4 Questions for
the Next 4 Months
1 WHO WILL CHANGE
THE BALANCE OF POWER IN THE WEST? The easy bet is to say that the Mavericks and
the Suns are the favorites to end the Spurs' choke hold on the conference. The
more intriguing, dark-horse candidates are the Clippers and the Nuggets. Both
have good shots at winning their divisions, which would enable them to avoid
the Spurs or the Mavs in the first and second rounds. Keep an eye, in
particular, on the health of Tim Duncan, who has been slowed all year by
plantar fasciitis of the right foot. If Duncan limps into the conference
finals, the door opens much wider for one of those two underdogs.
2 WILL KOBE
BRYANT BE THE MVP? Since 1984 the MVP's team has averaged 62 wins; the last MVP
on a team with fewer than 50 victories in a nonlockout year was Moses Malone,
whose 1981-82 Rockets won 46. This has been an excellent comeback performance
by Bryant, and there's little doubt that the .500 Lakers would be .300 without
him. But unlike '81-82, when Malone was the clear-cut choice, Bryant faces a
formidable field of candidates, all of whom play for teams likely to win 50.
The MVP favorite remains Steve Nash, whose Suns are on pace to win 54 games
despite the absence of Amar� Stoudemire.
3 WILL THE HEAT
GET ITS ACT TOGETHER? It's clear that the off-season overhaul by Pat Riley the
president has created chemistry problems not even Pat Riley the coach can
solve. Under Riley, Miami has surrendered 47 points in a quarter to Phoenix;
watched Shaquille O'Neal get shut down by the Suns' Kurt Thomas and the Nets'
Jason Collins over a nine-day span; and gone 1-9 against division leaders. If
the Heat hasn't stumbled on to a formula that can compete with the Pistons' by
now, it isn't going to find one in June. As for Miami's win over Detroit on
Sunday, it must be considered an aberration until the Heat sustains success
against elite teams.
4 WHO WILL BE THE
FIRST TO GO: ISIAH THOMAS OR LARRY BROWN? The Knicks owe Brown a reported $10
million a year through 2009-10, making them the rare franchise he might be in
no hurry to leave. Last spring he flirted with joining the Cavs as their top
exec, so don't be surprised if Brown helps engineer, in the next two years, the
removal of Thomas in favor of a low-profile G.M. of Brown's choosing (such as
Wizards player personnel director Milt Newton). That would enable Brown to
eventually take over as Knicks president.
5 Potential Summer Moves
?The Bulls send
Kirk Hinrich and the Knicks' unprotected lottery pick (received in the Eddy
Curry trade) to the Pacers for Jermaine O'Neal. Imagine that.
?The Jazz trades
Carlos Boozer to the Warriors for Mike Dunleavy and Adonal Foyle.
? Rick Adelman
resigns as coach of the Kings to take over the Sonics.
forward Al Harrington signs with the Hornets.