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.
A month ‘til All-Star: Pick a contender due for a surge. Who’s due to slip?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Trick question, right, since there are such a limited number of legit contenders this season? This is a matter of short-term schedules, in my view. I like Golden State’s chances of surging, what with 12 of their next 17 games at home. And with the Clippers beginning a seven-game trip Friday, and Chris Paul replaced by Cliff Paul for the time being, I think they’re going to be stepping back before stepping up.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Clippers and Thunder already stumbled a bit in the immediate aftermath of losing Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. Based on the schedule and their upcoming five-game road trip, I’d guess the Pacers will trip a time or two and next week you’ll be asking if the sky is falling in Indianapolis.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Rockets have been a maddening team at times this season, very inconsistent, lose big leads, look disinterested at times. But, Patrick Beverley is nearing a return and that will help with the Rockets’ perimeter defense and allow, I assume, Jeremy Lin to come off the bench again, where I think he was a pretty effective player. I look for the Rockets to make strong push into the All-Star break. As for a downturn, as much as I love the Blazers, I think we could see them flatten out a bit. They’ve already started to a bit, and they’ve had some really close calls. They’ve just been such an efficient offensive machine that it’s hard to see that not drop off a tick or two.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Spurs could slip from the top spot in the West now that they are down two of their best defenders, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter. And won’t San Antonio just be so panicked to miss out on the championship of February. No one will yawn more than the Spurs if it does happen, but this will be an interesting time ahead, good or bad. I’ll go with the Pacers for the surge. Or the continuation of the surge that started in October. Pretty favorable schedule ahead, with a few challenges but mostly games Indiana should win. The same could be said for the Heat, though. Two Eastern leaders cruising along.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Golden State should continue to move up the standings. They’re 20-4 with both Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala in the lineup, have a top-five defense, and have played the toughest schedule among West contenders. Ten of their 14 games between now and the break are at home, with only two back-to-backs. Portland, meanwhile, should continue to slide. Their bottom-10 defense has been catching up with them, they play 10 of their 16 games between now and the break on the road, with five back-to-backs. The Warriors, when healthy, are the better of the two teams and I could see them ahead of the Blazers come Feb. 14, even though they’re four games behind right now.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: If home counts for anything, the Golden State Warriors are on the cusp of a robust slate of home dates that will make my preseason pick to win it all (yes, the Western Conference and everything) look really good as they continue to climb the ranks in the Western Conference playoff race. The Warriors play 10 of their 15 games between now and All-Star Weekend at Oracle Arena. That gives them a chance to pad that 15-5 home record this season and make some serious noise before the break. The Heat are in slippage mode as we speak, which might not be the worst thing in the world for the two-time defending champs. I actually think the Heat have earned the right take a deep breath and not press the way they would normally. It’s not like they have to worry about anyone else in the Eastern Conference passing them up in the standings. Let the Pacers press on in their pursuit of that No. 1 overall seed in the East, let them expend the energy it takes to get on the Heat’s level. After that 27-game win streak zapped so much of their energy last season I think the Heat have learned their lesson. A measured approach to the marathon that is the NBA season (the regular and post) would be prudent at this juncture.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I can’t help but watch the Miami Heat and think they have another level they’re just waiting to stumble upon. Like last season, when the Heat were kind of piddling along and then, boom, they reeled off 27 straight wins. They’ve got the eye of the tiger in there somewhere, if only they can find it. As for a team due for a slip, maybe Portland? I suggest them only because they haven’t really had a slip all season. But to be honest, at this point I think they are who we think they are (shoutout to Denny Green), and as long as they keep playing with energy and knocking down jumpers, the Blazers are for real.
Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I don’t know if you can count even better play from the best team in the league, the Indiana Pacers, as a surge, but I don’t see them losing too many between now and All-Star 2014. The Pacers play nine of their next 16 games at home, where they have been an enviable 19-1 record this season. Alternately, I see the OKC Thunder, without Russell Westbrook, continuing to slip as they take on Houston, Golden State, Portland, San Antonio, Miami and Brooklyn before the break.
Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: The Warriors have been playing great lately and I think this might continue with Curry, Iguodala and Bogut all healthy. OKC might slip a little. The Thunder have had to heavily rely on KD in hopes of compensating for the missing Westbrook. Sooner or later this will come back to haunt them.
Simon Legg, NBA Australia: After not having the best start to 2014, I can see the Heat having a surge between now and the All Star break. They’re too good to continue losing so don’t be surprised if they go on a streak. LeBron James is shooting 59 percent from the field but is only attempting 16 shots a game, four down from his career average. I can see him getting up more shots in the future so look out. And as well as they’ve played so far, there have been some little signs that Portland may be due for a little slip. I don’t see it being a catastrophic slide, but they may begin to lose a few more games as we near the All-Star break and potentially losing their second seed in the West.