With about 18 or so games to go for each NBA team, the playoff races begin to tighten. By now, any true NBA enthusiast should know the situation in the Western Conference and how seeds eight through two are neck and neck. They should also know that the Phoenix Suns are in poor shape in the ninth spot being five and a half games behind the currently eighth seeded Dallas Mavericks. However, over in the Eastern Conference the race for eight is on. With Chicago, New Jersey, Charlotte, Indiana, Milwaukee, and New York no more than two games apart from one another, that battle is still very interesting.
The New York Knicks have improved mightily from last season with the run-and-gun style that has been infused by new head coach Mike D’Antoni. However, they have a run-and-gun with a bevy of role player caliber ballers. It’s not like they’re the superstar-filled Suns of years past that D’Antoni had before. So, although the Knicks are a much improved team, they shouldn’t be making the playoffs any way.
The Charlotte Bobcats were already making positive strides prior to the trade that brought them Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa at mid-season. Now, they have improved further, but they are still highly inexperienced and will require more time and at least one All-Star player to get in.
The Pacers on the other hand have their All-Star caliber player in Danny Granger, but he has been hurt. They too are like the Knicks and tend to run, but once again, too many role player type people on their team. That’s no good.
New Jersey’s got All-Star Devin Harris, and former superstar, but more than capable Vince Carter. But they have too many woes at home and they can’t be expected to make a run just because they are decent on the road. Decent on the road is great, where they have a 14-17 record, but a non-winning 14-19 home record just won’t do it.
The Milwaukee Bucks currently hold the eight spot, but they still have one problem… they are Michael Redd-less. They did a great job in the early going of his absence from his season-ending injury, but now his loss has started to catch up and the Bucks are just 3-7 in their last ten games.
With that being said, the eighth seed has to be given to Chicago. They have the leading candidate for rookie of the year in Derek Rose, and a great scoring pickup up at mid-season in John Salmons who is averaging 18.2 points per game this season. On top of this they have a stable of young guys with playoff experience in Kirk Hinrich, and top-scorer Ben Gordon. Their big men are also efficient; Tyrus Thomas and Luol Deng. Last, but not least, the other guy that game over from Sacramento with John Salmons… veteran and playoff-savvy Brad Miller.
The Bulls, in my mind, are already a team with a bright future, while the others that were mentioned still do not have much to build on except for some true grit. Bulls get in.
One of the most mind-numbing notions I have had to endure for the past several weeks is that Rajon Rondo deserves consideration for the All-Star Game. I think that is one of the most preposterous ideas I have ever heard.
At 11.6ppg, 5 rebounds per game, and 7.4 assists per game, Rajon Rondo should be hoping that at least five guys go down for him to even make it as a backup in that game. I mean sure, he has improved a lot this season, and shows signs of maturity, but that doesn’t mean he’s an All-Star.
In the Eastern Conference alone there are six other point guards who are easily better than Rajon Rondo (and have less around them in terms of talent), and if the Celtics had one of them instead, they could even be doing better; Jameer Nelson (17ppg, 5.4apg), Mike Bibby (15.9ppg, 5apg), Dwyane Wade (29ppg, 7apg), Devin Harris (24ppg, 6.8apg), Derrick Rose (17.5ppg, 6.1apg), and Jose Calderon (12.9ppg, 8.8apg). Somebody please tell me that Rajon Rondo is doing more for his team than one of these guys!
Now, I don’t want to take anything away from Rondo. He’s a great young talent, and I think he has benefited from learning how to win a championship so early in his career. However, that is solely because of the three stars around him; Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. Furthermore, the only aspect he truly excels at is assists and a tenacity to play hard the entire game… but I’m sorry. A lot of heart, determination, and a knack for consistently posting impressive numbers in one stat category does not make an All-Star unless you’re the old Ben Wallace blocking the crap out of everybody each year.
Maybe next year… but probably not.
The highly favored Nets did not pull through on Wednesday night at the IZOD center. Rather they fell victim
to below par New York Knicks team by a score of 121-109. The Knicks trailed early in the game allowing Devin Harris 14 points in the 1st quarter. It seemed like this night was destined to be a failure from the beginning for the Knicks, we have grown accustomed to seeing. Yet, some thing has changed within the New York Knicks, this team now after the departure of Randolph and Crawford and benching of Curry, refuse to quit. I almost hate to say this but Al Harrington plays with such passion while wearing his hometown orange and blue jersey, it’s almost inspiring. Al Harrington lead the knicks with 39 pts, 13 Rebounds, 3 Assists. The Knicks never lead in the 1st half and were getting pushed around until Tim Thomas took over in the 3rd putting up 9 points in about 1 minute. This sparked the crowd and Al Harrington to get to work. Chris Duhon had another great double double performance, with 10 pts and 10 assists. Chandler, who also put up big numbers, rebounded from his bad night in Chicago putting up 24 pts, 9 rebounds, 3 assists.
