Perhaps I’ve been a little too caught up in the NFL playoffs lately that I hadn’t realized the NBA season is already past its halfway point. “We’re 50 games in already?” I said while looking at the standings. Guess I’ve been slacking.
So, on the first of 25 consecutive Sundays without an NFL game, I found myself watching basketball all day long. It was a welcome change and with roughly 30 games remaining in the regular season, there are plenty of topics to discuss.
Appearing in the media for all the wrong reasons, the Los Angeles Lakers have been a colossal disappointment thus far. To their credit, future Hall Of Fame PG Steve Nash has missed half the season. PF Pau Gasol suffered a foot injury that will sideline him until at least mid-March. All-Star center Dwight Howard hasn’t been the same since undergoing offseason back surgery and dealing with shoulder discomfort. If there’s a silver lining to the Lakers’ season, it’s that they’re only a few games out from making the playoffs. With a team full of stars, it’ll take some time for them to learn how to gel together, though I’d expect the Lakers to go on a nice little run post-All Star break.
It’s been business as usual for the San Antonio Spurs, as year after year they quietly accomplish the task at hand. Despite their “old age” and lack of flashy celeb players, the Spurs boast the best record in the NBA (at press time). PG Tony Parker continues to fly under the radar and with a top-two seed all but locked up, coach Gregg Popovich will look to rest his veteran players down the stretch. Let’s just hope the ruthless David Stern doesn’t fine him another $250,000 for making the smart decision to rest his guys when applicable.
As expected, the Oklahoma City Thunder are in position to make another run at the title. At just 24 years old, SF Kevin Durant has grown into not only the best scorer in the NBA (averaging 29.1 ppg), but an all-around monster (7.5 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.6 spg and 1.2 bpg). The L.A. Clippers, on the other hand, have the deepest team in the league. With an elite crew from top to bottom, there’s a very good chance the Clippers will advance to the Western Conference Finals, possibly against OKC.
The defending champion Miami Heat currently have some holes in their frontcourt, but they’re still the number one team in the league. SF LeBron James is unquestionably the greatest basketball player in the world, and he’s managed to take his game to the next level. Putting up 27 ppg, a career-high 8.1 rpg to go along with 6.9 apg, LeBron’s shooting a remarkable 56 percent from the field. With the Heat a sizzling 22-3 at the American Airlines Arena, their home-court advantage in the playoffs should strike fear in the hearts of other contenders.
We knew the New York Knicks were going to improve from last year’s 36-30 record, but at 32-17, the Knickerbockers are sitting comfortably as the number two seed. SF Carmelo Anthony will be in the running for the MVP award at season’s end, J.R. Smith may garner the Sixth Man Of The Year trophy, and when it’s all said and done, we may see the Knicks give Miami a run for their money. So long as PF Amar’e Stoudemire and PG Jason Kidd stay healthy, New York should be able to handle just about every team in the conference.
Even though the Chicago Bulls are currently the number four seed, their stock will soon rise after PG Derrick Rose returns from his torn ACL. Expected to return shortly after the All-Star Game, Rose, the 2011 MVP, will help a Bulls team that desperately needs him. It remains to be seen what kind of shape he’ll be in, but he has to be better than what Chicago has received from Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson. Joakim Noah has also blossomed into an elite center, averaging 12 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 4.1 apg and 2.0 bpg. The Bulls have some depth, and if Rose can look like his 2011 self, the Bulls will join the Heat and Knicks as the East’s strongest teams.
This weekend marks the return of the All-Star festivities. Friday night gets underway with the celebrity game, featuring the likes of comedian Kevin Hart, Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, and NBA legends Dikembe Mutombo and Clyde Drexler. Shortly thereafter will be the exciting BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, showcasing the league’s neophytes.
Saturday night’s fan-friendly events start with the Shooting Stars competition, followed by the Skills Challenge. Due to this year’s sharpshooting participants, I’m looking forward to the Three-Point Contest. For the East will be Indiana’s Paul George, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, and New York’s Steve Novak, while the West features New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson, San Antonio’s Matt Bonner, and Golden State’s Stephen Curry. The night concludes with the Slam Dunk Contest, an event that’s become incredibly watered down. Gone are the days of Michael Jordan, Vince Carter and Jason Richardson putting their freakish abilities on display, as the contest has become all about silly props and lackluster dunks (see: Blake Griffin jumping over the hood of a Kia while a choir sings R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” in 2011). Kia’s NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night finishes off the weekend’s festivities.
How will you be spending the next 24 Sundays without football?
(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)