Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Which playoff-bound team do you see slipping after the break?
Steve Aschburner: I’m still mourning Memphis for two trades that weren’t driven by the pursuit of a championship this spring, which is what the Grizzlies were poised to do. But I’m even more alarmed by the Golden State Warriors, who returned from the break the way they went into it: losing. With their bad start and poor finish at Utah Tuesday, the Warriors have dropped six in a row and are 8-13 over the past seven weeks. They have sputtered while trying to acclimate to center Andrew Bogut‘s participation, the defense has been porous and, after the setback in Salt Lake City, forward David Lee cited a drip-drip-drip of small mistakes adding up to a big problem. Golden State played just well enough through the first two months to demand that it be taken seriously — so seeking its level now comes as a legit disappointment. It could have finished eighth — or (gulp) ninth — without getting folks’ hopes up.
Fran Blinebury: Despite their 8-1 start in life without Rajon Rondo, I think it’s going to be difficult for the Celtics aging pair of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to handle the added burden, so they could drop as far as the No. 8 spot in the East. The Celtics are just fortunate that, barring a stunning and miraculous return by Andrew Bynum in Philly, there’s nobody below that can knock them out of the playoffs.
Jeff Caplan: The Bucks started their swoon pre-All-Star break and they might just slip right out of the playoffs if Philadelphia can ever get hot — or if Toronto can stay hot. However, the Bucks aren’t my choice. Hellooooo Atlanta. We’ll see by Thursday if Josh Smith has a new home. Even if he stays, I still say, look out below. The Hawks have the misfortune of opening the post-All-Star break season with eight road games within a brutal 12-game stretch that starts at home Wednesday against the Heat and ends March 12 at the Heat. The stretch includes a season-long six-game trip that starts on the second night of back-to-back at Milwaukee (Saturday) and includes a stop at Utah followed by a back-to-back at the Los Angeles Lakers and at mile-high Denver. The dirty dozen ends with this challenging three-pack: a back-to-back at Boston and home against Brooklyn, then three nights later at Miami. The Hawks are 29-22. Let’s see where they are in 20 days.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Ask me again Thursday afternoon. For now, based on the rosters of the moment, the Grizzlies will take a dip. Not all the way out of the playoff pack, but enough of a slip in a post-Rudy Gay world. Taking a three-game winning streak into the All-Star break was a nice bit of momentum building. The three were against the Kings, the Timberwolves and the slumping Warriors, though.
John Schuhmann: Milwaukee is a prime candidate. The Bucks have a tough remaining schedule that includes nine back-to-backs (the first of which they’re in the middle of). And if you look at point differential, their record is a little inflated in the first place. Of course, if they manage to trade Monta Ellis, they would become a better team (addition by subtraction) and maybe make up for the tough schedule. Also, if the Bucks do slip, I’m not sure there’s another Eastern Conference team with the chops to take their place in the playoff picture. If you’re looking for a higher seed that could slip, I’ll go with Brooklyn, who has six more road games than home games remaining and a league-high 10 post-break back-to-backs.
Sekou Smith: Depending on what transpires between now and 3 p.m. Thursday, I could see the Atlanta Hawks struggling to the finish line if they do indeed trade Josh Smith. I don’t see a Celtics-like surge coming from the Hawks if they lose their best player (to trade this time and not to injury, as Boston did with Rajon Rondo). The Hawks already have fragile chemistry and the fact that 85 percent of the roster (and the coaching staff) will be finishing up their contracts at the end of this season doesn’t bode well for some miraculous finish. If you’re going into rebuild mode this summer, and everyone in the locker room knows it, where is the incentive to claw your way to the finish?