Around the Association
. . . A Look Back at March
Posted Apr 3 2008 12:11PM
A LOOK BACK AT MARCH
April 1, 2008 – Over the past month, the race for the Western Conference Playoffs has tightened to the point where teams can jump up and down, or in and out, of the postseason on a nightly basis. In fact, while four Eastern Conference teams have already secured playoff berths, no team in the West has yet to punch its ticket.
With just 16 days left in the regular season, only six games separate the first and ninth place teams in the West, and only a single game divides the postseason fate of teams seven through nine. With so much left to be decided as far as who will be in, who will be out, who will play who etc., I decided to look at one player on each of the nine teams in the race that I think will have the biggest impact on his team over final weeks of the regular season. It might not necessarily be the best player on each team, just the person I think can make the biggest difference for each team. Teams are listed in their order in the standings entering April.
1. Hornets – Chris Paul. Paul has emerged as viable MVP candidate in just his third season in the league and has done it all for the surprising Hornets. New Orleans gets plenty of help from Tyson Chandler, David West, Peja Stojakovic and the rest of Paul's supporting cast, but it all comes down the point guard.
2. Spurs – Manu Ginobili. Tim Duncan is the most valuable player on the Spurs and about as reliable as they come, but Ginobili takes the team to another level when he is at the top of his game. Despite coming off the bench in two-thirds of his games this season, he scored at least 26 points six times in March.
3. Lakers – Pau Gasol. Much like the situation with the Spurs, Kobe Bryant is the best player on the Lakers, but Gasol takes them from a good team to a great team. Not counting the game in which he injured his ankle, Los Angeles was 15-3 with Gasol in the lineup. The Lakers are 5-5 since he went down and are hoping to have him back later in the week.
4. Jazz – Mehmet Okur. Okur rebounded from a slow start to the season with a strong March by averaging 17.5 points a game. With Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer continuing to supply double-doubles nearly every night, it is no surprise that Utah excelled behind Okur’s improved production. The Jazz went 12-4 in March and are in position to win the Northwest Division.
5. Suns – Shaquille O'Neal. Steve Nash may be the engine that drives the Suns, but the Diesel will have a 7-foot-1, 325-pound impact on how far they go this season. Phoenix changed the look of the team when it sent Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to Miami for O’Neal, so his play will likely determine how they finish, one way or another. He has been on an upswing of late, averaging 17.2 points and 10.3 rebounds over his last six games. His presence has also had a great effect on Amare Stoudemire, who has been putting up monster numbers with Shaq in the lineup.
6. Rockets – Tracy McGrady. Rafer Alston has really picked up his game over the past two months. Carl Landry has been a pleasant surprise. Dikembe Mutombo and Luis Scola have helped ease the loss of Yao Ming. But the Rockets will only go as far as T-Mac can lead them.
7. Mavericks – Dirk Nowitzki. Jason Kidd and Josh Howard will have to carry Dallas for now, but they will need a healthy Dirk in order to avoid missing out on the playoffs. Nowitzki has missed four straight games with knee and ankle injuries and the Mavs are just 2-2 without him.
8. Warriors – Don Nelson. Tough call between Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis and Baron Davis. All three put up huge numbers and are constants in the starting lineup, but Nelson continues to mix and match the lineup based on the opponent to get the most out of his team. He has used 23 different starting lineups this season.
9. Nuggets – Kenyon Martin. You know what to expect out of Denver’s dynamic duo of Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. Each player is good for 25 points a game and is capable of going off for 40. But Martin has rebounded from devastating injuries to emerge as a dangerous X-factor over the past few weeks. The power forward has averaged 17.7 points a game over his last nine, including a 30-point, 11-rebound outburst on Sunday.
Let's take a look back at some of the other teams and players making news in March.
Got an opinion? Drop me a line and tell me what you think.
The Best of the Rest
Have your own thoughts on the month that was? Disagree with my picks? Send an e-mail and let me know.