Some hope to win the championship. Some hope to win enough just to make the playoffs. And others hope to win the lottery (hello Sonics, Blazers).
Mavericks know the score
Looking at the West, the way the best players are shining now speaks to the sense of urgency that's rising as we head down the stretch.
Here's how I see the West's teams finishing.
1. Dallas Mavericks (45-11) -- The Spurs are a great team, but I think Dallas is a team more suited for winning over the long haul of the regular season. Dallas has more guys offensively that can carry them. Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry are all capable of being No. 1 options. Then you throw in Keith Van Horn and Marquis Daniels, even Devin Harris. They don't rely on a smaller core of guys like San Antonio.
The Mavs have won 18 of 19. And they've beaten a lot of good teams. March is going to be more difficult for them, with a stretch of 6 of 7 on road. When they get through that, they've got a good April. Still two games left with the Spurs.
2. Phoenix Suns (38-17) -- Shawn Marion has been equally as good as Steve Nash. When Amare Stoudemire's back, how quickly they can integrate him into the flow will be key. The Pacific Division (and No. 2 seed) is theirs, even with the injury to Kurt Thomas; I don't think the Clippers or Lakers can overcome their lead.
3. Denver Nuggets (30-27) -- Carmelo Anthony has become a legit leader, and a better basketball player overall. They've had significant injuries, with Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby in and out. Any challengers for the Northwest champ and No. 3 seed? Utah doesn't have the leadership and Minnesota's been stale.
4. San Antonio Spurs (44-12) -- It's hard to look at a team that will win 60 games as a four seed. And defending champs. But that looks like what's going to happen.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (31-23) -- Being No. 5 is like a punishment, drawing the defending champ Spurs, compared to the No. 6 team, which gets the Nuggets. The Clippers have not really played that well down the stretch. They've had a tough stretch of 7 of 11 on the road in March.
6. New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets (31-25) -- David West's improvement has made an impression. Not overly athletic as some of the other small forwards, but he's a great mid-range shooter and a solid rebounder. The team's playing very good basketball at home. Getting young guys to believe -- great job by coach Byron Scott.
7. Los Angeles Lakers (28-28) -- Their frontline has been extremely inconsistent, led by Kwame Brown. But Kobe and Phil are too good not to get there. At the very least, they'll go .500 the rest of the way. Barring injury, that gets them in.
8. Memphis Grizzlies (31-26) -- Losing Damon Stoudamire was big; he really figured out how to play winning basketball. Chucky Atkins will be serviceable and Bobby Jackson must stay healthy. Whether they make it or not is going to come down to their guard play.
ON THE OUTSIDE
• Sacramento Kings (26-30) -- Has gotten better D with Ron Artest, who gave them some toughness, one thing they lacked. They're going to make a good push, but they are a horrible, horrible road team. At 7-19, only Portland is worse in the West.
• Utah Jazz (27-29) -- In a lot of ways, they remind me of Chicago. The Jazz have everything you want, but not that go-to guy in crunch time. Andrei Kirilenko is a great player, Mehmet Okur is a perimeter-oriented big player. You need to have that guy who you can go to inside and score. If you look at the teams that are battling for a playoff spot, they feature a guy who can carry you offensively.
• Minnesota Timberwolves (24-31) -- Kevin Garnett is at his best when he's got a big-time scorer helping him. Ricky Davis is the key. KG did his best when Sam Cassell was making big shots. So, is Ricky this year's Cassell? That's the question we'll get the answer to in the coming weeks.
• Golden State Warriors (24-32) -- Too many guys who do the same things, and its toughest players are guards. A jump-shooting team like Sacramento, and that makes it hard to win on the road.
AP Photo/ Mark Weber
Pau Gasol wouldn't let the Wizards' Etan Thomas, left, stand in the way of his career-high 39 points as Memphis won. Gasol was two short of the franchise-high 41 set by Bryant Reeves in 1998.
As someone who finished high school in Cleveland, someone who lived there for 13 years, someone whose parents are Cavaliers season ticket holders, let me say this to the fans at Quicken Loans Arena:
What in the world are you thinking?
You booed LeBron James?
When I first heard it, I didn't believe it. I thought, "There's no way they could be so dimwitted, not the folks in C-Town." ABC ran with the story Sunday in Detroit, reporting that LeBron told Stuart Scott, "It makes you wonder . . . ''
That made it sound like the whole building was jeering, but after checking it out for myself, I understand it was just a smattering -- though a noticeable, unmistakable one. Still, even a smattering of boos is too much.
So he shot 0-for-8 in the second half of a loss to Washington. So he missed eight foul shots and scored just four points in the final two quarters. So what?
Coach, Players, Not Happy About Report
Iverson Not Selected For U.S. Team
We all knew Josh Smith could dunk. He showed a shooting touch on Monday
AP Photo/Gregory Smith
Atlanta coach Mike Woodson seemed astounded by one official's call in overtime. The Hawks topped the Nets, 104-102.
Quote of the Day
The Mavericks extended their home winning streak to 15 games with Monday's victory against the 76ers. Dallas is only the third team in the last three years to win 15 consecutive home games within a single season. The Heat (18 in a row) and Spurs (16) both did so in 2004-05.
After coming back from huge deficits to win their last two games (19 points against Memphis and 24 points against Toronto), the Mavericks put Philadelphia away early, building an 18-point lead (26-8) 6½ minutes into the game. That matched Dallas' second-largest lead during the first quarter of any game this season; the Mavs had a 26-point first-period lead against Detroit on Nov. 19.
• Elias Sports Bureau | More Elias
It's time for some follow-up on a previous missive. A while back, I pointed out that the Bucks were 13-1 in games decided by five or fewer points and that their luck was bound to even out over the course of the season. Well, that has proved more true than I had imagined.
In their last nine games decided by five or fewer, the Bucks are only 2-7, which is one reason they've fallen back to .500 on the season.
I didn't quite predict this kind of turnaround -- one would have thought Milwaukee would go 4-5 or 5-4 in such games -- but it just goes to show the fickle nature of Lady Luck in what are essentially 50-50 games.
With their fortunes evening out, the Bucks are only 12-17 since the beginning of January, leaving an opening that could allow Chicago to slip past them for the East's final playoff berth.
Marcus, Orlando: Does the Magic have the worst history in the league at player trades? Trade T-Mac for Steve Francis, Cuttino and Cato none who are still playing for the Magic!
John Hollinger: You have to understand that was the previous administration of Jon Weisbrod, who did some pretty foolish things. Fortunately, he also drafted Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, so the road to recovery won't be quite so long. And if you're looking for the worst history at player trades, over the long haul, the Golden State Warriors are holding for you on line 2.
Matthew (NYC): I'm sick of NBA analysts saying that the Franchisekiller trade wasn't that bad because "The Knicks weren't going to be under the cap soon anyway." We need to get there SOMEtime. Is this the worst general managing in the history of pro sports? Is it close?
John Hollinger: That's not necessarily true -- you can build a fantastic team without ever getting under the cap. Dallas did it. In fact, in today's era, where few star players ever become free agents, not being under the cap isn't much of a disadvantage at all, especially when your owner will allow you to pay luxury tax. Isiah's problems is that he only has so many assets he can make trades with, and he keeps on using them in deals that are only marginally helpful (Francis, Crawford) or downright hurtful (Curry, Rose).