In the thick of the NBA playoff hunt

The road to the NBA finals is near. It’s gut-check time for all the teams that have been successful to this point. In the NBA East, it is all about the Detroit Pistons and the Boston Celtics right now. The Celtics (46-12) are the No. 1 team in the NBA in every category. The Celtics went from the league’s worst to headlines on the front page. The transition throughout this season is on the moves of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. These three superstars give 110 percent every time they hit the courts.

Rasheed Wallace is the face of the Pistons (44-16), who are breathing down the Celtics’ necks. Detroit is executing its game plans one game at a time. The Pistons came up short last season to the Cavaliers, running out of gas against a young Cavaliers team led by LeBron James, who took his team to the NBA championship last season. James’ effort on the court is sensational.

You couldn’t ask him to player harder than anyone else. The Cavaliers (34-26) are in third place in a tight division. James is a one-man wrecking machine, but to stay alive in the hunt the Cavs needed a supporting cast to reach the finals. That is what he has now.

The Phoenix Suns traded Shawn Marion to the Miami Heat for Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq has been around the league for 13 years. He has championship rings with two different teams. But Shaq’s performance has gone down thanks to injuries to his legs. The Suns are an elite team, a championship contender in the West.

But lets see how good Shaq’s knees hold up down the stretch. L.A., Dallas, Utah, Golden State, Houston, San Antonio, and Denver are getting better as the games get more physical and exciting. New Orleans Hornets (40-19) are the surprise of the Western Division.

The Dallas Mavericks (39-22) has missed three big opportunities to reach the NBA Finals in the last three years. It is a win-lose situation in Dallas because Jason Kidd is going to show up regardless. But at the same time you lose two first round draft picks and four teammates who got auctioned to New Jersey.

The NBA Finals is going to be riding on the shoulders of Detroit, Boston, Cleveland and Orlando in the East. In the West, San Antonio is the sleeper team. Injury has kept this team quiet, but this is their favorite time of the year. They’re still the champs until someone eliminates them.