Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 11:59 AM
It's been the theme of the week here - if you will - in our Jim Sez columns: Does regular-season success in any sport translate any more into post-season success?
Just one week removed from Super Bowl XLVI when the NFL's first-ever 9-and-7 team (that's the New York Giants, of course) won it all, the thoughts are bouncing through our head regarding the cream-of-the-crop teams thus far in this somewhat truncated 66-game NBA regular season.
As we headed into this February weekend, there were three teams playing better-than-.700 ball including the Chicago Bulls (at .786), the Miami Heat (at .731) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (at .769) and yet - we've gotta ask - are any or all of these teams still gonna be standing come the Eastern and Western Conference Finals in June or will the "get-hot-at-the-right-time" teams instead have moved into the prime parking spaces of the NBA Playoffs?
As they say in the biz, stay tuned. In the meantime, we'll touch on the Bulls, Heat and Thunder in just a moment but first this key reminder:
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The NBA's Central Division-leading Bulls have the real numbers to back up why this has been an ultra-special season for 'em so far: Note that heading into Friday's game at double-digit dog Charlotte, the Bulls ranked in the top 10 in four important categories:
Chicago ranks 9th in the league in scoring (97.4 ppg), 2nd in rebounding (44.9 boards per game), 3rd in assists (23 per game) and - most importantly - 3rd in points allowed (87.7 ppg) and it's that final stat that figures to make-or-break the Bulls come May/June.
There's no doubt that PG Derrick Rose - the league's defending MVP and one of the leading candidates to win the award this season - remains the absolute motorman of the Bulls but it's that defensive bent that head coach Tom Thibodeau preaches that will or will not push Chicago over the hump this year and into the NBA Finals.
Note that Chicago's held 13 opponents (or nearly half of their foes thus far) to below 90 points in a game and that's a major accomplishment when you note that there's been plenty of scoring in the league this season.
If you really want to "take the pulse" of these Bulls than remember that they play much of the time with a high-intensity manner - we're just wondering if all these games in a compressed period of time catches up with Rose and Company come the post-season.
Maybe everyone can finally move past the most recent silly stuff involving mega-star F LeBron James (twitter followers be damned!) as "King James" has been embroiled in a pair of situations involving his twitter account and than there's been the Larry Bird quote saying the legendary Hall of Famer would have preferred playing with the Lakers' Kobe Bryant instead of James because he would have "won more".
Hey, it will be time this spring for the Southeast Division-leading Heat to take its game to the proverbial "next level" come the playoffs and even though Miami's been flying high save for Wednesday's 102-89 loss at Orlando - the fact remains that the Heat's had its share of hurts plus the defense has not been everything head coach Erik Spoelstra wanted it to be as Miami is allowing nearly 96 points a game and that ranks 'em just a middling 16th in the NBA charts.
Wanna know what has really be an under-the-radar boon for the Heat besides James' team-leading 28.5 ppg average, his 8.2 rebounds-per-game and his 6.9 assists per outing?
How about the fact PG Mario Chalmers has given the Heat a fourth double-digit-per-game scorer (11.4 ppg) and so when Dwyane Wade is out (he's missed nine games so far with various ailments) or when F Chris Bosh is not stroking it, there's been Chalmers to give James a major hand.
OKLAHOMA CITY (20-6)
It only seems as if the Thunder plays every night as this week has taken Kevin Durant and Company to four different cities in five nights with wins at Portland and Golden State and a close loss in Sacramento on Thursday prior to the Friday night stop in Utah.
Hey, it's not as if the work load is keeping Okie City down-and-out as this Northwest Division-leading is deep and sports plenty of scorers - so no shock that the Thunder ranks third in the league in scoring (101.2 points a game) but will the fact that Scott Brooks' club doesn't always "guard the ball" be a problem come June?
Note that Oklahoma City allows nearly 97 points a game (21st-ranked defense) but you could see during this aforementioned Western Conference swing that Durant, PG Russell Westbrook and key reserve James Harden don't always stay in the opponent's grill and can get backed off by the NBA's cutter-and-slasher types.
Bad stat line for the Thunder: The team ranks 27th in the league in assists (just 18.1 apg) and so that tells you there's too much one-on-one stuff going on here.
In other NBA News & Notes ...
Could the Milwaukee Bucks be kissing away their best player come this summer? There's published reports claiming that PG Brandon Jennings is considering "big market" teams once his rookie contract expires in 2014 and so the Bucks might look into dealing away their leading scorer even though he's 22-year-old and appears to have mucho All-Star Games ahead in his hoops future.
If the Bucks want to maximize their haul for Jennings than maybe a major swap with the New York Knicks will make sense. The Knicks - from all reports - are not at all against trading away F/C Amar'e Stoudemire so that it frees up things for F Carmelo Anthony.
Hey, if you're wondering why we don't totally "believe " in new sensation PG Jeremy Lin it's not that but the Knicks are still kicking themselves for not drafting Jennings a few years back (one of the few big mistakes by then-GM Donnie Walsh) and see him a great fit in NYC ...
Finally, thought you might like some stat stuff as we head out the door for this NBA News & Notes column: While going into the Friday night action, the NBA team with the best per-game point differential was Chicago (plus 9.7 points a game) while the worst team in per-game point differential was Charlotte at a whopping minus 13.6 points per outing. Don't look now but the Bobcats (3-22) are headed to one of the worst NBA seasons in memory (even if this won't be an 82-game regular season) - wonder if Michael Jordan is still glad he got into the sports franchise ownership business!
NOTE: Catch our weekend edition of College Basketball News & Notes in tomorrow's Jim Sez.