffs as of March 6th. Here is a look at the first 2014 Sports Dojo NBA Power Rankings:

  1. Miami Heat – They may not own the #1 seed in the East but LeBron put on a show during the month of February. Five players averaged more than 30 points during the month of February and he was one of them. (30.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 6.7 apg)

  2. Indiana Pacers – Coming out of the break they were 6-1 before dropping four straight games heading into Monday. The Pacers clinched a playoff berth but the #1 seed is still up for grabs so don’t stop now, Indy. The Pacers also got rid of Danny Granger’s expiring contract before the trade deadline, acquiring Evan Turner from Philly. And for some reason that is unclear to me they picked up Andrew Bynum. No comment.

  3. Oklahoma City Thunder – Kevin Durant has more than proved himself as a worthy MVP candidate this season. With Russell Westbrook working his way back into form, the Thunder are looking more and more dangerous. The addition of Caron Butler from the Bucks will ensure some safety at the 2 and 3 spots while Thabo Sefolosha deals with an injury.

  4. Los Angeles ClippersBlake Griffin is the unsung hero of this squad. Check out the tale of the past two seasons for Griffin:

  • 2012-2013: 80 games played, 18.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.7 apg, 22.4 PER

  • 2013-2014: through 62 games, 24.2 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3.5 apg, 23.7 PER

He’s stepped up this season during Chris Paul’s absence (he’s missed 19 games so far this season) and he is the main reason that the Clippers currently sit in the 4th position in the West.

  1. San Antonio Spurs – They just shut down LeBron James on Thursday Night. Splitting the season series with the defending champs 1-1. Kawhi Leonard finally came back from a hand injury and has given the Spurs one of their healthiest and deepest lineups of the year. I’m looking forward to a possible Spurs-Thunder Western Conference Finals match-up.

  2. Houston RocketsDwight Howard has been impressive in his past 10 games. Posting a 18.9 ppg-12.1 rpg line while shooting 65% from the field. The Rockets are also one of the hottest teams in 2014. They have gone 23-6 since January 1st.

  3. Portland Trailblazers – Without question this team is dangerous. I’m interested in their rotation come playoff time. Three of Portland’s starters are ranked in the top 20 of total minutes played this season. Foul trouble will play a factor as well as their ability to hit the 3-point shot (currently ranked 2nd as a team in 3-point makes).

  4. Chicago Bulls – They’ve turned their season around and they recently acquired Jimmer Fredette to insure some backcourt depth and long-range shooting. The Bulls are a very dangerous 4 seed that can give trouble to Indiana and Miami because they live on defense, slow tempo, and low scoring games, which is something that the NBA playoffs are known for. They also just pulled off an impressive win in an OT game against the Heat in Chicago. Don’t forget about this team.

  5. Golden State Warriors – Since the break they’re 9-2 and looking to attain one of the top four spots in the Western Conference. The more time the Warriors spend at home in the playoffs, the farther they will go.

  6. Dallas Mavericks – I have to admit I was surprised the Mavericks have held on to the 7th and 8th seed for so long. I thought this team would fade away, but after a strong February (went 9-3), they’ve positioned themselves into a tough first round matchup with one of the big Western Conference teams.

  7. Memphis Grizzles – They’ve battled injuries to both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley yet they’re still in the thick of the playoff race. Their offensive game plan worries me considering they rank in the bottom 5 in terms of points scored per game.

  8. Phoenix Suns – It’s time to play the Sports Dojo’s Stat Challenge. Can you guess whose stat line this belongs to?

  • 2012-2013: 77 games played, 14.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 7.4 apg, .443 FG%, .319 3P%,

  • 2013-2014: through 58 games, 20.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 6.2 apg, .509 FG%, .421 3P%

(Take a second and think)

If you guessed Eric Bledsoe……I’m sorry but you are incorrect. The right answer is Goran Dragic; my pick for the NBAs Most Improved Player Award this season. Before anyone says the reason his stats are up is because he’s playing more minutes, he averaged 33.5 minutes last season and is averaging 34.7 minutes this season. Regardless, he’s been a terrific player to watch.

  1. Toronto RaptorsDeMar DeRozan averaged 26.4 ppg in February and the Raptors are sitting in the 3rd seed thanks to a very lackluster division. We’ll see what happens in the first round of the playoffs.

  2. Brooklyn Nets – Currently sitting in the 6th seed, they’re going to fight for the rest of the season so that they don’t fall into the 7th or 8th seed matchups against either Indiana or Miami.

  3. Minnesota Timberwolves – LeBron’s February was impressive but not as impressive as Kevin Love. Check out this line: 34.0 ppg, 14.1 rpg, 4.0 apg, .487 FG%, .848 FT%, .415 3P%. I can’t wait to see where he goes when his contract expires at the end of next season (2014-2015).

Check back in later this week for the first Sports Dojo NBA Mock Draft and as always, continue to enjoy.

Twitter: @brosephmeola

E-Mail: senseimeola@gmail.com

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