Who should be added to VIP list?

3/14/2014 - NBA

J.A. Adande and Israel Gutierrez discuss which teams besides the Heat, Pacers and Thunder should be considered title contenders.

Israel: It's funny, J.A., we just spent last week discussing Adam Silver's desire to get a bit more "randomness" in the playoffs, and then bam, we get a bunch of random losses by teams we figured to be the best of the best. Indiana went through a four-game skid, Miami suffered three straight losses, the Thunder lost five of eight and gave up an average of 117 points in those losses. All of a sudden you start to look at some of these other teams, teams we'd all figured were "outsiders" in this championship chase, and saying "Hmm, maybe... " Perhaps most intriguing is the Joakim Noah-led Bulls team, which roughed up the Heat on Sunday.

The Rockets are also forcing us to pay attention, as are the Nets, who would like you to believe they'll be trouble if they can get to the second round of the playoffs. Now, the Bulls and Rockets didn't help their respective cases with difficult losses Tuesday night, but are we looking at any teams getting added to the VIP list late in this season? You run a well-respected lounge, how do these things work?

J.A.: You should know, there's always a way into the exclusive clubs if you know the right person to ask for. In this case it helps to be able to say, "I know Maurice." As in, Maurice Podoloff, the name of the Most Valuable Player trophy. Since 1980 all but four of the NBA champions have had someone who'd spent quality time with Maurice in either that season or years past. Blake Griffin could be a member of that fraternity if the Clippers ride their recent winning ways to the NBA's best record. That's a long shot, but isn't that the topic today? Here are some Clippers concepts that aren't so far-fetched: They might have two of the top five players in the league in Griffin and Chris Paul. They have a championship-proven coach in Doc Rivers. They're the leaders in point differential, at plus-7.0. They got deeper after the trade deadline with the additions of Glen Davis and Danny Granger. They have the potential to get even deeper if J.J. Redick can return from this back injury. I better stop here before I talk myself into moving the Clippers from a long shot to the favorite.


You should know, there's always a way into the exclusive clubs if you know the right person to ask for. In this case it helps to be able to say, "I know Maurice." As in, Maurice Podoloff, the name of the Most Valuable Player trophy.

"-- J.A. Adande

Israel: Well, I'll help you temper that excitement by adding that if you take out a 45-point win against the Sixers and the 48-point drubbing of the Lakers, that point differential is down to 5.8 a game, which would drop them to fourth-best. Of course, you can't take that away from them, so I'll also counter with this: The team that tends to annoy the Clippers greatly, the Memphis Grizzlies, is one of those teams tugging on the velvet rope. The Grizzlies are 20-7 since Marc Gasol returned from his knee injury in mid-January. Unlike the teams that fall into the pace trap with Los Angeles, the Grizzlies know how to slow the game down, easily allowing the fewest points per game in the Western a Conference -- more than three points fewer than anyone else in the conference. They've improved their depth some with the additions of Nick Calathes and Courtney Lee, and, well, Mike Miller is looking for a personal three-peat. The weirdest stat regarding the Grizzlies is they're 2-11 against their division foes and 35-15 against the rest of the league. So if they can stay away from the Spurs, Rockets or Mavs in the playoffs, hey, you never know.

I do believe the Clippers would like to avoid the Grizzlies. Just as I'm sure the Heat would prefer not to see Chicago in the postseason.

J.A.: The Heat won't be nervous if they see Chicago in the postseason. They're 8-2 in playoff games against the Bulls since LeBron and Bosh came to town. It's the regular season that's the problem; Chicago has won nine of the 15 meetings in Miami's Big Three era. That speaks to how those games mean so much more to the Bulls than to the Heat. It's the most one-way rivalry in the NBA. It's like San Francisco vs. Los Angeles in general life. San Franciscans are obsessed with hating all aspects of L.A., while L.A. is like, "whatever." If the Bulls and Heat meet in the playoffs with the Heat healthy and fully engaged, it could be another 4-1 series.

The regular-season imbalance that I'm most curious to see tested in the postseason is Houston vs. San Antonio. The Rockets are 3-0 against the Spurs, and one of those wins was without James Harden, who averaged 30 points and six assists and shot 60 percent in the other two games. My knock on the Rockets is that they haven't been through the playoffs as a group yet. Whom or what will they turn to if they fall behind in a series? What if their 3-pointers aren't falling? The Spurs are looking unbeatable these days with their full squad on the court, and as we saw during the Finals last year, all of the regular-season minutes the reserves play while the stars are resting can pay dividends in the playoffs (I'll reserve at least one trip to the podium for Patty Mills right now).

As for the Rockets, since they took off in mid-January, their only loses have been to the Thunder (twice), Grizzlies (twice), Clippers and Warriors. Houston will probably face at least one of those teams in the playoffs. The Rockets' biggest problems come when they turn the ball over above the free throw line; the Clippers, Thunder and Warriors are all in the upper half of the league in forcing turnovers. The Rockets are coming together a little bit faster than I thought they would, but the playoffs could be their version of a flight landing, only to have to wait for a gate to open up.


I do believe the Clippers would like to avoid the Grizzlies. Just as I'm sure the Heat would prefer not to see Chicago in the postseason.

"-- Israel Gutierrez

Israel: That's quite a shot at folks from the Bay. But they should probably be concentrating on their own crew of outsiders, because the Warriors are beginning to look like the threat we thought they'd be. Before that road loss to the Clippers on Wednesday, the Warriors had been on a five-game win streak in which they allowed an average of under 95 points per game, and they aren't relying on Steph Curry's offense nearly as much. Given they remain a top-three team in defensive efficiency, they could be quite dangerous come playoff time if they play a disciplined brand of basketball.

But I've got to give some love to the Brooklyn Nets. It seems as if that first portion of their season defined them, and now no one is taking them seriously despite their Eastern Conference best 23-9 record since Jan. 1. Well, they just went to Miami and won, which has to do wonders for their confidence -- especially because it came without Kevin Garnett. The Nets are slow and methodical, in large part because two of their biggest weapons play a slow game (Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson). But that doesn't make them bad. In fact, it'll actually help the deeper into the playoffs they go. Regular-season records against opponents don't necessarily translate in the playoffs, as we've seen with Miami over the last few years. But the Nets are at least worthy of our attention now that they're 3-0 vs. the Heat and continue to shake off the stench of their start to the season. I'm still not letting them inside the ropes, but if one of the bigger celebrities decides not to show, they're at least on my short list of replacements.