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2007, January 4 – ESPN.com Daily Dime: What To Watch For The Rest Of The Way

June 24, 2008

January 4, 2007 — With the first third of the regular season in the
books, let’s take a look at how the final two-thirds could play out by
looking at a few team developments…

Team most likely to improve:

The Boston Celtics. That’s right folks, the team that already boasts
their Big 3, a club off to a 27-3 start, has room for improvement. The
room is there when you talk about James Posey, Kendrick Perkins, Eddie
House and Rajon Rondo.

They are going to get better in part because they are going to find a
way to more minutes once the Celtics have wrapped up their playoff
position. Doc Rivers should have already purchased the tuxedo for his
Coach of the Year speech. I like them to finish with around 65 wins.

Team most likely to sink:

The Minnesota Timberwolves. Al Jefferson is a stud and better days are
coming for the Wolves, just not this season. Their situation is that of
a team that’s either standing pat or getting worse the rest of the way.

Team that looks among the worst in the regular season, but could be the biggest playoff threat:

The Miami Heat won a title not so long ago. Dwyane Wade is a top
performer, while Shaquille O’Neal and Pat Riley are proven in the
playoffs. The Miami Heat are like a lurking "Friday the 13th" villain.
Coaches throughout the league won’t rest easy until they see the Heat
officially eliminated.

Team that looks great in the regular season, but is a likely minimal playoff threat:

The Portland Trail Blazers. The team recently went on a 13-game winning
streak, and is one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA. They
will be a joy to watch in the coming years. But their high level of
play now is hard to translate to the playoffs because of their relative
youth and inexperience. But the future is bright, and when Greg Oden
comes back, if he’s as advertised, watch out.

Contending team with the most glaring hole that needs fixing (and is realistically fixable.):

Utah is in need of some self-repair. Mehmet Okur where are you? You
could see Okur and Andrei Kirilenko as both needing that consistentcy
that once made them both All-Stars, a level of play that Carlos Boozer
and Deron Williams are on now. Kyle Korver’s the shooter they needed.
With Jerry Sloan as coach, this is a team that can become very
dangerous in the West.

Team that should stand pat:

The San Antonio Spurs. Last time I checked, they might not be the team
leading in television ratings, jersey sales and national TV
appearances, but they are the defending world champ until they are
dethroned.

The thing is, they are so well coached, they play at a championship
level and find way to keep starters’ game duration under 35 minutes.
The Spurs rightfully see the regular season as all about getting in
gear to win in the playoffs. When teams talk about franchises to model
themselves after, it’s San Antonio.

Team that needs to make a move, or else:

The Chicago Bulls. Their two best players are Ben Gordon and Luol Deng.
Both are up for contract extensions, both are unsigned. Scott Skiles
has been fired.

What this team needs now is to develop an identity, which can be helped
by getting an interior scorer and go-to guy. Getting Pau Gasol would be
a great move for them, a face-up shooter who can complement their
tremendous perimeter players. Seems like they have a glut of young big
guys like Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah who do the same type of things.

Teams most likely to be playing come the middle of June:

One is Detroit, which along with Phoenix has the best starting five in
the NBA. This is a team with an improved bench to support a core group
that has won a championship and now is cranking up the defense again. I
don’t think they’ll be a team that will go out and get 60-65 wins, but
when playoff time comes, trying to beat them 4 out of 7 will be all
that anyone can handle. From the West, the Spurs, as long as most
everyone is healthy, should be back.

ESPN analyst Jalen Rose is a regular contributor to the Daily Dime. For more about Jalen, visit his Web site: JalenRose.com.

By Jalen Rose
ESPN.com