30 games to go, 13 things to know

LAS VEGAS -- It was a bigger draw for any one event that Vegas had ever seen, according to every cab driver who ferried me anywhere.

It had to be the wildest All-Star Weekend ever, in spite of the snoozy finale on the Thomas & Mack floor.

It left so many people so woozy that we must delay your favorite Monday tradition -- Power Rankings! -- until Tuesday while arenas are dark and immediately share our annual helping of 30 Games To Go, 13 Things To Know to help guide folks back to NBA normalcy.

1. The Dallas Mavericks, in case you'd forgotten, are 30-2 in their last 32 games.

But that's not all.

The Mavs also have the fourth-highest overall winning percentage, at .830, of any team at the All-Star break since 1980.

Why is that significant?

Besides establishing Dirk Nowitzki as the MVP favorite in a two-man race entering the stretch run -- ahead of two-time reigning MVP and good buddy Steve Nash -- it's worth noting that the only three teams in that span with a higher winning percentage at this juncture all went on to win the championship.

As did the team in fifth right behind Dallas.

The list:

• 1995-96 Bulls (42-5, .894)
• 1996-97 Bulls (42-6, .875)
• 1982-83 76ers (43-7, .860)
• 2006-07 Mavericks (44-9, .830)
• 1985-86 Celtics (38-8, .826)

2. You're wasting your time, though, if you think that the Mavs are going to start talking about finishing 26-3 to crack the 70-win club.

"Not at all," Nowitzki says, chuckling at the thought of even bringing it up to coach Avery Johnson.

"You know how intense Avery is. … We all know we really haven't done anything yet. Obviously our goal is still winning a championship, so we're not going to get carried away."

3. The Suns have essentially conceded the No. 1 seed to the Mavs.

Maybe you don't want to believe, as several opposing coaches insist, that the Suns have indeed improved some defensively.

Even if you (mistakenly) think that the Suns still play no D, there's nothing wrong with their math.

They're well aware that Dallas has taken advantage of Nash's recent shoulder trouble to seize a 4½-game lead in the race for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

They know they've played seven fewer games against West teams than their chief rivals.

The Suns also can see the Mavs are deeper than anyone else in the league, which positions them best for regular-season success and which would force coach Mike D'Antoni to squeeze a lot out of the group known in Phoenix as the "seven starters" to overcome all those variables and secure the West's top seed.

No surprise, then, that the Suns have added it all up and quietly decided that a chase makes little sense. It's not something they plan to declare publicly, but D'Antoni gave a hint of his thinking Sunday in his pregame press address when he admitted that his No. 1 goal for the final 32 games is to "keep Steve healthy."

Instead of bemoaning the distance Dallas has put between them over the past two weeks, Phoenix prefers to revel in the idea that Nash should feel unusually refreshed when he returns thanks to the two weeks he's taken to rehab.

The Suns, don't forget, also have played without Boris Diaw and Kurt Thomas lately, reducing D'Antoni's seven starters -- the most formidable top seven in the league -- to a group of four. After spending much of the first half dueling with the Mavs over which team had the longest active win streak, all that matters to Phoenix now is getting back up to seven by the time the playoffs start.

4. The Leastern Conference isn't just bad. It's approaching historic depths.

Only one team in the East is on a 50-win pace … and it took an 11-3 surge into the break to put the Pistons on course for a 51-31 finish.

And that's the good news.

This is the first season in league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, that the top five records at the All-Star break belong to teams from the same conference. In order, it's Dallas (44-9), Phoenix (39-13), Utah (35-17), San Antonio (35-18) and Houston (33-19).

There had never even been a season, before this season, in which one conference had teams with the top four records.

That should tell you why you keep hearing that the defending champs from Miami, who presently rank as the East's No. 8 team, would be a consensus favorite to win the conference if the playoffs started today.

Only in the Leastern Conference could Shaquille O'Neal and Pat Riley go missing for months and weeks, respectively, and inflict no traceable damage to their title hopes.

5. But just to be safe, don't write off the Pistons.



Jared from Livonia, Mich., wrote in recently to point out that the St. Louis Cardinals dominated baseball's 2005 regular season but won the World Series after a much rockier 2006. Knowing that I'm a little too busy with the NBA (and the Premiership) to keep track of these American sporting pursuits, Jared also reminded me that the Indianapolis Colts were a regular-season juggernaut in '05 but won the Super Bowl after looking more vulnerable in '06.

You can see where he's going with this.

The Pistons were 42-9 at the All-Star break a year ago, finished 64-18 and flamed out against Miami in the East playoffs. If they're anything like the Cards or Colts, this is actually their year.

