SI.com's NBA writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week. (All stats and records are through March 15.)
1. Do the Magic have what it takes to win it all this year? If not, what are they missing?
Ian Thomsen: The advantage at the three-point line has receded: They're shooting and defending threes more poorly than last year. None of their perimeter guys are shooting them as well, and of course they no longer have Hedo Turkoglu or Courtney Lee. If defenses are focused now on closing out, the Magic aren't punishing them inside as Dwight Howard is attempting 2.1 fewer shots and averaging 1.9 fewer points than last year (though he is shooting a career-best 61.1 percent from the floor).
All of that said, Orlando has the firepower, defense and depth to upset Cleveland and return to the Finals. The Magic are the only team in the East capable of knocking off the Cavs, who need Shaquille O'Neal back in time to deal with Howard.
Jack McCallum: I've come late to the Magic bandwagon, and, as it is, I have only one foot aboard. In fact, I'm going to say that, no, they do not have what it takes to win it this season. They are still lacking a player with the killer instinct of a LeBron James (which is why Orlando probably won't get by the Cavs in the East) or a Kobe Bryant (which is why the Magic -- see 2009 -- wouldn't get by the Lakers if they would happen to make it to their second straight Finals).
Frank Hughes: Absolutely. Obviously, they have to get past Cleveland team in the East, but they did that last season and they have taken one of three from them this year, with one game in Cleveland left to play. The Magic had that one bad stretch, in which they lost seven of nine at the start of the new year, but every team goes through some tough times over the course of an 82-game season. Having won eight of their past nine, I'd say they are starting to ramp it up for the postseason.
Chris Mannix: Two players will answer that question: Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis. If Carter can avoid the kind of month-long slump he endured in January during the postseason and Lewis (enduring one of the worst statistical seasons of his career) can regain his touch, the Magic can beat anyone, including Cleveland. But if Carter fizzles and Lewis bricks more shots than he makes, then Orlando is ripe for a second-round upset.
2. The Bucks, who have won 12 of 13, have seized control in the race for the No. 5 seed in the East. If they continue to play well, that means four teams -- Charlotte, Miami, Chicago and Toronto -- will battle for the last three seeds. How do you see it playing out?
Thomsen: Nothing is settled in the bottom half of the Eastern draw. The Bucks have been hot and John Salmons has a lot to do with that, but they're not so talented that they couldn't lose a couple in a row and find themselves back at No. 6 or 7. The Bulls have been ruined by injuries while losing seven straight and yielding 100 points in 10 straight games -- their worst defensive streak in 21 years -- yet they're only a game out of the playoffs in this weak conference. The imploding Raptors have lost nine of their last 10, but that free-fall was preceded immediately by a streak in which they'd won 10 of 12, so who's to say they won't bounce back up again? Nothing more than one good week is required for any of these teams.
They're all dreaming of stealing the No. 5 spot in hopes that Boston remains No. 4. Any of those underdogs would love an opening-round shot at the Celtics in hopes of running them off the floor.
McCallum: The easiest call is that the Bulls will be on the outside looking in. I like Miami to finish sixth (and possibly pass the Bucks for fifth), simply because it has Dwyane Wade, followed by the Bobcats (a decent surprise this season) and the stumbling Raptors, who will not quite be able to match the Bulls' futility down the stretch.
Hughes: I think the Bulls are going to be on the outside looking in, which is odd for me to say because I usually side with the team that plays defense, and that is definitely not Toronto. But at the very least, the Raptors are showing some care, evidenced by Chris Bosh's verbal volcano after Saturday's loss at Golden State. Also, while the teams are within one game of each other, and they play one another in the third-to-last game of the year, Toronto's final two opponents are Detroit and New York, while Chicago's final two games are against Boston and Charlotte.
Mannix: I suppose Chicago has a shot at sneaking back into the playoff mix, but with Derrick Rose banged up and Joakim Noah sidelined for the foreseeable future, and with the Bulls' front office making it clear through the Salmons trade that this season was little more than a tune-up for next year, I don't see them having the talent or motivation to climb back in.
