NBA: Best of the West

With the exception of Oklahoma City, the NBA Western Conference was weakened with the continued exodous of mega talent to the East. Even so, the two time defending champs reside in the Pacific and the sexiest team on the rise, Oklahoma City rule the Northwest, both from the Western Conference.

Gone are Deron Williams, Carmelo Anthony, Jeff Green and Chauncey Billups. The short term winners are the Lakers as they strive to three-peat. The long term winners are the Thunder as the future power of the West have distanced themselves from the rest. Finishing first in the West assures home court advantage to the finals, but also probably lands a 2nd round match up with Oklahoma City, as the Thunder are looking more and more like a 4th seed. FantasySP takes a look at projected first round playoff match ups.

Memphis vs San Antonio– The Grizzlies picked up forward Shane Battier at the deadline to help carry them through the injury to Rudy Gay. Memphis tried to trade O.J.Mayo, but missed the deadline, creating an awkward situation. Zach Randolph was also on the block,  but will remain the Grizzlies main option in the post and on the  boards. The Spurs will be without  Tony Parker for 2-4 weeks, giving George Hill an opportunity to run the show. San Antonio may have one last run, with the inside-outside game of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili aging.

Portland vs Oklahoma City– Portland with a huge pickup at the deadline, getting explosive forward Gerald Wallace from Charlotte.  Wallace is a freak athletically and provides another option as Brandon Roy works his crippled knees back into shape.  LeMarcus Aldridge has taken a step toward power elite and Wes Matthews provides necessary minutes in relief of Roy. And yes, Greg Oden is still injured. The Thunder always a popular pick may have become the favorite.  Oklahoma City getting the big man they long desired, acquiring center Kendrick Perkins from Boston. The Thunder had to give up athletic flexibility in Jeff Green, but now have the big banger to face Dirk, Duncan, Bynum and beyond.  Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden get it done on the perimeter, but now Serge Ibaka has a playmate in the paint.

Denver vs Los Angeles Lakers– Looking at the big picture, Denver is in much better shape for the long run than they were just a few short weeks ago. Melo’s loss will be felt come playoff time, but the Nuggets certainly received value. Ray Felton, Danilo Galinari and Wilson Chandler are now in Denver, courtesy of  the Knicks and will see big minutes in the post season. Ty Lawson will share the point with Felton, while Kenyon Martin and J.R.Smith will be expected to fill the scoring void. Nene was rumored to be on the block, but Denver kept him, proving to fans that  winning remains an important part of the equation. Even with the Thunder roaring in Oklahoma City, the Lakers remain the favorite to three-peat. LA toyed with the idea of moving Andrew Bynum for Melo, but wisely did not, maintaining the size up  front that distinguishes them from the rest. The Lakers back court is stronger, Steve Blake allowing Derek Fisher to excel in critical minutes and Shannon Brown has been a nice surprise off the bench. Most of all, Kobe is Kobe.

New Orleans vs Dallas– The Hornets seem  the misfit of the West. Whomever gets New Orleans in the first round sure will be getting a break. No wonder Chris Paul wants out off NOLA.  The Hornets have nice bigs in David West and Emeka Okafor, but that’s about it. You think Trevor Ariza wishes he was back in Los Angeles about now? The Mavericks are the deepest club in the Association and appear close to adding another body. Free agent Corey Brewer is being courted by half a dozen teams, but only the Mavs have a mid-level exception contract to offer. Good money, chance to  go deep in playoffs, sure sounds alot better than Minnesota. Losing Caron Butler for the year hurt, but the exceptional play by center Tyson Chandler has more than made up for it.

NBA: Beast of the East

 The trade deadline has come and gone.  But wait, there are those mid-season free agents. You know, the guys who were part of the  whirlwind of last day deals. Mike Bibby and Troy Murphy were unceremoniously bought out (cut) by their new teams but have already landed elsewhere.  Athletic enigma Corey Brewer is the last (potentially) impact player left and is finding many potential suitors.

With 20-25 games remaining in the regular season, varying by team, FantasySP takes a look at how opening round match ups project, how roster moves may have impacted the races and what players will play a major role down the stretch.  At first glance, Charlotte may have forfeited the 8th and final spot to Indiana by shipping Gerald Wallace West to Portland. The real battles to watch are spots four through six. Why? The teams that finish fourth and fifth avoid the big three (Boston, Chicago and Miami) in the opening round.

Indiana vs Boston– Legendary Larry guides the Pacers into the East’s final slot and is rewarded with an opening round mismatch with his beloved Celtics. Indiana positioned itself for a deadline steal picking up O.J.Mayo from Memphis, only to have the deal voided due to technicality. Bird will need Mike Dunleavy to recover quickly from injury, but Brandon Rush’s return and the improving play of Josh McRoberts should be enough to hold off the Hornets. Boston’s acquisition of Jeff Green will help against the more athletic, perimeter teams, not so much against power teams like Orlando and several Western powers. Many are underestimating Nenad Kristic’s impact, the seven footer acquired with Green, will play a vital  role especially if the O’Neal’s do not return strong from injury.  Todd Murphy choosing the Celts over the Heat could have an impact on that series, should it  come down to that in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Atlanta vs Orlando– The Hawks quietly made the deal that may have the biggest impact on the post season. Combo guard Kirk Hinrich’s game provides everything that departed Mike Bibby’s game had lost. Hinrich is a great locker room guy, plays intense perimeter defense and is a very underrated three point shooter. The three guard rotation of Hinrich, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford stacks up with anyone. Hinrich also serves as a great ring leader for the ATL’s version of the big three (Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith). The Magic have been doing their re-arranging throughout the first half. Athletic guards Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson were added and both are capable of providing spark on a given night to supplement Superman. The biggest acquisition was clearly Hedo Turkoglu. Hedo has displayed some of the Magic that helped Orlando run through the post season two years ago.

New York vs Chicago– The Knicks were easily the centerpiece of the NBA transaction season. The long awaited acquisition of Carmelo Anthony mercifully came to fruition and New York finally had its superstar. While  New York got its man, depth was certainly abandoned. The Knicks will  have to get it done with a three man back court in Tony Douglas, Chauncey Billups and Landry Fields. Up front, New York can score with anyone at the forward position with Melo and Amare Stoudamire. Defending, rebounding and depth will be a huge problem.  The Bulls haven’t made many moves but appear to be stalking Corey Brewer. While Dallas leads (with the mid level exception), Chicago is hoping former Florida mate Joakim Noah can persuade Corey to the Windy City. MVP Derek Rose doesn’t need much help, look for him to carry the Bulls a long way.

Philadelphia vs Miami– The Sixers continue to build through the draft, and are starting to show signs with a very solid young group. Philly has tremendous but inexperience in the back court with Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and their unquestioned leader in Andre Iguodola. Thadeus Young needs to step it up in post season, but has tremendous athleticism.  Up front, Elton Brand will never be the stud he once was the center Spencer Hawes has disappointed.  Anything short of a strong showing in the NBA finals will be a huge disappointment for all things Miami.  The Heat have dominated the lesser teams and this should continue easing them into  the Eastern  Conference finals. Perimeter shooting continues to plague Miami as Mike Miller has failed to spread the floor for the slashers. Picking up Mike Bibby may help if he magically finds his lost perimeter game.