6. Our Titanic Division jokes are in danger, too.

Remember all the hand-wringing about the new seeding format that guarantees the Atlantic Division champion a top-four seed even if it has the eighth-best record in the league?

The surging Raptors, now five games over .500 after their 2-8 start, held the No. 4 seed in the East entering the All-Star break because they actually had the fourth-best record in the East at 29-24.

7. There are five teams playing for the final two playoff spots in the West.

I have taken the liberty of excluding Sacramento (too turmoil-ridden) and Portland (too young) from consideration, even though they're still somewhat alive in the playoff chase.

Denver. Minnesota. Los Angeles Clippers. New Orleans/Oklahoma City. Golden State.

That's my five … and I'll go out on a limb and predict that there won't be a sub-.500 team sitting in the eighth spot as we see at the moment with the Wolves, who are trying to avoid a third successive season out of the playoffs for Kevin Garnett.

8. The team from that fivesome to watch closest is the Hornets.

Amazing story. Chris Paul is back. David West is back. Peja Stojakovic told me last week that he has started jogging, which has Hornets officials privately optimistic that their big-money sharpshooter could be back from back surgery some time in March.

Do you see what's happening here?

It's (potentially) the opposite of the fade from playoff contention that befell the inexperienced Hornets last season. They're working their way into contention now after injuries -- and an initial 4-19 skid -- put them in an early hole that seemed way too deep to get out of.

9. The biggest playoff X factor out there stands 7-foot-6.

Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson still have played only six games together, so it remains a possibility that Denver -- assuming there's finally some clickage between those two between now and late April -- can morph into the proverbial Team No One Wants To Face in the first round.

Scottie Pippen's curious comeback announcement during All-Star Weekend, if nothing else, puts an intriguing, six-ringed free agent on the market for a contender to snap up if Scottie can still do it. (I see the Lakers as the best hypothetical fit, if you're wondering, given that Pippen already knows the offense … and has tutored Lamar Odom … and would potentially satisfy Phil Jackson's desire to add a big, veteran guard to help out Kobe Bryant after auditioning Penny Hardaway recently.)

Yet there can be little argument that the comeback of greatest significance as NBA teams reunite this week is Yao Ming's expected return to the Rockets' lineup in March.

The Rockets have managed to go 17-8 without him. With Yao, Houston could potentially bump San Antonio down to No. 3 in the All-Texas Standings, stunning as that sounds.

10. Don't forget the other end of the standings.

No shortage of intrigue here, either.

Not with Boston (13-38) and Memphis (14-40) jockeying for the most ping-pong possibilities in the May draft lottery … and teams such as Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Charlotte (and more to follow when the playoffs drift out of range) bound to have tanking urges of their own … and league officials certain to be looking for overt signs of surrender because of all the tank talk that's been out there already.

Don't forget, furthermore, that there's also no guarantee that Greg Oden or Kevin Durant will even declare for the June draft.

11. You need to circle March 17 on your calendars.

St. Patrick's Day?


But that's not why we've asked you to circle it.

March 17 is when Utah's Carlos Boozer will -- at last -- play his first game in Cleveland since bolting the Cavs for the Jazz in the summer of 2004.

Boozer said during All-Star Weekend that he expects to be healed well before the highly anticipated roadie that he has missed because of injury in each of the past two seasons.

12. Someone will win Rookie of the Year.

But only because someone has to.

I can assure you that I felt this way long before being subjected to the unwatchable Rookies versus Sophomores game in Vegas. It's a stance that also has nothing to do with the fact that my favorite rook, Houston's Steve Novak, never plays.

This rookie class simply offers no wow factor. Not yet, anyway.

Portland's Brandon Roy has the best numbers -- and certainly has the best name in the ROY race -- but he's leading the race by default after missing 20 games through injury.

Andrea Bargnani is becoming more of a factor in Toronto but still averages a modest 10.6 points and 3.5 rebounds.

I'm hoping my other personal favorite, Minnesota's Randy Foye, will make a stronger push now that he's starting, but Foye can't even match Bargnani's scoring average yet.

13. Oh, yeah: The trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m.

Are you kidding?

You thought we were going to forget about this with names such as Vince Carter, Pau Gasol and, of course, Jason Kidd in circulation?

I honestly don't think any of them are going anywhere before the deadline -- and we're getting a little greedy to expect another player in that stratosphere to be moved in-season after Iverson switched teams -- but I suspect that those realities won't stop a steady stream of juicy trade chatter over the next few days while the Lakers (Kidd) and Bulls (Gasol) decide if they want to sweeten their offers to get something done this week.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.