1. Denver is currently on an 13-game winning-streak, however, irrespective of how well they’re playing right now, the Nuggets aren't true contenders. True or false?
NUBYJAS WILBORN: Can we call them 10-carat instead of 18-carat gold? I won’t say they’re fool’s gold, but they’re not built to win a championship. Gallinari has stepped up and become a very efficient player. Nuggets are good and will make noise in the playoffs just not enough to survive the Wild Wild West.
J.R. GAMBLE: The Nuggets are loaded with talent and lacking a superstar closer. They’re built for success over 82 games. Come playoffs, rosters shrink and it’s my best five against yours. Galo and Manimal ain’t movin’ nothing. Plus, we know George Karl is no champion sideline stalker. He couldn’t get far with Melo. Couldn’t do it with GP and Shawn “7-shot” Kemp in ’96. He also fell short with The Big Three – Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, and Big Dog Robinson.
SANDY DOVER: Depends on what you mean by fool’s gold – if you mean that they’re posers because they may not be serious championship contenders, then that’s true. But they are such a wild card anyway, it’s difficult to call them, at all. The Gambler is right when he talks about Karl not winning anything, but Karl also lost in the Jordan and Popovich eras, which have foiled the vast majority of the league teams.
DJ DUNSON: True. Preparing for a quick visit to the thin Denver air and the blazing fast Nuggets for one night is like trying to get a chick’s digits while your wife is standing over your shoulder. You’re gonna be distracted and off your game. Playoff time is like last-call at the club. You’re dialed in. Come playoff time, opposing coaches can give more priority to game-planning for teams like Denver over a seven-game series. Denver’s defense is flimsy and they don’t have a singular offensive playmaker on their roster that can score in the half court. Defenders of the Nuggets regularly spout their league leading points-in-the-paint advantage, but that statistic is also fool’s gold. Sacramento, Detroit and Houston are second, third and fourth.
B. SCOTT: They’re fool’s gold unless you think they can beat Oklahoma City or San Antonio in a seven-game series if it came down to it. As impressive as the Nuggets have been, I don’t think we’re going there. But they do make a damn-good case for the best Nuggets team, ever.
2. LeBron and Durant are the two best players in the league, but who is holding down that third slot?
GAMBLE: Interesting how we skip over Kobe. Durant doesn’t score it that much better. He’s not Mamba-clutch and we know about the ring situation. Durant is averaging about 28 ppg, 8 boards and 4.5 assists. Kobe – old, dinged up and playing with walking zombies all season – is splicing 27 ppg, 5.5 boards and about 6 dimes. These stats are almost dead-even, and Durant is 100 years younger. Can Kobe at least retire before you bury him?
SANDY: It isn’t Carmelo Anthony? This year, it’s ’Melo, but it’s particularly because he’s playing as a combo-4. If ’Melo is always in this kind of position to succeed, being No. 3 in the league will always be his, but I think he’s only behind LBJ. ’Melo is having a better year than KD.
DUNSON: The baby ’fro may be gone from the old man’s shaven dome, but Kobe Bryant closes out the triumvirate of Durant and James. Bryant is also third in another, more historic category. Only two guards have ever posted a higher player efficiency rating at age 34 or over than the one Bryant boasts this season; The Logo, Jerry West and the man with the other, more recognizable silhouette in the world (Jordan).
B.SCOTT: Doesn’t it still have to be Kobe? I understand there are younger players that can give it more go than Kobe can at his age, but not another player has the type of impact on his team that Kobe does, other than maybe Chris Paul.
NUBYJAS: Kobe is still the man. He's by far the 3rd best player in the game right now. He's more clutch than anyone else left and who else can put a team on his back like the Mamba? He might whine and kvetch but when the chips are down Kobe will win.
3. The Bucks are an intriguing team. Is it possible that they could give a higher seed a rough time in a first-round series, or are they a typical no-upside 8th seed?
NUBYJAS: Milwaukee is like an attractive woman on Instagram. She looks really great until you find out she only looks good on camera with every filtering and lighting trick known to man. Monta Ellis and Ersan Ilyasova are legit ballers, but they’re not A.I. who was good to get you at least one game.
GAMBLE: The Beertown Bandits bring a three-guard bomb squad to any hoop show. If you don’t come out handling these cats, they can run up a dub lead with the quickness. They also share the rock. Milwaukee could give the 2-7 seeds a pants-piss. Problem is they have the same chance of beating Miami as Tyler, The Creator has of getting invited to the White House.
