By Ron Chambers
With just over thirty games left in the season for most teams and All-star Weekend behind us, it is time to start looking more seriously at the play-off races. What is so interesting this years is that in the West there are several teams bunched at the top and in the East there are several teams bunched for the last few spots.
Salt Lake City, Capetown, Oregon, Cancun, and Gabon are all bunched within just two games in the standings. This means that a single injury or short slump could drop a team from first in the standings to fifth. The play-off implications of this are huge. There is also an eleven game gap between #5 Gabon and #6 Sacramento. This means that while there will be interest in the fight for the last few spots between teams like Sacramento, Omaha, Arkansas, Seoul, and Mexico City it won’ be nearly as exciting as the battle between the top teams in the West.
Salt Lake City
It surprises many people but the Fanatics are one of the most talented teams in the league. They have been able to consistently stay at the top of the standings in the West and barring an injury they could easily finish the season there. After a 10 game winning streak they went on a three game slide until rebounding against The Liberty. But, these sorts of things happen in the WBA so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Cordell Parks and Eugene LaMaitre both had deserved spots on teh All-Star team. With the exception of a 10 game injury to Sean Ashman SLC has been pretty healthy. Will that hold out?
The Zulus are only half a game behind SLC. Like SLC they had a 10 game winning streak but have stuggled recently going 2-4 in their last six games. Don’t expect that to last. They are too talented. Abdiel Gordon is the heart and soul of this team and maybe the best power forward in the league. And he was the only All-star selection on the team
Oregon is the current WBA Dynasty with appearances in the last three finals and two championships from those. But, they are aging. Or are they? The perception is that Oregon is old because they have been so good for so long but with their blockbuster deal that brought Simeon Hill to Oregon they now have three starters who are just 26. In theory, bringing Hill to Oregon should make them probably the best team in the West. They are 5-1 since the trade deadline so it may have worked. On the other hand four of those wins were against lower tiered teams. However, Hill who leads the league in rebounding and was over 13 a game before the trade has only averaged 6.5 rebounds since coming to Oregon. To be fair he played very limited minutes in his first two games but still has averaged only 8.5 in the others four. It will be interesting to see how this huge move on GM Kevin Harper’s part works out. In the long run I am certain it is a good deal but will it be enough for them to get to the Finals for the fourth straight year? Hard to tell.
This team just keeps plugging along. The Injury to Kent Mercer hurt them but they are healthy again so expect them to keep rolling. Parker Mason and Ahmed Dougherty are one of the most dynamic back courts in the league which is why they both started for teh West on All-star weekend. They play a slow steady defensive game that gives teams fits. But, they can also score when they need to.
This is a team thatmade some major moves to try an get to the big dance this year. But, they are only 3-4 since the trade deadline. Fortunately for them some other top teams have also struggled recently but they need to turn this around to keep pace. Many observers thought that trading for Salera wa a huge move an it will probably still turn out to be one but he has been wildly inconsistent scoring between 2-31 points since being on the Giants. His average has been 15.6 which is down some but not terrible but he has to become more consistent.
In the east there is an interesting race at the top with teams like Brooklyn, Toronto, Miami, London, and last years champion Paris. But, the real excitement will be for the bottom three spots where seven teams are within 2.5 games of each other. The stakes here are even higher than in the West since those who can’t pull ahead won’t have a post season.
This team has been one of the biggest disappointments this year. But, to be fair they have had serious injuries to both Williams and Bolk. But, Bolk is coming back and Williams is healthy so I expect this team will make a run andmight even be able to put some pressure on Paris. If that is true the final two spots will get even more interesting.
Dickinson and Fonzarelli are some great young talent to build around. Valente is another key player though in the middle of his career. This team is pretty average across teh board expect that they play clean ball commiting very few fouls and the are one of teh best 3-point shooting teams in the league. But, they like all the teams I am talking about here in the East are a work in progress. They have beenplaying well of late and they need to keep that up.
This is one of teh most frustrating and exciting teams in the league. They have the top scoring offense and the league’s worst defense. So far in February, they are only 1-4 which is not a good sign and Center Ellis LAw is injured and expected to be out for the rest of the month which will probably cost them a couple of games they can’t afford to lose. But, right now they are inteh 8th spot and it is theirs to lose. They have a lot of talent but if they want to take they next step they are going to have to make some moves to get defense on this team.
This is the last .500 team I will talk about and as of today they are sitting on the outside looking in. This is a team with talent but they also are not nearly as tough on defense as they should be. They need more protection of the rim and some quick hands to get steals. Mostly though, they just need to toughen up. They are allowing over 45% from the field and over 40% from behind the arc. That won’t cut it.
This team is another surprise. I thought they were going to be much better. I have to admit that looking back at their team last year they only won 42 games and finished 7th in teh East so they aren’ much behind that. But, the reputation of the teams GM and his constant reminders that he has never missed the play-offs made me expect more. This team also made several moves to try and make a play-off push. And, they are 4-2 since the trade deadline so maybe it worked. Kane, Jarvis, and Hameleers may be the best three guard rotation in the league and Gordon Whitehouse is a stud. The question is if management can get all the parts working together in time to push for the play-offs. They are only1.5 games out with 30 left so there is a good chance.
This team had 49 wins last year but is struggling this year. Which is a shocker with Wayne Taylor and Danny Hainge averaging 53.5 points combined. But, the reality is that besides those two this is a young team that still needs to develop. Gorman, Erickson, Palmer, and Kunze are all young good talent. But, can tehy develop enough in the next couple of years to get Taylor the championship he wants and probably deserves? When you look at the teams stats all around you actually expect a better winning percentage. At the end of December they had one but they went 4-9 in January. Can they turn it around? If they can the race for the last couple of spots in the play-offs could be even more interesting.
The last team I will look at is the Liberty. This is another team that I thought could end up over .500. In hind site I was suckered in by their potential which is HUGE. Bohm and Lyons are both stars of the future. Despite going 7-8 in January they are 5-1 in their last six. But, this team is all about the future so they won’t cry too hard if they miss the play-ofs this year.