Winners and Losers from This Week in the NBA
Here's what we know about the NBA with just a month left in the 2012-13 regular season: Aside from the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs having clinched playoff berths, we don't really know much.
The top seed in the West is still up for grabs, with the Oklahoma City Thunder hanging around. The same goes for home-court advantage in both conferences, though the current cluster in the East, with six teams within five games of one another, is particularly chaotic.
And then there's the much-publicized matter of whether or not the Los Angeles Lakers will crack the postseason picture now that Kobe Bryant's got a bad ankle. If they manage it, what will they have to do to fend off the Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks in that endeavor?
Meanwhile, the league's also-rans are all gearing up for a "fun" four weeks of tanking. The Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic already have a sizable head start in that regard.
Now that we have some idea as to what the landscape looks like across the Association as we approach St. Patrick's Day, let's have a look the most recent crop of winners and losers from the week that was.
Winner: Dwyane Wade
There's no doubt that LeBron James' otherworldly play has been the chief catalyst behind the Miami Heat's 21-game win streak. But it's Dwyane Wade who pushes the Heat from merely elite to all alone atop the Eastern Conference.
That much was made perfectly clear this past week.
Wade outscored James in two of Miami's five games, including the Heat's all-important pummeling of the Indiana Pacers. D-Wade was also responsible for a late run against the Atlanta Hawks that allowed LeBron to sit out the entire fourth quarter.
All told, Wade, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, averaged 21.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, five assists and 3.2 steals in five more Miami victories. Clearly, the guy's not over the hill just yet.
Loser: Los Angeles Lakers
And sure, it's great that Kobe Bryant didn't have to miss any time immediately after suffering a severe ankle sprain, though his start against the Indiana Pacers proved to be a token one.
Realistically, though, the Los Angeles Lakers will be hard-pressed to climb up the Western Conference standings—and might be in danger of missing the playoffs entirely—if Bryant doesn't allow his bum ankle to heal.
To be sure, the Lakers are all but lost on offense without Kobe. According to NBA.com, they score 107.3 points per 100 possessions when Bryant plays, which would rank as the fourth most efficient mark in the league. Without him, their productivity drops to 99.1 points per 100 possessions, which is on par with the 26th-ranked Minnesota Timberwolves.
At this point, it's a no-win situation for the Lakers.
If Kobe sits, they have to lean all too heavily on an old and banged-up Steve Nash, a foul-prone Dwight and an already depleted roster to create shots. If Kobe plays, the Lakers risk further injury to their 34-year-old superstar.
Loser: New York Knicks
Speaking of injuries, the New York Knicks can't seem to shoo the injury bug out of their locker room. With Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, the Knicks have enough bad knees to make at least one-and-a-half Allan Houstons.
Two, if you include the knee on which Stoudemire had an operation prior to the 2012-13 season.
The Knicks' knee issues are worrisome enough on their own, and even more so if you consider the mega-millions still owed to each of the players who possess them.
But those payouts are more of the front office's concern going forward. For now, losing three key cogs from a team that was already all too reliant on near-retirees is a bad sign for the Knicks' postseason hopes.
They've lost their past three games, by an average of 22.3 points each, to move dangerously close toward the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. That leaves their home-court advantage—and their hopes of winning a playoff series for the first time since 2000—in serious doubt.
Winner: Denver Nuggets
Among the Knicks' big losses from the past week was a 23-point shellacking at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in 'Melo's first trip back to the Pepsi Center since forcing his way to the Big Apple.
Not that the Knicks' fate was at all unique among those suffered by Denver's recent opponents.
The Nuggets have won their past 11 games in a row, including their past five by an average of 16.6 points. Six of those games have come against teams currently in the playoff picture, while another four have been achieved on the road.
The Nuggets aren't feeding exclusively on thin air and weak competition.
This latest hot streak has helped to pull Denver within sniffing distance of home-court advantage in the Western Conference, which would improve their odds of winning a playoff series for the first time since 2009.
Loser: Chicago Bulls
Even though the Chicago Bulls won 113-95 at Golden State Friday, they look to be in trouble heading into the stretch run.
That is unless there's something positive to take away from a 42-point loss in Sacramento and a subsequent Tom Thibodeau tirade. The loss was the Bulls' fourth in six games since the calendar flipped to March prior to Friday.
It puts Chicago on track to follow up their first losing month under Thibs (5-8 in February) with just their second losing month since their Penguin-like coach came aboard in 2010.
Winner: Donatas Motiejunas
D-Rose's return would do plenty to boost the Bulls' hopes, seeing as how their roster was already depleted by offseason departures.
Including that of Omer Asik, who now shares the Houston Rockets' frontcourt with Donatas Motiejunas.
So far, the seven-foot rookie out of Lithuania appears to be the big winner from the Rockets' decision to switch up their situation at power forward on the eve of the trade deadline.
He's started each of the past eight games for Houston, averaging 10.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists therein. That run includes a career-high 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting for D-Mo in the Rockets' win over the Phoenix Suns.
Motiejunas' combination of size, perimeter shooting and skill on the low block make him not only a tantalizing prospect going forward, but also a perfect fit for the inside-out approach that general manager Daryl Morey has worked to establish in Space City.
At the tender age of 22, Motiejunas still has plenty of potential left to tap.