Best of the Week
DENVER NUGGETS (3-0)
So Denver is into the top four of the West and has actually moved just a game behind the Clippers for the third-best record in the conference, thanks to an 11-game winning run that has shown them beat New York and Memphis in Week 20.
The Nuggets have displayed the ability to win both ways, able to pile up the points (110.3 points per game in seven wins in March) while also possessing the capability to go toe-to-toe with a stout defensive team (limited Memphis to 80).
Kosta Koufos was a revelation this week, plastering Phoenix with 22 points and 10 rebounds before roughing it up against the Grizzlies’ rugged frontcourt with 18 points and 16 boards. We know that Koufos is a reliable big man who can bring you his share of points and rebounds from a center, but never has the Greek American shown promise in a week-long stretch.
Denver faces the biggest test of this run in a rematch against Oklahoma City, whom they beat, 105-103, on March 1. If they are able to surpass the Thunder anew, then the Nuggets have a legit chance of further moving up in the standings with 15 outings left in the calendar.
Miami heat (4-0)
What can we say here? The Heat are on its way to making history with yet another brilliant display of talent, skill and resilience in Week 20 to extend their streak to 22.
James shot below average (by his lofty standards) over the last seven days, Chris Bosh continues to get away with hauling three rebounds per game (he’s only passed 10 once in his last 16 outings) and Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers just come alive once every five games.
Despite all these, the Heat have gutted out win after win with their hellacious defense as no team has breached the 100-point mark against Miami in March, with the closest the 96-point performance Orlando brought against them two weeks ago.
What is exciting is that after Boston, the Heat would be facing four of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, to be followed by a date with injury-riddled Chicago and New Orleans before they finally meet the best team of the West in San Antonio on March 31.
WORST of the Week
PHOENIX SUNS (0-4)
Well, the Phoenix experiment of 2012-13 has blown right into the Suns’ front office’s face, as they now stand tied with the Hornets with the worst record in the West.
Week 20 was especially depressing for the Phoenix faithful, as their Suns got battered by Denver (108-93), Houston (111-81), Atlanta (107-94) and Washington (127-105) --- a stretch that saw them give up a whopping 113.3 points per game while only managing to score 93.3 markers for a 20-point differential.
It’s quite funny how the Suns were made a springboard by several players last week as Kosta Koufos, Donatas Motiejunas and Martell Webster all came out with career-best games against Phoenix. Josh Smith also successfully returned to the Hawks in an easy win, abusing the Suns’ frontcourt with 17 points, 11 boards and seven assists.
DETROIT PISTONS (0-3)
The Pistons got one-upped by the Bobcats last week, as Charlotte surprised a lot of people by beating the pulp out of the Celtics, 100-74. That left us with woeful Detroit as the worst team in the East, continuing their fruitless March with a 0-3 stretch.
Lawrence Frank’s crew breathed new life into the sagging playoff hopes of Golden State, Portland and Utah, with each of the three Western Conference teams they visited coming away with wins over a team that looked like happy to be giving games away.
This dry week sent the Pistons tied for 12th – 13th spots in their conference, still eight games out of the NBA-worst Bobcats, but definitely closer to a top-five pick come June.
ALL-WEEK 20 TEAM
G John Wall, Washington Wizards
24.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 11.0 assists, 2.5 steals, 61.7% FG shooting
The Wizards are on a roll and that’s because Wall is playing like the wizard we thought he would be coming out of college. The former #1 pick was an all-around force in Week 20, knowing when to take over and when to look for hot-handed teammates, as evidenced by Martell Webster’s 34-point breakout against the Suns.
G Monta Ellis, Milwaukee Bucks
26.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 2.3 steals, 52.6% FG shooting
Ellis has been not-so-Monta-Ellis-like of late, shooting with efficiency and learning how to dish out the rock for higher-percentage shots rather than his usual fare of force, force and force. Ellis shot 63.2% and 59.1% against Washington and Orlando, respectively, averaging 32.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 2.5 steals.
G Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
22.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 2.0 steals, 53.1% FG shooting
Wade takes this spot ahead of LeBron in Week 20, as he remained the most consistent Heat player, even sealing their win against Philadelphia with a tip-in late in the game. Miami’s biggest scare was when Wade was shaken in a collision with Larry Sanders in Milwaukee but the high-flying guard returned and finished with 20 points, seven boards and nine assists. Talk about heart.
F-C LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
27.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 3.0 blocks, 56.4% FG shooting
The Portland forward was particularly blemish-free over the past week, as the Trail Blazers moved back into playoff contention with back-to-back wins. Aldridge has not missed a free throw since March 6 (25-of-25 in five games) while helping Portland beat both New York and Detroit with 26.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks on 58.3% shooting.
C Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
23.7 points, 13.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 blocks, 58.5% FG shooting
The Spurs have kept a tight grip on the #1 spot in the West mainly because Duncan refuses to follow Father Time. Against Dallas, Duncan put up 28 points and 19 rebounds while making 12 of 20 shots before bullying his way to 30 points and 12 boards versus Cleveland as San Antonio went 2-0.