Tonight marks the end of the first half of the NBA regular season. Each of the top eight teams in each conference have battled hard to get in the position they are in. Each has it’s own story and each has made a case as to why they deserve a playoff berth.
Let’s break it down.
Methodical wins and pace have been primary themes for this perennial playoff team. This season, it’s a more upbeat pace led by players that weren’t on the last title-winning squad (Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair and George Hill). If they keep up and avoid injury, everyone should be very afraid of the Spurs.
Tough luck. Injuries (Dirk Nowitzki, Rodrigue Beaubois and Caron Butler) have really set the Mavs back; however, they have responded well. They are the only team in the league that has beaten all the other powerhouses. The Mavericks could have three wins against the team mentioned above but again: injuries are a bitch.
They look sleepy when it matters and can’t seem to beat the Bobcats. Combined with losses to Cleveland and Sacramento, it’s a wonder that this team is in the position they are in. They have an opportunity to make a move and they need to capitalize in order to reinvigorate this offense.
Kevin Durant is scoring at will and Russell Westbrook has shown that he is an elite point guard. The only thing hampering them is their age. Westbrook is leading the league in turnovers with nearly four a game and defense isn’t exactly their forte. The team needs a big man but who doesn’t these days? They are scoring at home and on the road but they still need a player that can make big shots other than the Durantula.
They simply can’t rebound. Outside of LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby, the rest of the frontcourt is a bunch of no names. The Cambyman is injured so Aldridge has had to pick up most of the work under the basket. With Brandon Roy injured as well, it’s kind of weird that they are on a six-game winning streak that is helping them hold onto their position in the West. Andre Miller is the only other guy stepping up right now but he’s on the trading block. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out for the Trail Blazers.
A hot start has a lot to do with where the Hornets are in the West. However, they have fallen a bit since. It’s weird that they are even winning without the usual offensive prowess that they normally employ but Monty Williams has his guys playing defense well. January fared well as they won 12 of 16 games. February has been another story. They are 2-7 this month with losses to Minnesota, New Jersey and Golden State. Ouch.
We are all sick of all the Carmelo Anthony talk but he is playing well in the midst of the commotion. He is scoring over 30 points per game in their last ten and they are leading the league in scoring with 107 a night. Seems as though his performance as of late matched with the fact that they are even in the playoff hunt means he could spend the rest of the season in Denver. However, a certain team in the East lost their superstar to free agency last year for nothing and we all know how they are performing without him this year…
A coaching change in Utah after almost three decades with Jerry Sloan isn’t proving to payoff yet. The Jazz have lost the last four games since he entered retirement. They are 2-6 in February and even lost to the Rockets (ewwww). Luckily, they come back from the break with games against Dallas and Boston (sarcasm). Looks like they are really going to have to grip to that eighth and final spot in the West.
The Celtics are good. They are pulling out wins and leading the East even with a myriad of injuries to several players. They lead the league in assists and in points allowed. However, they need Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal back. Kendrick Perkins can carry the front court for now but it can be argued that his injury is what caused them to loose in the Finals. Imagine how dangerous they will be when everyone is finally healthy…
They built a super team of only three players. It’s sad that they are second in the East with two starters (Zydrunas Ilgouskas and Mario Chalmers) that are only putting up around six points a night. It is a true testament as to how bad that conference is. They are 3-6 against the Lakers, Boston, Dallas and Orlando and aren’t undefeated against any of those powerhouses. However, they are beating up on all of the garbage that didn’t make the playoffs last season. They are 22-4 against those teams but last time we checked, they will not be facing any of those squads in the post season this year.
The Bulls made some major moves by bringing in Carlos Boozer (frontcourt phenomenon), Kyle Korver (three-point specialist), Ronnie Brewer (athletic wing man) and Brian Scalabrine (fat cheerleader). Head Coach Tom Thibodeau has them playing defense as they are only allowing opponents to score 92 a night. Their mix of young talent and veteran leadership will do them well come playoff time and hopefully Derrick Rose can reach the second round for the first time in his career.
Otis Smith has the balls to make big moves. Hedo Turkoglu looks like his old self and Jason Richardson looks at home. Combined with Dwight Howard’s ability to rebound nearly everything, this team of shooting specialist should finish strong. However, we don’t see them doing what they did last post season unless they actually make another move for a forward that can change things up a little for this offense that can feel predictable at times.
When you take a glance at the record of the Hawks you notice that it is a tidy 34-21. Are they really that good though? Short answer: no. Atlanta is easily the worst team with 30 or more wins this season. Their record is a result of a soft schedule so far with only two noteworthy wins, both against Orlando. As the schedule gets tougher after the All Star break do not be surprised to see the Hawks lose ground in the East at an alarming rate.
The Knicks are back, baby! Well, kind of. The hype surrounding the resurgence of the Knicks completely overshaddows the fact that this is a team that has hovered just above .500 all season. In fact, the entire up and down nature of New York can be juxtaposed by two games. This season the Knicks have lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the worst team in the league, and beaten the Spurs, the best team in the league.
The 76ers are a team that no one is really talking about this season. Doug Collins has his team in the middle of the pack in virtually every offensive and defensive category which is a great improvement over last season. They have already equaled last year’s win total with 27. Night in and night out, the Sixers give it their all. Currently, Philadelphia sits in seventh in the East which is not an ideal situation as it means they will likely not advance. However, this team is young and can only improve in the coming seasons with Collins at the helm.
The Pacers are the most dangerous team in the East right now. That is especially true if they have a first round matchup with Miami. For some reason the Pacers play the Heat better than any team not in the upper tier of the league. Their length and size will give any team fits. Rebounding and hustle plays allow the Pacers to hang tough against the league’s elite teams and those plays are generally centered around the efforts of Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough.