Welcome to the final mailbag of the 2021-22 regular season. On to the questions…
(Note: Some questions have been edited for clarity.)
“The fact that you didn’t mention the Mavs in any of your contender tiers concerns me. I think this time they will go deep in the playoffs.” – Pio P.
“Keep sleeping on Dallas.” – Jeff A.
“Wow Mavs snubbed!” – Rigil N.
Dallas fans are upset! Okay, I know that the Mavs own the third-best record in the league since they shipped out Kristaps Porzingis at the trade deadline. Yes, they have a now in-form Luka Doncic, who is one of the five best players in the planet. It’s not that I didn’t consider these when I wrote the contender tiers column. But I intentionally left them off for a number of reasons.
First, they don’t satisfy the 5/4 Rule; Mavs are 17th in offensive rating and 6th in defensive rating. Second, I don’t trust Jason Kidd to make the proper adjustments in a seven-game series. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Doncic neither has a co-star nor a reliable supporting cast. The Mavs lost in the first round the past two years despite berserker mode Luka. I’m not discounting the possibility that they’ll advance to the second round this time (I’d even say it’s likely given the way Utah is playing), but asking Doncic to carry the team to two, let alone four, series wins is too much. We’ve already seen how that approach took its physical toll on Doncic late in games the last two postseasons. The Mavs are 8-9 without Doncic this season, so it will be nerve-wracking for them every time Doncic sits playoff minutes. Spencer Dinwiddie is better suited to be the fourth or fifth best player on a contender; good luck relying on him as your second-best guy.
So the Mavs? Still not contenders. I’d make some changes on the list though. I’m moving Brooklyn to tier 1 after news that Kyrie Irving will finally be allowed to play home games. I’m dropping Denver after their head coach Michael Malone said “there is no immediate return on the horizon” for either Jamal Murray or Michael Porter Jr. I’m swapping the Warriors and Celtics because of Steph Curry’s injury (though he’s expected to be back for the playoffs) and Boston’s sustained dominance since the end of January (+14.8 point differential and +15.4 net rating). I’m dropping the Jazz to the LeBron/Wilt tier because they’ve not looked good in the past ten games, but they could be a sleeper team if things break their way in the playoffs.
Here are my updated tier rankings:
• TIER 1 (Jordan/Russell): Suns, Bucks, Nets
• TIER 1.5 (Duncan): Sixers
• TIER 2 (Shaq/Kobe): Heat, Celtics
• TIER 3 (Kareem/Magic/Bird/Steph): Grizzlies, Warriors
• TIER 4 (LeBron/Wilt): Jazz
“Can the Grizzlies make the conference finals?” – Andrew M.
They have a decent shot. They’ve taken over the #2 seed in the West which means they’ll face either the Wolves or Clippers in the first round. Minnesota is a more difficult matchup (assuming neither Paul George nor Kawhi Leonard returns), but Memphis should beat them handily.
The Grizzlies could then face the Warriors or Nuggets in the conference semis. They lead the season series against the Warriors (2-1) and are 3-0 against the Nuggets. The Warriors have not looked like world-beaters since December, and even if Curry returns, don’t expect him to be at his very best—as we saw in his past postseason performances coming off a late-season/playoff injury (2016 and 2019). The Nuggets are unlikely to have both Murray and MPJ back for the playoffs which caps their ceiling, no matter how good Nikola Jokic is.
Memphis is deep, well-coached, and have Ja Morant. The reason why I have them as contenders unlike Dallas is because of the first two. They are 15-2 without Morant this season, which means they’re more than just a “give the ball to Ja and get out of the way” type of team.
“Do we trust the Bulls to actually make it past the first round of the playoffs?” – Vincent T.
I don’t. They’re three games behind the Bucks, Sixers, and Celtics with ten games to go. It’s tough to make up the difference with the number of games left, so it’s likely they’ll end up facing one of these three in the first round.
To be honest, I just don’t see a path where they can beat any of these teams in a playoff series. If Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both go cold, then maybe the Bulls have a shot? But the Celtics are playing the best defense in the league, which is a pretty good fail-safe to have if they struggle offensively.
“Would it be better if LeBron James retires? It would free up the media to cover other players, instead of shoving LeBron content down everybody’s throat all the time.” – Lorenzo R.
As tired as I am being flooded by LeBron news and highlights even on days when the Lakers aren’t playing, I’m not sure he just goes away even after he retires. He still has his own production company, he has his social media accounts, and his son is poised to become the most covered G-League player ever. He generates tons of clicks, reactions and comments from stans and haters alike, which are the currency of today’s digital media, so don’t expect the likes of ESPN, Fox, and TNT to suddenly stop churning out and recycling LeBron content once he hangs it up.
But I agree with your sentiment that the media needs to do a better job of covering other stars. We’re having an MVP battle for the ages and it’s sad that the three protagonists are not getting nearly enough coverage.
“Good stuff. Michael Jordan has the record for consecutive 10-point games if you include the playoffs, FYI.” – Robert J.P.
Ah, yes. It’s really weird that the NBA maintains an absolute separation of regular season and playoffs records. I mentioned in last Sunday’s column that LeBron holds the record for most consecutive double-digit points scoring streak in the NBA, but as Robert pointed out, I forgot to qualify that it’s for the regular season.
So LeBron officially has an active streak of 1,094 games, but between the start of the streak in 2007 until today, he has actually scored less than ten points in two official NBA games, including this one:
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar still holds the scoring record even though LeBron has scored the most points in the NBA. Absolute headscratcher, right? In football (the real one, not the American version), there’s no distinction between domestic and European competitions when counting season goal tallies. Those damn ‘Muricans.
“The Lakers can beat the odds this year. A longshot but I’m going with the Lakers as the 2022 NBA Champs!” – Angelo S.
Here’s a sound, friendly financial advice: don’t put your money where your mouth is. For your family’s sake.
But you know what, I dare you to immortalize your conviction like this guy: