The Pulse: NBA Crystal Ball

Welcome to The Pulse, the place to find out what the sports world is thinking. Every day on ESPN.com, SportsNation registers its opinion on a wide range of topics by casting votes and chatting with experts in The Show. We collect the daily highlights and put them in The Pulse.

Story of the Day: Fun and Games

We'll get to the dunk contest in a minute, but there's no looking back (or behind the backboard) as the NBA enters the stretch drive after pausing to celebrate itself in Houston over the weekend.

With only about 30 games remaining for each team and the trade deadline approaching this week, precious little time remains for teams hoping to deprive the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs of return trips to the NBA Finals.

So how will things play out? SportsNation voters think the Mavericks, who are just 1.5 games behind the Pistons for the league's best record, are the best bet to offer a change of scenery in the NBA Finals, but that's not the same as saying they'll do it.

When push comes to shove, the Spurs are still the popular pick to win the Western Conference.

So who might be on the move before the deadline? Voters are cool to the idea of a blockbuster involving Paul Pierce, Ray Allen or Kevin Garnett, but 52% expect Steve Francis to be one big name on the move.

"If Isiah Thomas was smart, he would use the ESPN.com Trade Machine as a guideline."
John (Portland, Maine) in Tuesday's Quickie chat.

"If the Celts do get to the point that they trade Pierce, it happens in the offseason. But they don't want to move him."
Marc Stein in chat

Which team is most likely to keep the Pistons and Spurs from an NBA Finals rematch? (20,673 votes)
40.6% Dallas Mavericks
34.4% Miami Heat
18.5% Phoenix Suns
6.3% Cleveland Cavaliers

Which team will win the Western Conference? (8,622 votes)
48.1% San Antonio Spurs
26.9% Dallas Mavericks
17.8% Phoenix Suns
6.9% Other

Which team will win the Eastern Conference? (8,031 votes)
74.1% Detroit Pistons
12.2% Miami Heat
5.7% Other
5.5% Cleveland Cavaliers
2.5% Milwaukee Bucks

SportsNation's Show
Jeremy (Oklahoma City): What's your take on Amare Stoudemire's return this season? One, should he even return this season, and two, do you think his impact can push the Suns into the top tier of teams and possibly into the Finals this season?

Marc Stein: I was told over the weekend that he's at least a month away, but my personal feeling has always been that he should sit out the season. Either way, I put Phoenix in the top tier already. I have them reaching the conference finals at least and I give them a puncher's chance against whoever survives Mavs vs. Spurs in the second round.

Quinn (Dallas): The NBA is looking at a new playoff format. What is your opinion on the subject? Certainly something is wrong when Dallas and San Antonio can't meet in the Western Conference finals like they did a few years back.

Marc Stein: I don't like re-seeding. I like the sound of seeding the three division winners and the next-best team based on record -- which would make it 1. Dallas, 2. San Antonio, 3. Phoenix, 4. Denver if the season ended yesterday -- because I know that the divisions are not going away. The league likes having six teams win SOMETHING every year, even if it's just a division title.

  • Click here for Stein's chat transcript

    More SportsNation: Dunking in Houston

    SportsNation was right on the money in predicting victory for the Eastern Conference in Sunday's All-Star Game, but even with brilliant choreography in the player introductions, Sunday's festivities didn't produce the same fervor as Saturday's dunk contest.

    An overwhelming majority of SportsNation voters think Andre Iguodala had a victory stolen from him, but there is no such consensus on what Nate Robinson's mulligan title means for the future of the event.

    Who do you think won Saturday's dunk contest? (2,418 votes)
    64.5% Andre Iguodala
    35.4% Nate Robinson

    What do you make of Saturday's controversial NBA dunk contest? (10,298 votes)
    44.3% There was a controversy?
    28.4% Can't wait for a rematch!
    27.1% Time for the contest to go

    Voice of the Fan
    How does the dunk contest not have time or attempt limits? As a fan of the NBA and the Knicks, it was painful to see Nate Robinson try all those times.
    Michael (Linden, N.J.)

    The judges in the dunk contest need to get over the height thing. It's been done before. When you pull off a dunk with the kind of originality that Andre Iguodala had, how do you not win?
    Keith (Pennsylvania)

    Andre Iguodala got robbed. That behind-the-backboard dunk was the best dunk I have ever seen!
    Tim (Indianapolis)

    I didn't think it was possible to win a competition but come out looking the worst, but Nate Robinson did it. He turned a fairly entertaining dunk contest into the worst of all time.
    Jerry (Akron)

    Wow, Andre Iguodala's dunk from behind the backboard was off-the-charts sick. The most difficult one I've ever seen. He go jobbed by a guy who missed 114 dunks, but it was okay because he is only 5'9.
    DC (Altoona, Pa.)

  • Click here for transcript of Dan Shanoff's Morning Quickie

    SportsNation's Show
    Derek (Marietta): With props to Nate Robinson's performance, do you agree that Andre Iguodala should have won the dunk contest?

    Marc Stein: I'm like pretty much everyone else. Praying that they put in a new rule where a guy can try a dunk twice and that's it. As Bill Simmons said, we saw two of the best dunks ever in Houston (Nate over Spud and Iguodala's genius from behind the board) and all anyone is talking about is the misses.

    Widmer (Portland, Ore.): How much bigger/better will the All Star game be next year in Las Vegas?

    Marc Stein: Everyone will want to be there, which helps. But what we need, as I and countless others have said, is a posse of NBA sponsors to put a seven-figure purse together to get Kobe, T-Mac, Vince and LeBron in the dunk field with Josh Smith, Iguodala, Jason Richardson and Desmond Mason. A field of eight like that -- four superstars and four dunk specialists. That would be a contest for the ages.

  • Click here for Stein's chat transcript

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