1. KOBE BRYANT (Lakers): Devastating Injury. Hopefully, nine months from now he's back close to where he was before the injury. Achilles injuries are always tough, in particular for a guy approaching 35 years of age. Fingers crossed that one of the great competitors/players of our era makes a speedy and successful recovery. Another bit of bad news for a Laker organization that's been beaten down by drama and injuries.
2. RAPTORS ON A ROLL: Have won three in a row and five of the last six. Nice finish to an otherwise disappointing season. A sign of things to come or catching teams shorthanded and looking past them? Hopefully, the first part. Two observations. Dwane Casey still has their attention and respect in spite of being 32-48 after a 23-43 season last year (not easy to do) and secondly, I really like how DeMar DeRozan is finishing his season. He's a true pro and cares very deeply about winning and improving his game. Yes, he has some areas of limitation yet his work ethic and attitude are terrific and that carries you a long way in this game. He's going to keep getting better.
3. DERON WILLIAMS (Nets): Saw him Sunday in Toronto and compared to what I've seen of him earlier in season, I love what I'm seeing now. He's healthy and in shape. The explosiveness is back in his game. A major development for their team. He impacts the game in so many ways as their lead guard and when he's rolling, watch out. Joe Johnson needs to be a lot more consistent. For the amount invested in him, that's the least they can ask. If they get great guard play, they're a capable and possibly dangerous playoff team.
4. DALLAS MAVERICKS: Evened their record up at 40-40 on Sunday. You could easily argue that if Dirk Nowitzki had been healthy this year, they're a playoff team and I agree with those folks who say that. Salary cap space is prevalent. Key off-season for them as they reconfigure their look. The positives: great ownership, terrific general manager and outstanding coach. Dirk is still a very good player. Attractive location for free agents to consider.
5. RICK PITINO (Louisville): Wins NCAA Tournament last Monday night in an entertaining game. Elected to the Hall of Fame on the same day. Not bad! Many folks will remember the rough times with the Boston Celtics, but if you look at his entire body of work, it's really impressive. He did a top-notch job as the head coach at Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and now, Louisville. He's an impact coach, turning around all four Programs. Don't forget his time with the NY Knicks, first as an assistant coach for Hubie Brown and then as the head coach. He was very good for their organization in both stints. His teams play harder than most teams you'll ever watch and he's been a true innovator with the trapping/pressing component of the defensive game. And he was totally ahead of the curve utilizing the 3-point shot as a major weapon, particularly his amazing Final Four run with Providence. A career that has been one of major accomplishment and he's far from done yet.