Every Monday during the NBA season The Hoops Manifesto and its Bloguin bredren team up to answer some of the burning questions from the world of the NBA. In this edition we name which teams surprised us this year, identify some playoff sleeper teams and marvel at the power of the hug.
Contributors: Jeff Fox from The Hoops Manifesto, Diego from Leaving It All On The Court, Philip from Orlando Magic Daily, College Wolf from TWolves Blog, Don from With Malice, and Aaron Hodges from Knicks Fanatics.
1) With the NBA playoff picture pretty much set now, which team are you most surprised at being on the outside looking in? On the flipside, which team are you most surprised at making the playoffs this year?
"Indiana has no business making the playoffs, so they're my pick. But, then again, they do play in the Eastern Conference, so I shouldn't be that surprised. On the negative side, Utah is the pick, but only based on what we knew about them heading into the season. If you had told me that Jerry Sloan would quit and Deron Williams would get traded during the year, I would predict they wouldn't make the playoffs." - Jeff Fox
"Milwaukee. I really thought they had the roster not only to make the playoffs, but to make some noise once in there. Other side of that coin would be Philadelphia. Just quietly, be wary of those 76ers!" - Don
"No one saw it coming, but the Utah Jazz have had a free fall. And I thought that the loss of Carlos Boozer wouldn't have hurt this team a whole lot because Utah had a power forward of the future in Paul Millsap and another very solid post player in Deron Williams. The Jazz started out the year playing well, coming back on numerous teams and winning games in November. Things went sour really quickly, though. Jerry Sloan retired, and the Jazz did not wait for the media to speculate before pulling the trigger on a trade for Deron Williams. Perhaps Utah made a good decision by trading away a player who was going to leave in 2012, but I thought the Jazz had the potential to be a good playoff team this year. On the other side, I'm really surprised that the Denver Nuggets have played so well in the absence of Carmelo Anthony. I always thought that once the Nuggets traded away Anthony and Billups, that team was going into rebuilding mode. Now they've had one of the best records since the trade deadline. George Karl has done a good job of getting this team to mesh very quickly. Although people say that teams need superstars to win in the playoffs, I wouldn't be surprised one bit if Denver beat the Thunder in the first round." - Diego Quezada
"I think the answer has to be the Jazz, right? They started the season 15-5, and I saw some Elias Sports Bureau stats saying that they will basically have the greatest in-season collapse EVER, in regards to starting strong and missing the playoffs. They were 27-13 through the first 40 games! This franchise is the model of consistency, only missing the playoffs four times in the past quarter century. Probably most surprised about the Pacers. They are just so "blah" and unexciting and not very good. And they start Tyler Hansbrough." - College Wolf
"I know Utah has had a lot of turmoil this year from the resignation of Jerry Sloan and the trade of Deron Williams, but it still feels weird to see Utah out of the playoffs. This team just completely fell apart after the Williams trade and that is ultimately how their season is going to be remembered. I am surprised to see Memphis in there. I thought the Grizzlies would be a good team, but not playoff good. Zach Randolph has never been a team player, but he certainly looks like one now. Great season for the Grizzlies." - Philip
"I'm very surprised that Milwaukee isn't in the playoff picture. They were bringing back their core players and I thought the addition of Drew Gooden would make them even stronger. It wasn't to be. On the flip side I'm surprised those hicks from Indiana made it in. Any team that allows the Tim Tebow of the NBA (Hansbrough and Tebow represent overrated goofy white players that dominated in college but are over-hyped at the professional level) to get serious playing time should not be in the post season." - Aaron Hodges
2) Who's your darkhorse/sleeper team to make some noise in the playoffs?
"No one. Yeah, a bogus answer but I really don't see any teams seeded 5-8 upsetting any of the top four teams in the first round. Now that I've said that I'm sure to have guaranteed some gargantuan upsets this year!" - Jeff Fox
"The Lakers. Just kidding. Anyway... sleeper? Honestly? Whoever plays San Antonio. At this point in time, they are not looking at all like the team that swept aside all comers in the first half of the season." - Don
"The Portland Trail Blazers will be a dangerous team in the playoffs. It's actually kind of fascinating to think about it because this franchise has had its fair share of bad luck (the draft busts of Sam Bowie and Greg Oden) and the team heard the words "out indefinitely" attached to their star player Brandon Roy's name. But this team has a very solid core. Roy is back in limited minutes, and Portland has two athletic, defensive-minded wing players in Nic Batum and Gerald Wallace. LaMarcusAldridge learned how to play with his back to the basket and has played great this year. Throw in a savvy veteran in Andre Miller and a good rebounder in Marcus Camby, and you have a really good team. If the Blazers get the sixth seed and end up facing the Dallas Mavericks, I just might pick Portland." - Diego Quezada
"Memphis! They are legit, and playing as well, if not better, without Rudy Gay. I like some of their guys a lot. They could make some noise, especially if they play the ultra-struggling Spurs in the first round." - College Wolf
"Am I allowed to say the Magic? I think everyone knows that so long as you have Dwight Howard on your team, you are going to be a tough out. I still believe Orlando has the potential to put together a crazy run and get back to the Finals. Not that I still expect them to. My non-homer pick is Philadelphia. I think the 76ers could give the Heat or Celtics some problems in the first round (maybe)." - Philip
"The dark horse contenders are the New York Knicks and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder are dangerous because of the Perkins trade and the Knicks have the ability to get hot for a stretch run because of their trade for Carmelo Anthony. For them it all depends on how much Melocares for playing both sides of the ball. It's his team now and the rest of the guys will follow his lead." - Aaron Hodges
3) One of the Philadelphia papers recently wrotethat part of the Sixers resurgence this season is due to coach Doug Collins habit of hugging players. Do you believe in the power of the hug?
"Absolutely! In fact, I write my best stories right after College Wolf gives me a big, long hug (not really, but a guy can dream, right?!). In all seriousness, Doug Collins warm and open approach to coaching definitely has been beneficial to this young team, giving guys confidence in themselves, their team and the organization as a whole. When you know your coach cares about you, you are going to play much harder for him." - Jeff Fox
"Ummm... no. Well... whatever works. Come crunch time tho', I'll put more faith in the guys who will put someone else's ass on the floor, than someone whose coach is all touchy-feely." - Don
"Doug Collins should win the Coach of the Year (yes, over Thibs and Gregg Popovich). Although no one expected the Chicago Bulls to lead the East, many people at least expected them to be a top four seed. What Collins has done with the Sixers is nothing short of spectacular. And if hugging his players gives the guys on the court more confidence and faith in each other, then it works." - Diego Quezada
"110% Absolutely. And I am totally secure in my sexuality." - College Wolf
"As much as I believe in the power of beards." - Philip
"The hug is powerful but it speaks more to the atmosphere that Collins has created where each player is treated with love and respect. That goes a long way towards building a sense of community and a team that will fight for one another." - Aaron Hodges
4) Game of the week - pick the winner - Thurs, April 7th - Boston @ Chicago
Record so far: 9-10
Consensus: Chicago (unanimous pick)