Don't write off Lakers
It's still kind of hard to write off the Lakers. You have to think a team with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard will at some point get things together. The Lakers will be the surprise team of the second half of the season because they simply have too much talent to miss the playoffs. We've seen it in spurts, now expect them to sustain it for long stretches. The key for them, just like every other team, is staying healthy.
As for slippage, it's likely a tie between the Knicks and Nets. Both had strong starts, followed by inconsistency. The Knicks have owned the Heat but are still trying to prove their worth. Eventually, age will catch up to them. The Nets have yet to show they can compete with the Heat.
Clips up, Nets down
Los Angeles Times
The Clippers already are headed to their best regular-season record in franchise history. But they should keep improving now that Chauncey Billups finally has recovered from a torn Achilles — the Clippers are 6-1 with him on the court. Billups, along with Chris Paul, give them a pair of field generals to guide a remarkably athletic but young team heading into the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Nets look like they're heading south. Deron Williams has had a truly mediocre season and was sidelined with swollen ankles just before the break. Equally worrisome is the play of a healthy but mercurial Gerald Wallace, who is having his least productive season (8.9 points, 5.2 boards) since becoming a starter nine seasons ago.
Have Lakers hit bottom?
The Lakers better make the biggest surge ... or extra security will be needed to protect Dwight Howard from beloved teammate Kobe Bryant.
Making the playoffs was once low-hanging fruit for them. Now the darlings of dysfunction have just 28 games left to scramble for the eighth spot in the West, NBA royalty fighting for scraps. Nothing like seeing Kobe in desperation mode, baring his teeth. But L.A.'s schedule eases around mid-March.
The Bulls could be dangerous if Derrick Rose returns. The Hawks will fall if they trade Josh Smith. Ditto for the Celtics, who could deal Kevin Garnett and/or Paul Pierce.
But the real question is this: Have the Lakers hit bottom?
Knicks due for a fall
The Lakers will improve the most just because they have to, right?
Perhaps the most consistent NBA quality is the competitiveness of Kobe Bean Bryant. His skills may be fading, but his will still rages. And one has to believe — with all that talent — the Lakers will figure out a way to improve over the final 30-some games.
As for the drop, it has to be the Knicks, doesn't it? Despite improved defense with Tyson Chandler and the intangibles that Jason Kidd always supplies, they still seem a house of cards, ready to collapse under the weight of playoff basketball. The Knicks appear to be the definition of a strong regular-season team that isn't suited for playoff basketball.