Thomsen: He'll fit in with any of the worst teams in the lottery. The Nets need help everywhere. If the Warriors land him, they can trade Monta Ellis in order to keep Turner, because otherwise their perimeter spots -- Turner, Ellis and Stephen Curry -- would be overwhelmed with players who need the ball. The Pacers would love his strength and potential to defend, the Wizards would view him as a foundational player who makes them less dependent on GilbertArenas, and imagine Sacramento's potential to dominate physically if the Kings pair him on the wing with Tyreke Evans.
McCallum: I'm a little out on a limb here, but I'm not sure Turner won't be No. 1. I love Wall, but what if the Nets get the first pick? (And if there is truly a Heavenly Being, that will happen.) Or, how about if it goes to Minnesota? (The Heavenly Being is divided on this.) Point guard Devin Harris was an All-Star with the Nets last season, while the Wolves have two pretty good young QBs in Jonny Flynn and Ramon Sessions(along with Ricky Rubio in Spain). So I guess that answers the question: Turner would fit in the best with a team that already has a good point guard, preferably a more experienced one (like Harris) because the Ohio State star is a bit of a turnover machine and will need a steady hand.
Hughes: I know where I'd like to see him go: Sacramento. Evans at the point and Turner at shooting guard. Evan and Evans -- that'd be entertaining.
Mannix: I'd love to see Turner end up in Sacramento. The Kings have been shuffling through swingmen all season and Turner-Evans is just the kind of 1-2 combination the Kings can build around for the next 10 years. Evans-Turner would restore the energy in a once-great basketball town and, with a few tweaks, make the Kings contenders in a few seasons.
4. Larry Brown wanting a new job is never a surprise, but what do you think of his reported interest in the Clippers (as outlined by Frank Hughes)? Would he be a good fit for that franchise, especially with Baron Davis?
Thomsen: I'm sure Frank's story is accurate and Brown is interested, especially if the Clippers are willing to give him the total control he used to have in Philadelphia. Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling has always liked Brown, which is why we've heard this rumor for something like seven years in a row, by the count of one rival executive who counseled me to not take the latest flirting too seriously.
Brown is forever surprising, and I'll be surprised again if he walks out on MichaelJordan's investment in Carolina. The Clippers would be appetizing because of the city and the assets on their roster. It would be entertaining to see how Brown and Davis would get along up until the day Larry trades him, but I doubt we're going to see that happen.
McCallum: Let's toss that around for a minute. Good fit and Clippers. Nope. It just doesn't compute. But, heck ... why not? Brown still has his coaching chops -- witness his job with the Bobcats. And, besides Davis -- and I admit that that's a giant besides -- I see a roster that would plug into Brown's do-it-the-right-way method, particularly if Blake Griffin comes back healthy to furnish hope. Also, Larry really enjoyed his days at UCLA, and I think he would relish coming back to the Left Coast. For at least a handful of weeks, anyway.
Hughes: Regardless of what you think about his calling Sterling while still under contract with Charlotte, the guy can flat-out coach. He has proved that time and again. So would he make a good fit for the Clippers? Of course. They are desperate for some sort of leadership because they certainly have a nice collection of talent. The thing that would make me uneasy is handing over the entire thing to Brown. In every sport, it has been proved that there needs to be some checks and balances. Brown is too capricious in his dislike of players through their ups and downs to give him freedom to make emotional trades.
Mannix: Hiring Brown is only a good idea if the hiring of a strong GM precedes him. No one questions Brown's ability to develop young players, and the Clippers have two on board (Eric Gordon, Griffin) and a third on the way with this year's lottery pick. But it would be a mistake to give Brown total control of basketball operations. Brown's short attention span with any team makes him the wrong guy to wield the power to oversee the roster. Leave that job to someone who is good at it -- like, say, free-agent-to-be MarkWarkentien, the Nuggets' vice president -- and let Brown coach. If he won't accept those terms, well, AveryJohnson and Jeff Van Gundy are out there as acceptable alternatives.