J.A.: I like the concept of the Thunder. They were the most impressive team in the West before Russell went down. I'm just not as high on their chances anymore because we don't know how Westbrook's knee will hold up. He lasted 25 games before he needed to go back to the shop. He'll need to play almost twice as many games if he comes back right after the All-Star Game and the Thunder make a deep playoff run. Which makes me think: His projected return date is right on the line between precaution and prepared. You don't want him to rush back, but he also needs time to get his timing and game conditioning back and for his teammates to readjust to him. I wouldn't wait much later than February if I were him.
But the uncertainty is just one more thing that's breaking Blazer.
Israel: There's always uncertainty when it comes to going under the knife (or laser, or whatever device is used), particularly when it's the knee. But unlike last postseason, when people were only beginning to realize Reggie Jackson was actually a current pro athlete, Kevin Durant has a legitimate running mate to keep the Thunder rolling until Westbrook gets back. Jackson is averaging 18.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists per 36 minutes. Just for comparison's sake, James Harden, in his last year in OKC, averaged 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per 36 minutes.
Obviously, Jackson will be asked to do more with Westbrook out, but it's becoming apparent he's quite capable. And if this group is whole come April, with Jackson and Jeremy Lamb having experienced extended exposure, OKC only gets stronger.
I'm sticking with my Finals pick, which is Thunder-Heat.
Bosh cares more about winning, and the 'sacrifice' Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra talk about is exactly that, sacrificing public perception of yourself for the betterment of the team. And I just think, once and for all, folks should recognize that of Bosh." -- Israel Gutierrez
Speaking of the Heat, it feels as if we regularly have to remind ourselves just how crucial Chris Bosh actually is to Miami's success. And this time, the reminder came right before the new year, with Bosh dropping 37 and 10, including a game-winning 3 at Portland. Given that his numbers tend to drop against the Eastern rival Pacers, we continue to overlook Bosh's importance. But is it possible we can put doubts about Bosh away for good?
J.A.: Somehow when Bosh plays well it raises as many questions as when he plays poorly. Good Bosh makes people wonder if he belongs in the Hall of Fame. (I say no.) Good Bosh has people wondering where he ranks on the list of "No. 3 guys" on championship teams. (Somewhere above Lamar Odom and Toni Kukoc but below Rajon Rondo and James Worthy.) Is his rebound-assist-blocked shot sequence at the end of Game 6 against the Spurs the greatest non-scoring finish by a player in NBA Finals history? (I can't think of one better.) Does it let him off the hook for going scoreless in Game 7? (Somehow, I think it does.)