|NBA Player Power Rankings|
||So far: Led his Mavericks on an astonishing 51-5 run since the season's first week. Improved his defense to a point where he can disrupt a possession all by himself and his offense enough to where Dallas can put up big numbers despite being one of the NBA's slowest teams. Has played the best individual brand of basketball in the league since the season began.
Needs to: Find a healthy balance between trying to win 70 games (Dallas needs to finish 15-3, no easy task) and keeping the legs fresh for what still promises to be a hellacious postseason. As JE Skeets of the Basketballjones.net blog noted, perhaps it is best for Dirk's Mavs to drop three of five right now, so as not to force the team into striving for that 70th win late in the season and losing focus of the real goal: the franchise's first championship.
||So far: Managed to contribute near-dominant play on both ends of the court for most of the season without breaking the 35-minute-per-game barrier, resting enough to take over and play for longer stretches during San Antonio's current 11-game winning streak.
Needs to: Continue apace, and be careful not to tweak his ankles with another late-season sprain. Also, sustain the confidence from the free throw line, where Duncan has made nearly 75 percent since January.
||So far: Offered another near-perfect season defensively and offensively, while the teammates again fall short of providing playoff-level support. Though Garnett's production has diminished slightly for the third straight season, he's still working at a near-MVP level.
Needs to: Continue to work with and gleam as much from that supporting cast as he can. Minnesota is two games out of the playoff race, but with Mark Blount and Randy Foye coming on as crunch-time performers, a trip to the postseason isn't out of the question.
||So far: Seamlessly blended his own game with that of his teammates. A year after taking 27.2 shots per game, he's down to 20.8, while playing the most well-rounded offensive ball of his career.
Needs to: Reacquire the defensive mind-set that allowed (duped?) coaches into voting him onto the All-Defensive team in years past, even though he was at times merely roaming for steals and playing off his own man. Stop taking quick three-pointers off screens, a la Ray Allen. Allen makes those shots; Kobe is shooting 34.8 percent from beyond the arc.
||So far: Established his case for a third straight MVP. Nash may not be the best player in the NBA, but voters will have a hard time passing on a two-time defending MVP who is having a career year. Even at half speed, still the most entertaining player to watch in this league.
Needs to: Chill. Stop taking charges. Stop exhorting his teammates to push the ball after the Bobcats score on you. We understand that it's hard to keep up Nash's recently acquired rough-boy style of leadership if he's taking plays off -- you lose a bit of credibility, even with that résumé -- but he has to find a balance in the season's last few weeks and find a way to rest his 33-year-old body. The regular season may have only six weeks left, but the Suns are planning on playing for 3˝ more months.
||So far: Only saved his career from the brink, roaring back on two surgically altered knees to make everyone forget that he could barely get up and down the court for the 15 months following the 2005 postseason. Averaged 28.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and a hearty 41.1 minutes in February -- after playing 50 minutes in all of 2005-06.
Needs to: Keep playing, working back into shape and contributing even with Nash off the floor.
|| So far: After looking as if his back pain would overwhelm him, McGrady roared back with an MVP-level run since Christmas, providing the offensive spark his defensive-minded (and injury-plagued) Rockets need to place themselves in the Western elite.
Needs to: Continue to attack while featuring Yao Ming (you remember him -- he's the center who averages 25 points and nine rebounds) and developing the sort of two-man game needed to win a playoff series or two. The defense will be there. Now Houston needs to develop a dynamic, multifaceted offense.
||So far: Has failed to fundamentally build on a game that is based solely on hops, quickness and strength at this point. Though LeBron has played brilliant ball of late, taking over down the stretch of an inspired win in Detroit on Wednesday, his footwork is still lacking, and he too often relies on either the perimeter bomb or a full-out dash to the hoop to get his scoring done. It appears as if we'll have to wait another season for the in-between game.
Needs to: Stay aggressive. LeBron is averaging 37 points with nearly seven rebounds and seven assists in March, mainly because he's looking to put his stamp on each offensive possession. If he keeps his play inspired and his up-and-down teammates up, the Cavs will be able to stave off Chicago and grab the East's second seed.
||So far: A career year by far, though his per-game numbers don't suggest as much. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has kept Manu's minutes down -- he's coming off the bench at this point -- and Ginobili has responded with games like Thursday night's performance against Sacramento: 31 points, five rebounds, three assists and four steals in just 29 minutes.
Needs to: Encourage Coach Pop to keep handing him minutes, because every minute that Michael Finley plays with Ginobili out means trouble for San Antonio.
||So far: Built on his first All-Star appearance to lead his team out of the cellar. The Raptors are on pace for an Atlantic Division title and 44 wins even without a major free-agent acquisition or huge numbers from their two rotation rookies, Andrea Bargnani and Jorge Garbajosa. Also, out of nowhere, Bosh became a sometimes-dominant rebounder (10.3 a game), averaging one more carom this season despite playing fewer minutes.
Needs to: Keep it up, because a strong finish (and increased lead over a Nets team with a tough remaining schedule) could have this young Raptors team thinking about the second round of the playoffs.