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Thursday, March 24, 2011
5-on-5: Rose running away with MVP?

ESPN.com

Derrick Rose and LeBron James
Derrick Rose has led the Bulls past the 50-win mark. Has he left LeBron in his dust in the MVP race?

It's time for a little 5-on-5, our new experts' roundtable featuring five voices on five hot questions.

Today we touch on the Derrick Rose-for-MVP movement, the Bulls, the Celtics, the Carmelo Anthony trade and the fascinating Western Conference playoff picture.

Check it out and come back to ESPN.com for more 5-on-5.

1. Is Stan Van Gundy correct? Have we already anointed D-Rose as MVP?

NAME
Rose

Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Anyone with a pulse would be very happy for Derrick Rose, and maybe he should win it if nothing else as a thank-you for the thrills, the work and the wins. But LeBron James is a better player, playing just as he did when he ran away with this award the past two seasons. Beyond bitterness, is there a reason to disqualify him so early?

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Yes, Stan Van Gundy is correct. The media have decided Rose is the MVP, and the media hate changing the story once it's written. But the media are correct, too. Rose and the Bulls are having a better season than Dwight Howard and the Magic.

Kevin Arnovitz: Heat Index: The media and fans like novelty because it keeps the narrative interesting. That means that whenever there's a legitimate candidate for MVP who hasn't previously been in the conversation, we tend to gravitate toward him. And when that candidate's team loses only three times in six weeks, the momentum builds. This is true in basketball or baseball.

Chris Sheridan, ESPN New York: I am with Van Gundy on this one, and he is on point: I am as guilty as anyone of anointing Rose the MVP prematurely, but I am on solid ground in doing so.

Look where the Bulls are. Then ask why they are there. This guy has been the consummate leader for them, and the leap he has made in his outside shooting has been astounding.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: I would appear to be guilty. The Bulls would have to hit a serious skid here in their last 12 games to convince me otherwise.

Howard has played at a higher level of statistical efficiency and has kept Orlando in the top five defensively all season, even though he's surrounded by bad defenders. But the combination of the on-the-court load that Rose shoulders along with the galvanizing effect he's had as a leader for a team that's exceeded all expectations with Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah combining to miss 54 games … yup. Guilty.


2. Are the Bulls the team to beat in the East?


Abbott: Yes. It's probably smart to discount the first 30 or so games as they mastered coach Tom Thibodeau's team defense. Since then, they've been electric.

Adande: Because the Celtics are the defending conference champs, they're the team to beat, regardless of how the seeding shakes down. However, the Bulls will beat them.

Arnovitz: We know that Thibodeau's team has the stingiest defense in the league, and that has been the case for the better part of the season. But what's frightening about the Bulls right now is their offense, which is starting to hum. The conference semifinals aren't for six more weeks, so there's still plenty of time for another realignment, but until Boston re-establishes that old fire and Miami reaches its full potential for an extended stretch, the Bulls are the most competitive team in the East.

Sheridan: More and more, it is looking that way. Miami hasn't beaten the good teams and hasn't made big shots in close games. Boston has been brutal (by Celtics standards) since the Kendrick Perkins trade. Orlando hasn't integrated Gilbert Arenas whatsoever. Chicago is the only East team that has been steady all season.

Stein: Nope. Because there isn't one.

The Bulls should be that team on paper, given what they've achieved in the regular season, but the fact that this group hasn't proved anything in the playoffs yet is a disclaimer that can't be ignored … unfair as that might sound when they haven't yet had the chance.

The Celtics, meanwhile, aren't the Celtics anymore, although there's still time for them to snap out of this sulky funk and finally move on without Perkins.

I firmly believe that you can't make a clear-cut case for Chicago, Boston or Miami as the East favorite, which is one of the things I look forward to most in these playoffs. We just don't know. Suspense!


3. Is something wrong with the Celtics?


Abbott: They were never supposed to be this good for this long -- their stars have been living on borrowed time for a couple of years already. And their nonstars are all cast-offs. Now they're dealing with the absence of Perkins. Under Doc Rivers, that's still one of the NBA's five best teams, but the Bulls are scarier.

Adande: Yes: Rajon Rondo's shot is off. He's shooting 34 percent in March. If he gets back to his season average of 47 percent, the Celtics will get better.

Arnovitz: Right now, the Celtics' offense is not much better than league average. It's hard to tell whether this is a fatal flaw or, as was the case last season at this time, the C's have just hit a rut out of which they'll promptly shake themselves on April 16. Either way, the ball needs to start moving again in their offense. Chances are it will.

Sheridan: Yes. The Perkins trade did a number on their chemistry, their bench is a collection of cast-offs whom the Heat, Mavericks and even the Nets didn't want, and Shaq will not be in game shape when the playoffs arrive. Defensively, the Celtics are not what they once were.

Stein: Yeah. The self-proclaimed toughest team in the league is still feeling sorry for itself more than a month removed from the Perkins trade. Get over it, fellas. Danny Ainge didn't make the deal because he didn't believe in you. You guys aren't supposed to be this fragile.


4. Is it too early to say the Knicks lost the Melo trade?

NAME
Anthony

Abbott: It's well worth it if it brings Chris Paul. Otherwise, I'd say Denver won.

Adande: Far too early to say that, especially because Chauncey Billups, the underrated component in the trade, got hurt. New York will need multiple superstars to compete with Miami the next few years; the Knicks got theirs. The key is winning the transactions to come.

Arnovitz: In the long term, yes. We saw in Miami that retooling a roster in the offseason -- even one packed with superstars -- doesn't produce immediate results. We should figure that condition is compounded when you overhaul a team in the middle of the season. Still, the Knicks won't win consistently until they implement a defense that denies opponents the ball and contests shots.

Sheridan: Yes. They are simply experiencing growing pains. Did Miami struggle at the start of the season when all the new players were trying to jell? Yes. Have Boston and Orlando struggled since their in-season trades? Yes.

Bottom line: The main piece the Knicks got is harder to acquire than the pieces they gave away.

Stein: Ridiculously early. Laughably early. What if Melo's mere presence helps the Knicks recruit a third star? Or coaxes Phil Jackson out of retirement a couple of years from now? Then what?


5. Which lower seed in the West is most capable of a first-round upset?


Abbott: The Nuggets. They not only have been incredibly X factor-ish since the Melo trade but also are lining up to avoid the two virtual locks for the Western Conference finals: the Spurs and Lakers.

Adande: If the seedings stay the same, the Trail Blazers could knock off the Mavericks, thanks to the combination of the Blazers' playoff experience and Dallas' history of playoff shortcomings.

Arnovitz: A healthy Trail Blazers squad is a two-way challenge, even for the top teams in the Western Conference. Portland has positional flexibility, guys who can rebound, rangy perimeter defense, a point guard who gets guys the ball where and when they like it, and a tough gym.

Sheridan: The Nuggets, but I'd like their chances better if they allowed themselves to slip from No. 5 to No. 6 to face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. If they stay at No. 5 and draw the Thunder, they'll still be a tough out, but I would not expect them to advance. Of the top six teams, they are the deepest talentwise.

Stein: This is a question that will be far easier to answer once we know the first-round matchups, but without that information, I'm still on the Memphis bandwagon.

No one wants to see the Grizzlies even without Rudy Gay, because that means dealing with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the frontcourt and wing defenders galore (Tony Allen, Shane Battier and Sam Young) who cause problems on the perimeter.