That's right Ronnie, things aren't going to be easy.
The latest edition of 2012 NBA Power Rankings shows the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat might have to start thinking about the Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers a bit harder.
Writing about Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls is usually pretty stress-free. At 34-9, they have the best record in the NBA and are on track for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, the current version of these 2012 NBA Power Rankings actually suggests the road to the NBA Finals is constantly getting more difficult. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat own the top efficiency differential in the association, and four of the top five teams are from the East.
The conference will still catch flack for a pathetic race at the eighth seed position -- it belongs to the 18-22 New York Knicks at the moment -- but the top of the East is actually stronger than the West. After the Heat and Bulls, the Philadelphia 76ers are the No. 3 team in efficiency differential, while the Indiana Pacers have moved up to No. 5. Even back at No. 9, the dangerous Orlando Magic (the second-best three-point shooting team in the league) loom as a legitimate obstacle on the road to the Finals.
NBA Trade Deadline chatter will only get louder until it passes at 2 pm CT on Thursday, March 13, so it makes sense to take a look around the league for strengths and deficiencies right now. One matchup problem for the Bulls with those top teams in the East involves Carlos Boozer. He has been phased out a bit in favor of the more agile Taj Gibson in late-game situations, but the issue might get worse in the coming months. The Miami Heat are a problem even if Boozer doesn't matchup up with Chris Bosh, but the Pacers, Sixers and Magic also feature stretch fours in their offense.
David West is having one of his worst seasons, posting career lows in True Shooting percentage (51.2), PER (17.22), Field Goal percentage (46.7), and Points Per Game (12.5), but he still takes five shots per game beyond 10 feet and works well in pick-and-pop that Carlos will have trouble covering. The same thing goes for Sixers forwards Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young, but it gets multiplied for Magic PF Ryan Anderson. He takes nearly seven three-point attempts per game and hits 43.4 percent, and anyone who thinks Boozer can show and recover back to the arc is way too optimistic.
Getting Dwight Howard would be a way to make the Magic irrelevant and shore up Chicago's No. 17 rank for finishing at the rim this season, but you don't really need any convincing about the benefits of adding Howard. Besides, even Derrick Rose says that whole angle is getting old. Perhaps the most valuable thing might be to look at the competition to understand their true needs at the moment.
The Magic might just make a desperate move and hope they can convince Dwight to stay in the offseason. If it fails, they can always deal him in a sign-and-trade anyways, so the risk isn't that big to let Otis Smith wheel and deal once more. Dwight is a great finisher (read: dunker), converting 73.5 percent of his shots at the rim, but the team is still just No. 15 overall inside three feet. Some of that is due to playing three-point specialists like Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick, but finding an upgrade over Chris Duhon at backup PG or someone to bang down low other than Glen Davis would surely improve their situation. Ramon Sessions is suitable pick-and-roll threat with a nose for finishing at the rim, so if the Magic get someone like him they become a bigger threat.
The Sixers are a bit misleading in the chart. They have the third-best finishing rate at the rim (67.1 percent), but they are No. 29 in attempts per game from that area. Being selective and scoring in transition off forced turnovers from Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday likely helps the percentage, but Philly needs to find someone with a semblance of a post talent if they really want to make noise in the playoffs. A mid-range jumper offense isn't going to scare anyone. Center has been an invisible problem so far this season thanks to Brand playing well in post defense and rookie Lavoy Allen bringing more than passable play, but the team needs someone to take that job and do more on offense. Spencer Hawes can't get healthy, so if the Sixers can get someone like Chris Kaman for a song at the deadline, their offense will look even better than their No. 10-ranked attack does now.
Finally, the Indiana Pacers have been impressive so far this season, and currently own the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but there is a serious problem with their offense. With stretch shooters like Danny Granger,Paul George, David West and even Roy Hibbert (who attempts more shots from 3-9 feet than at the rim), Indiana currently has the lowest shooting percentage at the rim of any NBA team (56.1 percent). That's a whopping six percent below the league average! It explains why the Pacers' offense ranks just 20th in True Shooting and 15th in Offensive Efficiency, but it might be difficult to find an easy fix to the problem.
One quick solution for Indy might come from playing George Hill (61.5 percent finisher) over Darren Collison (52.3 percent finisher) more at point guard, but adding a big man with any semblance of a post game or even just an athletic slasher could go a long way towards making Indy a more legitimate challenger in the playoffs. Warning: Jamal Crawford-- a 54.1 percent finisher in 2011-12 and 59.3 in 2010-11 -- isn't the answer the Pacers are really looking for right now. However, someone like Luis Scola would be a nice fit that actually addresses their big offensive deficiency.
Here is a complete look at the NBA: