L.A.'s comeback kids

L.A.'s comeback kids
By Steve Kerr, Yahoo Sports
March 26, 2007

Steve Kerr
Yahoo Sports
Player of the Week
Kobe Bryant – Duh.

Team of the Week
Los Angeles Clippers – The Clips went 4-0, including wins over Chicago, Washington and Utah, as they continued their late-season push to make the playoffs. With Shaun Livingston and Sam Cassell out with injuries, L.A. has turned to Jason Hart and Daniel Ewing to guide them. The duo has combined to give the Clips solid point guard play, and with Corey Maggette, Elton Brand and Cuttino Mobley all scoring well, L.A. is in position to grab the eighth and final postseason spot in the West.

Game of the Week
Friday: Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns – After getting pounded in Denver last week by 24 points (they were down 40 at one point), the Suns will have revenge on their minds when the Nuggets come to town. What makes this game intriguing is that there's a strong possibility these two clubs will meet in the first round of the playoffs. An emotional edge is at stake.

In the past five games, Kobe Bryant has averaged 54 points per game. Think about that for a moment. Fifty four! Most importantly, the Los Angeles Lakers won all five, reversing a seven-game losing streak that had threatened to ruin their season.

In effect, Bryant placed the entire team on his shoulders and willed it back into a positive state. The Lakers are now confident again, they have Luke Walton and Lamar Odom back from injuries and they're no longer looking like road kill for the West's top seeds come playoff time. And they owe it all to Kobe.

His offensive game is so good, so fundamentally sound in every aspect, that it may be time to debate whether or not he's the most complete offensive player in the history of the NBA. I'm not talking about the best player – there are plenty of players who rank well ahead of Bryant in that category. I'm simply wondering if there has ever been a player with a more complete skill set with footwork, ball handling, perimeter shooting and leaping ability.

I'll look forward to your emails on that one.

In the meantime, Kobe has brought his team back into the NBA spotlight, and he's helped L.A. climb back to the brink of Yahoo! Sports' top 10. Here are the latest rankings (records and statistics are through March 25):

Dallas 1. Dallas Mavericks (58-11, Last ranking: 1) – The Big Three – Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Josh Howard – are all playing well as Dallas continues to roll through an incredible season.

Phoenix 2. Phoenix Suns (52-17, Last ranking: 2) – The Suns are looking over their shoulder at the Spurs, hoping to hold them off for the No. 2 seed and home-court advantage should the clubs meet in the second round of the playoffs.

San Antonio 3. San Antonio Spurs (49-20, Last ranking: 3) – After consecutive losses to Milwaukee and Boston, the Spurs got down to business and ran off three wins in a row last week.

Houston 4. Houston Rockets (44-26, Last ranking: 5) – The Rockets are locked into the fifth seed and will almost surely play Utah in the first round of the playoffs. Home court in that series may depend on two head-to-head matchups in April.

Detroit 5. Detroit Pistons (44-25, Last ranking: 4) – With two starters missing and Chris Webber mired in a 1-for-8 outing, the Pistons' bench came up big in Sunday's rout of Milwaukee. Detroit's depth has really improved, with guys like Jason Maxiell, Carlos Delfino and Ronald Murray making big contributions.

Utah 6. Utah Jazz (45-24, Last ranking: 7) – Carlos Boozer helped the Jazz get back on the right track by averaging 26.5 points and 18 rebounds in Utah's two wins last week.

Cleveland 7. Cleveland Cavaliers (42-28, Last ranking: 6) – A week after I anoint the Cavaliers as title contenders, they lose three of four games. Maybe I spoke too soon.

Chicago 8. Chicago Bulls (41-30, Last ranking: 9) – Looks like the NBA could have another playoff seeding controversy. If the Bulls end up with the third-best record in the conference after Detroit and Cleveland, they're still going to be locked into the fifth seed. Why? Because the winners of the Southeast and Atlantic Divisions are guaranteed top-four seeds.

Toronto 9. Toronto Raptors (38-31, Last ranking: 12) – Barring a complete collapse, the Raptors are going to win the Atlantic Division and secure a top-four seed in the East. Not bad for a team that wasn't supposed to even make the playoffs.

Denver 10. Denver Nuggets (35-33, Last ranking: 11) – Nine of Denver's last 14 games are on the road. Good thing the Nuggets have been pretty good away from the Pepsi Center; their win in Cleveland on Sunday got them to the .500 mark on the road.

L.A. Lakers 11. Los Angeles Lakers (38-32, Last ranking: 13) – After four straight games of 50 or more points, Kobe was way off against the Warriors on Sunday. He settled for 43 as L.A. won its fifth straight game.

Miami 12. Miami Heat (37-32, Last ranking: 8) – The Heat have lost three of four games and have averaged just 82 points in that span.

Washington 13. Washington Wizards (37-31, Last ranking: 10) – After closing out its western swing on Monday in Utah, the Wizards' schedule gets much easier down the stretch. They're trying desperately to hold off the Heat for the Southeast Division title.

L.A. Clippers 14. Los Angeles Clippers (34-36, Last ranking: 16) – Corey Maggette helped the Clips to a 4-0 week, which kept them in the eighth slot in the West. Maggette averaged 23 points during that stretch.

Golden State 15. Golden State Warriors (33-38, Last ranking: 14) – If the Warriors are going to make it to the postseason, they'll have to earn it. A brutal schedule includes San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas and Utah.

New Orleans 16. New Orleans Hornets (32-38, Last ranking: 19) – The Hornets' 3-1 week included a 12-point win over the Rockets.

Orlando 17. Orlando Magic (32-38, Last ranking: 18) – The Magic won a huge game over the Nets on Friday by holding New Jersey to 35-percent shooting. Orlando is in pretty good shape to capture a playoff spot, especially if its defense holds up.

New Jersey 18. New Jersey Nets (32-38, Last ranking: 15) – Big game for the Nets against Indiana on Wednesday. A win would go a long way towards securing a playoff spot.

New York 19. New York Knicks (30-39, Last ranking: 17) – The Knicks' playoff hopes are flickering after an 0-3 week.

Philadelphia 20. Philadelphia 76ers (28-42, Last ranking: 21) – The Sixers' win in Miami was their 10th in 14 outings. Their play of late has helped save the jobs of Maurice Cheeks and Billy King.

Sacramento 21. Sacramento Kings (30-40, Last ranking: 20) – Mike Bibby came up huge against his hometown team, pouring in 37 points to help the Kings beat the Suns on Sunday.

Minnesota 22. Minnesota Timberwolves (30-39, Last ranking: 23) – The Wolves have to give the Clippers their first-round draft pick, unless it is in the top 10, as part of the Marko Jaric trade. It's going to be close.

Indiana 23. Indiana Pacers (31-38, Last ranking: 22) – This could be the summer when Indiana breaks up its team by trading Jermaine O'Neal.

Portland 24. Portland Trail Blazers (29-41, Last ranking: 27) – LaMarcus Aldridge has really come on late in the season. He's averaged 19 points and eight boards over his last four games.

Milwaukee 25. Milwaukee Bucks (25-43, Last ranking: 24) – Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva will miss the rest of the season with injuries. In the end, it might not be the worst thing. The Bucks are going to end up with a very high draft pick.

Charlotte 26. Charlotte Bobcats (26-45, Last ranking: 28) – Whoever takes over this team next year will inherit some good talent and a team that competes. The Bobcats are young, but they're going to get a lot better in the near future.

Atlanta 27. Atlanta Hawks (27-44, Last ranking: 26) – Salim Stoudamire is taking advantage of some late-season playing time. He poured in a career-high 37 in a loss to Portland.

Seattle 28. Seattle SuperSonics (27-42, Last ranking: 25) – Ray Allen will miss the rest of the season, which could mean more games like Sunday's nail biter: a 41-point home loss to the Spurs.

Boston 29. Boston Celtics (20-49, Last ranking: 29) – Finally. Something for Doc Rivers to cheer about: He watches from the stands as his son Jeremiah helps lead Georgetown to the Final Four.

Memphis 30. Memphis Grizzlies (17-53, Last ranking: 30) – Twelve more games, guys. Just 12 more.

Steve Kerr is Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst. Send Steve a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Monday, Mar 26, 2007 7:20 pm, EDT

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