February's Top 5 (02/24/16)

By Tom W. Brewer @Tom_W_Brewer
NBA - February's Top Five Headlines

Where does the time go? Signs of spring are everywhere: The sun is starting to stay out longer, people are starting to talk baseball, and college hoops coverage is ramping up. February is almost completely in our rearview mirror. Let's look back at the month's biggest NBA headlines.

1. Saturday night shines during All-Star Weekend

The world wasn't thrilled with this year's edition of the NBA All-Star game, which saw the Western Conference team win 196-173. The game set the record for total points scored but still some of the basketball intelligentsia and TV talking heads complained that the game featured too many uncontested dunks and quick three pointers. But many of the same folks who railed against Sunday's show celebrated the Saturday night festivities, which featured uncontested dunks and quick three-pointers.

All-Star Saturday Night kicked off with Minnesota's transcendent rookie Karl-Anthony Towns winning the Skills Challenge, much to the delight of the fellow big men in the competition. Next up, was the 3-Point Shooting Contest, which saw the Splash Brothers square off in the finals. Klay Thompson outdueled Stephen Curry this time around, but the real winner was the 3-Point contest itself, which the TNT announce crew insisted should be Saturday's main event instead of the Slam Dunk competition.

And then this happened. And this happened. And, somehow, this happened.

Orlando's Aaron Gordon and Minnesota's Zach LaVine put on an amazing display of athleticism and showmanship in this year's Slam Dunk contest. The young pair of small market ballers not only brought the house down, but they brought the Dunk Contest back. By the end of the night that same TNT crew who wanted to move the dunks to the evening's undercard were looking forward to LaVine/Gordon II.

If you haven't replayed the dunk contest, do it. The spectating players' loud reactions and louder jackets are worth your time.

2. Role players dominate trade deadline

The rumor mill was hot with superstars heading into last Thursday's trade deadline. We all wondered who would end up where. Carmelo Anthony to Cleveland and Kevin Love to Boston in one blockbuster move? Jeff Teague to the Utah Jazz? Dwight Howard to Atlanta or Charlotte or Miami? Alas, no major shakeups went down, but that doesn't mean nothing interesting happened.

The Cleveland Cavaliers traded for Orlando's Channing Frye to give them a reliable three-point shooter to come off the bench come playoff time. The Wizards welcomed versatile forward and unrepentant malcontent Markieff Morris to D.C. for a frontcourt spark. The Pistons were active around the deadline too, sending Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova to the Magic in exchange for Tobias Harris. Detroit also sent a first-round pick to Houston for Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton until they didn't.

With the exception of Channing Frye to Cleveland, it's difficult to imagine any of these moves making a big impact this season. Keep an eye on the Orlando Magic though. Not only did they pick up a pair of tested vets for a playoff push and find a way to get Mario Hezonja more minutes, but they're also in position to have a ton of cap room in a warm weather state that has some very friendly tax laws. Orlando could be a free agent player.

3. Knicks fire head coach Derek Fisher

Man, NBA head coaching gigs are tough to keep. Derek Fisher joins the growing fraternity of coaches dismissed during the season when his former coach Phil Jackson, now an executive with New York, let him go. The Knicks slumped back to Earth after a hot start and Jackson cited differing leadership styles in a long, existential statement issued via Twitter about Fisher's removal. Long-time coach Kurt Rambis takes over the team on an interim basis.

4. Chris Bosh misses time with blood clot

For the second time in consecutive seasons, Miami Heat All-Star Chris Bosh is missing time with blood clots, although this year they are in his calf and not in his lungs. The injury is bad news for a Miami team currently in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff pack, and worse news for Bosh, a family man, an excellent basketball player and, by all appearances, a genuinely beloved human being. Hopefully, Bosh and his doctors get this issue under control so he can live a healthy productive life, regardless of whether basketball is a part of it.

For some perspective on how a professional athlete ends up with a blood clotting problem, read this report from ESPN's Tom Haberstroh about the effect of the NBA's grueling schedule on its players. In it, he interviews Bosh, who reveals that travel contributed to his clotting problems.

5. Brooklyn Nets find a GM

The Nets got their man in Sean Marks, who has spent several years in the Spurs' organization. It's nice to see Brooklyn go this new direction, but it must be noted that they signed Marks on trade deadline day, too late for him to move any pieces of the current roster. Just par for the course for the flailing Nets.

Playoff Projections

We borrowed the Apollo 11 from NASA and rocketed off to a remote space station to simulate the rest of this season's games 50,000 times. Here's our projected playoff picture with division winners bolded.

Eastern Conference

1.Cleveland Cavaliers (59-23)
2.Toronto Raptors (54-28)
3. Boston Celtics (48-34)
4.Miami Heat (46-36)
5. Indiana Pacers (45-37)
6. Atlanta Hawks (45-37)
7. Charlotte Hornets (44-38)
8. Chicago Bulls (43-39)

Biggest Change: In our last simulation, the Atlanta Hawks edged out the Miami Heat for control of the Southeast Division. However, the teams are going in opposite directions as of late, with Miami winning three straight and Atlanta losing their last three. If the Hawks' slide continues, they could fall out of the divisional race.

Western Conference
1.Golden State Warriors (72-10)
2.San Antonio Spurs (67-15)
3.Oklahoma City Thunder (57-25)
4. Los Angeles Clippers (53-29)
5. Memphis Grizzlies (44-38)
6. Utah Jazz (42-40)
7. Dallas Mavericks (42-40)
8. Portland Trailblazers (41-41)

Biggest Change: We have the scrappy Portland Trail Blazers, led by perennial “no one respects me” guy Damian Lillard, squeaking into the playoffs after winning nine of their last ten games, including six straight.

We're heading into March, and the playoffs will be here before you know it. Expect the intensity and the defense to ratchet up in the coming weeks. The NBA is about to get extra-competitive and ultra-exciting.