Two teams in ESPN's Wednesday doubleheader (ESPN/ESPN3, 8 p.m. ET) are thinking NBA title, while the other two are already thinking next season.
Our five writers tackle five burning questions on the Heat, Bucks, Warriors and Lakers as we head into 2010-11's final stretch.
1. Are the Heat overhyped, underrated, neither or both?
Rasheed Malek, Warriorsworld: To steal a phrase from Denny Green, the Miami Heat "are who we thought they were." They'll finish the season with 55-plus wins even after their early struggles. Look for them to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: Both. As far as the hype factor goes, they've lost a little bit of the luster they had when they were such an unknown after they first came together and people flocked to see them wherever they went. We know what they look like now.
That said, they are underrated because they've won 11 of their past 13 games by an average of 15.3 points per game.
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball: The Heat have been overhyped, underrated and everything in between. Now? They're about accurately represented. When title contenders are brought up, the Heat are worth talking about.
No, the Heatles aren't a 72-10 monster team, but they aren't the egomaniacal, self-imploding group they were represented as at one point, either.
Jeff Skibiski, Forum Blue & Gold: Neither. Even after a season chock-full of dramatic ups and downs, they remain somewhat an enigma. This not only makes them difficult to prepare for in a potential playoff series, but also very dangerous.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: The Heat are overhyped in the sense that we talk about them too often. But much of that conversation occurs within the paradigm of mockery, making them underrated.
2. The Bucks' offense fell off a cliff this season. What happened?
Rasheed Malek, Warriorsworld: You can blame injuries, a sophomore slump and other things. But the person most at fault is Corey Maggette, who brought his selfish and chemistry-killing ways to Milwaukee. The Bucks never had a chance.
Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: Their leading shot-taker and offensive decision-maker, Brandon Jennings, is shooting 38.7 percent from the field, and their second-leading scorer, John Salmons, is shooting 40.1 percent. With those two guys running the show, what do you expect?
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball: Milwaukee can't create, struggles in pick-and-rolls and shoots inaccurately from 3. But that's kind of what the Bucks were like before John Salmons arrived last season (save the bad 3-point shooting). The clock struck midnight on the post-trade Salmons -- he's playing as badly as he did for Chicago last season.
Jeff Skibiski, Forum Blue & Gold: Inconsistency bred from a lack of playing time ... bred from significant injury issues. With 2010 breakout star Brandon Jennings out for extended time, Bogut missing games and a decrease in productivity from last season's miracle-worker, John Salmons, the Bucks' core simply hasn't been able to get enough burn together this season to form a cohesive offensive unit.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: Scott Skiles happened. He always happens.
3. Should the Warriors trade Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry, neither or both?
Rasheed Malek, Warriorsworld: Neither. They need a tough, defensive-minded head coach to come in and coach the Warriors up. The team has lacked direction, and it has struggled to transition away from a run-and-gun team. But Ellis and Curry can work together.
Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: Monta can score, but the only way the Warriors will rise to championship contender status is by being able to defend. Curry isn't an excellent defender either, but he's a little longer and craftier than his counterpart.
Ship out Ellis and try to get the big guy to protect the rim alongside David Lee that the Warriors swung and missed on when they drafted Ekpe Udoh.
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball: Few are quick as Ellis, but don't we say that about someone new every few years? There are plenty of guys with a special kind of quickness, but even fewer have the shooting ability and basketball IQ of Curry. He's not a franchise talent, but a team can win a lot of games with Curry at the 1. Keep Curry.
Jeff Skibiski, Forum Blue & Gold: Monta Ellis puts up buckets with the best of 'em, but if you have an opportunity to package him to get a consistent two-way player, you have to consider it. Curry is a nice young piece who needs a little more time in the oven and maybe the opportunity to play an even larger role for Golden State's offense in the future.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: I'm tired of people dismissing Ellis and Curry as equivalent "defensive liabilities." Monta's defense is awful enough to be a difference in kind, so much so that it warrants a trade. He is leading the league in worst defensive plus/minus for a reason.
4. Peek at the last page of Phil's book: See a Lakers three-peat?
Rasheed Malek, Warriorsworld: Once Boston traded away Kendrick Perkins, it all but assured another Lakers title. The Celtics were the biggest threat to Phil and the boys, but without Perkins, they now have little shot to stop the Lake Show.
Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: Yes. It will be three-peat No. 4 for Phil as well as ring No. 6 and Finals MVP No. 3 for Kobe. Maybe this vote of confidence will get Phil to write something nice about me in the rest of the book.
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball: Perhaps Phil could let Celtics GM Danny Ainge write the foreword for "The Last Season: For Real This Time." With the Celtics all but removing themselves from the title conversation, the Lakers don't have quite the same tough road they had last season. Add that to a suspect West, and Phil gets a happy ending.
Jeff Skibiski, Forum Blue & Gold: The Lakers' size was a matchup nightmare for teams even before Andrew Bynum's second-half emergence. If he's playing at a high level, it's tough to see an undersized team like Miami and now Boston sans Kendrick Perkins winning a seven-game series. Chicago's balanced, albeit relatively inexperienced, roster is the real wild card here.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: Los Angeles is a logical choice, but I expect Kobe's late-game "hero" chucks to finally thwart them.
5. If the Zen Master leaves the Lakers, do you expect him to coach again?
Rasheed Malek, Warriorsworld: I do not see Phil coming back to coach another team if he leaves after this season. If he gets another ring and further solidifies his spot as an all-time great ... there's not much left for him to accomplish.
Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: Nope. Jackson was asked about two future coaching scenarios Tuesday before the Jazz game.
First, he was asked if there is an offer he couldn't refuse that's out there in the ether (e.g., going back to New York to coach a Knicks team with, let's say, Amare, Melo and CP3), and he said, "I wouldn't anticipate it."
Then he was asked if he'd consider coaching high school someday, and the 65-year-old sounded kind of like the old guy foiled by those darn kids at the end of every Scooby-Doo episode. "I don't think I'm up for it right now. The communication level between myself and 20-year-olds, there's a gap," Jackson said. "There really is."
Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball: It's hard to imagine him going elsewhere. Phil isn't interested in motivating the mediocre, so the destination most logical for him would seem to be Miami. But Pat Riley would sooner hire Shaq to man the bench than dump Erik Spoelstra for Jackson. There just aren't many other jobs that would appeal to him.
Jeff Skibiski, Forum Blue & Gold: It's not out of the realm of possibility, but if you're the Zen Master, you have to like the symmetry of possibly winning six championships with both the Lakers and the Bulls -- an accomplishment he almost certainly wouldn't be able to match with a third team. That said, never say never.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: I know the economy's bad, but money still exists, right? Meaning: I think he'll be back.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPN Los Angeles. Rasheed Malek, Jeremy Schmidt, Jeff Skibiski and Ethan Sherwood Strauss are writers for the TrueHoop Network.