The push will come stronger and faster. You can’t work your way into it. No waiting for tomorrow. You have until April 28 – that’s less than two months – to work your way into the postseason. If you’re in the East, there’s hope. Outside of three or four teams, everyone else is one big injury away from a five-game slide and a shot at extinction. Outside of Miami and Chicago, get too big-headed and you’ll be slain. Lose your confidence and you’ll end up next to Washington and Charlotte.
Questions abound for everyone, and by this point, patterns are developing. We’ve already hit you with the Northwest, Central and the Atlantic Division among others. Now, here are five burning questions for the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division.
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Even though at 18-18, Portland is underachieving like a bad brunch meal from Sonic, the Blazers are 13-6 at home. In the Rose Garden, they play with unstoppable energy. Before last night’s TNT affair with the Heat, someone asked me who I would take in that game and by how much. My response? Portland. By four. Turns out even myself – someone who respects the Heat’s potential and doesn’t go out of my way to say stupid things like “OMG!! LeBron just sucks. Regular season doesn’t matter. Miami will suck in the playoffs!!” (as if reaching the Finals in their first season together was no biggie) – took the Heat for granted. They disintegrated the Blazers in every facet of the game, and ‘Bron and Dwyane Wade looked so good they probably could’ve stopped Captain Planet by themselves.
The Heat are winning games unlike anyone else in the league. Their point differential is sitting at a plus-9.5 (Chicago is the only one close). For the Heat, they may always have problems in the half-court; Their two best players are best with the ball, and one of them grew up in a system that should’ve just been named after him because he had the ball in his mitts so often. They’re currently playing at the seventh-fastest pace in the league, and honestly, that’s not good enough. Even Charles Barkley isn’t wrong about this one: Miami must play faster. They must be quicker than anyone they play. If they can do that, it may not matter so much about struggling at times as a half-court team. Play defense. Push the rock. If they can do that consistently, I don’t think anyone will beat them.
The people of Orlando might like their team. I don’t. Too many threes. Too many swingmen who don’t play good enough defense. Too much pressure on Dwight Howard. In fact, it’s cliche to say it, but Orlando’s biggest question mark – their only question mark going forward – is what the team will look like by the end of the season. We knew Howard would last through the All-Star break; Otis Smith couldn’t screw that one up and allow his big man to come back to Orlando wearing a different uniform. But now it’s officially on.
Howard to Brooklyn? Howard to L.A.? Howard to Dallas? All signs are pointing to Howard getting to the Nets one way or another, whether it’s through a trade (less preferable for him) or as a free agent (what Chris Broussard is reporting he wants to do). Orlando is still 23-14, and they’ve won seven of their last 10. And currently, they’re sitting in the No. 5 spot in the East, meaning they’d go up against Philly in the first round. If I’m Orlando, I love that matchup.
As Dennis Green would say right now, the Magic are who we thought they were. The real question is we don’t know who they’ll be two weeks from now.