Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe 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.
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The West is awesome. Where are the two best teams in the league right now?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Since you’re asking now, not in June, I’m fine going with a couple of wannabes: Indiana and Oklahoma City. Both of those teams have solid ensemble casts led by young stars, both are hungry, both can benefit from the ramp-up of 65 games or so left in their regular seasons. If both don’t find another gear by the postseason, though, I’ll likely revert to my instinctive answer to this question – Miami and San Antonio.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m interpreting best to mean the ability to win a best-of-seven playoff series against anybody, so with all apologies to the wild, wild West, I’m sticking with the Heat and Pacers.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Oklahoma City and Portland. Sorry Indiana (I know, I know, I write about 70 wins and now you’re not even in my top two). But listen, Portland’s 22-4. They’re tough. They’re steely. They keep finding ways to win on the road. LaMarcus Aldridge is putting up an MVP season. Damian Lillard, I mean what can you say about this kid’s nerves? The rook of the year is becoming a cold-blooded All-Star in Year 2. The whole thing’s been amazing to watch. As for OKC, and that’s the second-place-in-the-Northwest-Division Thunder (thank you very much, Blazers), these guys are a buzzsaw. Kevin Durant is doing it all. Russell Westbrook is as explosive as ever (and rebounding like crazy lately). Serge Ibaka keeps getting better (14.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg). Their defense is firing up and the bench is playing really well. Again, sorry Indy. I love the commitment every night, but two of your four losses are to, yep, Portland and OKC.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Pacers and the Blazers. Not only the conference leaders, but doing well in the right-now category and winning on the road. That’s a big sign. Indiana and Miami, obviously, are the two East teams that can jump the gulf between the conferences. Indy is 6-2 against the West.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Let’s consult Monday’s Power Rankings, which have Portland No. 1 and Oklahoma City No. 2. The Blazers are now 22-4 and 12-2 on the road. They’re basically winning with offense and big shots (they’re also 12-2 in games within five points in the last five minutes), but they have plenty of quality wins. In fact, one of those was the only game the Thunder have lost in the last 33 days. OKC is 15-1, with the league’s No. 1 defense over that span.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I know what the standings say, but if I had to line them up and have them play one game for the Larry O’Brien trophy tonight, I’d go with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers. We’re talking about the two best teams today, not the two best in a few weeks or a few months or when seasons hang in the balance in April and beyond. You don’t do what the Trail Blazers have done to the other so-called elite teams and not rank among the best of the very best. And the Thunder, as chronicled around here in vivid detail over the past few weeks, are playing with an edge that sets them apart from the other true contenders right now. Indiana, Miami and San Antonio are all right there behind those top two. And the separation between the top two and the pack isn’t nearly as great as the separation between the pack of contenders (which also includes the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets) and the rest of the wannabes floating around the league.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Well, I can’t not say Miami. I know they’ve been occasionally resting Wade and pacing themselves, but as long as the Heat have LeBron James, it’s going to take someone beating them in a seven-game series to make me believe that they’re not the best team in the NBA. As for the other team, I’m going to go with the Pacers. I’ve watched a ton of Blazers games and would have them as team No. 3 in my rankings, and I know they beat Indy in Portland. But Indiana’s the best defensive team I’ve seen this season, and when they’re taking care of the ball and Hibbert’s staying vertical in front of the rim, the Pacers look like the team that came within four quarters of a Finals trip last season.
Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Standings don’t lie. So, for me the Pacers and the Blazers are the best two teams. Indiana had a tough schedule over the past few days and really came through. Their defense is working and they’re showing a lot of consistency and stability in their game. As for the West, the Blazers are not only the team with the best record, but the one that has shown the greatest ability to win ballgames, even at the last-second. And it’s something really important, because winning builds chemistry and character — both things that don’t show up in stats or salaries.
Xibing Yang, NBA China: There’s no doubt that Heat haven’t put in their PLAYOFF-standard effort yet. We witnessed the same thing last year. Portland may have some troubles when the season gets past the 50-game mark, because four of their starters played over 34 mins per game, which is not a good sign for a playoff team. The Spurs have won many games against under-.500 teams, and they’ve had trouble against teams in the other half of the standings. When it comes to the offense, defense, starters and bench play,Indiana is a more balanced team, and they just don’t have many weaknesses when they match up with Miami.
Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Portland may have the best record in the league currently, but I do believe the Indiana Pacers and the Oklahoma City Thunder are the two best teams in the league right now. Both teams are talented, can compete off the bench and rank in the top five as far as net rating is concerned.
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