SANDY: Word to Wilborn on the attractive woman analogy. The league is all about matchups, and the Bucks can stunt on anyone not named Miami or New York. They’re more balanced than people give them credit for, they’re not selfish (as Gamble made reference to), and they have the legs to make plays. Beware.
DUNSON: Monta Ellis, JJ Redick and Brandon Jennings are sacrificial lambs in the first round. At least, they’ll finally get some national acknowledgement in four first-round games. Nobody has really watched Milwaukee since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Bucks to an NBA title, 40 years ago, under the assumed identity of Lew Alcindor. Does anybody remember much about Ray Allen’s first six years besides the 2000 playoffs? The Heat are going to treat Milwaukee like they’re Brandon Knight defending lobs mid-air.
B.SCOTT: They’re like the Golden State Warriors of the East. Makes sense that they have Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings leading the team. What are they supposed to do with Miami or Indiana, though? How’s that going to work? They can make things interesting, but I don’t see them making noise in the East any more than I do the Warriors in the West.
4. Quiet as it’s kept, the Nets are only two games out of the 2nd seed in the East. Do you guys still hate Deron Williams?
NUBYJAS: I never hated him, but he was becoming a non-factor in the top PG conversations. He was becoming more of a nuisance than he was worth. Now, he’s back to playing basketball and not sniping at his coaches. When he does that we’ll love him until he starts messing up again.
B.SCOTT: Nah, but he’s not all that happy with the media, and I can’t say I really blame him. He wants it to be one way, but for fans and media that can’t identify with the struggle of being a pained athlete pressured to perform, it’s the other way.
GAMBLE: D-Will has played better, lately. Check his 57-point explosion in early March against the D-II Bobcats. Overall, he hasn’t been the sure-shot guard Prokhorov paid him $100 million to be. With the playoffs looming and the Knick’s plummeting, it’s time for Williams to lead the Nets to greener pastures. It seems like this dude can just turn it on and off. He needs to keep the faucet flowing till summer.
SANDY: I never hated Deron, but I think he’s a WacArnold for his petulance, and for, generally, being moist as hell. With that said, when he’s healthy and locked in, he’s a danger to opponents. He’s not the kind of leader that is particularly ideal, but he can make things happen.
DUNSON: Everybody loves a healthy, happy Deron Williams, but he still gets too negative when things spiral downwards. Health has also played a role in his effectiveness, and, for now, Brooklyn is reaping the benefits. But let’s see how long this lasts. He’s averaging 23 and 8 since the All-Star break and is still cold enough to make the Nets a top-four team in a weak Eastern Conference, but hovering a few games out of second in the East isn’t a unique accomplishment. Atlanta, Boston, New York and Chicago can each make that claim.
5. The side effect of the Heat winning-streak is the overwhelming amount of people on the Heat bandwagon. These are the same jokers who hated on this team extra-hard just last season. Is it ever alright to let those people slide and get over, or do you just call a spade a spade?
NUBYJAS: At this point, if you hate the Heat you just don’t love good basketball. I’m going to let them slide as long as they don’t break their ankles jumping off the bandwagon if LeBron leaves for Cleveland in a few years.
GAMBLE: People are sheep. These days, individual thought is rare, but opinions are always flaring. Plus, everybody loves a winner. We are the most front-runningest, bandwagon-ass sports fans in the world. And last time I checked by most fan, media and basketball community accounts, LBJ is the reigning NBA King. So he gets a King’s love from street corner to corner cubicle. For now...
B.SCOTT: Has to make you wonder what people got so worked up for in the first place. We, as sports fans, get too caught up in the stories we want. Thing about this is that dogging LeBron, specifically, was about him being crowned King before winning a championship, even though he did have postseason success in Cleveland. We wanted him to be Jordan; except, he’s LeBron. Now that he’s “legitimized,” and still taking his game to new heights, there’s no more talk.
SANDY: Just the nature of how people turned on LBJ makes me lean to calling a spade a spade, but as Gamble said, people are always switching up and now LBJ and the Heat are so transcendent in their play, you almost have to stop keeping count of the phonies out there.
DUNSON: Fans are fickle, but one thing they can’t deny is when they’re witnessing greatness. This 22-game win-streak is moving hearts and minds, but one group of fans you won’t ever find hitching a ride on the Heat bandwagon are Clevelanders. They ride or die on the buggy. On Wednesday, the Heatles could be bringing their Winning Streak Tour through Cleveland. If this streak reaches 33 games, Dan Gilbert might have a conniption.