In other news:
Cuttino Mobley is going to announce his retirement from the NBA tommorow. He is retiring due to a heart condition that will prohibit him from playing basketball. This heart complication was caught during his physical conducted during his trade from the Clippers to the knicks this year. This is pretty upsetting story, but atleast he isn’t going to sit on the knicks bench and collect a paycheck while he gets fat and doesn’t work hard, due to his “injury or condition”. I applaud Cuttino for knowing when to get out. For Mobley I know there will be life after Basketball. Thats more than what I can say for some knicks!
So far in the NBA a few teams are back up to their old tricks, a few have been somewhat disappointing, and a good number of upstarts from last year as well as some surprising newcomers have begun to surface.
The newcomers that need to be involved in this discussion are as follows; in the east it’s Miami, New York, and New Jersey and in the west all of the other teams with playoff aspirations are of no surprise at this point in the season. Miami, led by top scorer in points per game, Dwyane Wade, are currently 9th in the eastern conference standings. Last year, everyone remembers how atrocious they were. New York seems to be hitting its stride under the tutelage of former Phoenix head coach, Mike D’Antoni as they are 8-8 and 8th in the standings. Finally, the previous season’s trade between the Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey Nets has finally begun to payoff, as the Devin Harris led Nets are 8-7, 6-4 in their last ten, and 7th in the east.
The Upstarts from last year that are proving their worth are as follows; in the east it’s the Orlando Magic, the Atlanta Hawks, while in the west we have Portland and Denver. The Magic currently sit at 3rd and atop the eastern conference standings at 13-4 going 9-1 in their last ten. Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, and Hedo Turkoglu and company are really hitting their stride. The continued and improved production of guard/forward Keith Bogans and the extra lift provided by off season veteran pick up Anthony Johnson as point guard have been stalwart.
The Hawks slid a bit after starting off 5-0 mainly because of losing Josh Smith for the next few months, but have regained form and are now 10-6 and 5th in the eastern conference.
In the west the Portland Trailblazers, continue to look like a team of the future with stars Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and the potential of first-year NBA players like Rudy Fernandez, and Greg Oden. They are now tied with Phoenix, Denver, and Houston at 11-6 while going 7-3 in their last ten games.
Denver’s success can be attributed to the trade of Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson. The Nuggets are 11-6 and 7-3 in their last ten while holding 3rd place in the west. They have had many impressive victories and performances as they beat Boston in Boston, and took the Lakers to the brink of a loss in L.A.
Now come the disappointments. The Detroit Pistons are hovering somewhere between average and above average. Although they are 10-5 and in 4th place in the east, they are suffering some inexcusable losses, most recently a 10+ point loss to Minnesota, do not yet seem to have their act together with Allen Iverson skipping the thanksgiving day practice (however, I do give huge props to Michael Curry for taking charge by suspending him for one game), and are not nearly as consistent as they were when they had Chauncey Billups in the lineup.
The other eastern disappointments for the eastern conference are the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, and Washington Wizards.
The Raptors just 8-7 and are barely holding a spot in the eastern conference as the 7th seeded team. With capable point guard Jose Calderon, and former all-start Jermaine O’Neal, they should be doing better.
The Sixers were a team last year that without Elton Brand finished 6th in the east and took Detroit to six games in the playoffs. Now with virtually the same team and Elton Brand, they are struggling to find their rhythm and are 7-9 and 5-5 in their last ten. As for the “Wiz Kids,” although without injured star Gilbert Arenas they may not have been a playoff contender anyway, they are still abysmal with their 2-12 record which is good for worst in the east. Last season they played without Arenas for the most part, but still managed to finish above .500 and make the playoffs. They have now fired their coach Eddie Jordan and are in a state of disarray.
The disappointments in the west are the New Orleans Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, and L.A. Clippers. The Hornets finished second last year and were one game away from the western conference finals. They are now 9-6 and 7th in the standings in the west. The Mavericks are 8-8 and look like they are ready to get their act together one game, and then go back to mediocrity the next. As for the Clippers, you would think they could be more competitive than their 3-13 record would suggest with the pickup of marquee point guard Baron Davis. Oh well.
As for the Spurs, I’m sure a lot of people would like to put them in as a disappointment, but they have been playing without Manu Ginobli for the entire season (who is set to return soon), and Tony Parker has just returned from his injury earlier in the season. To further their defense, they are now 9-7 and 7-3 in their last ten while being 8th in the west.
Finally we come to the top dogs in the league.
In the east you have the Cleveland Cavaliers with their 14-3 records, 9-1 in the last ten games, and 2nd place spot in the standings. They have put together a bevy of blowouts on their opponents this season, and the addition of a scoring point guard in Mo Williams has been absolutely huge for them.
The second team that has picked up right where they left off from last year is the Lakers. They are 13-1 and making mince meat out of would be superpower teams and have the best record in the NBA.
But the pinnacle of all teams continues to be the Boston Celtics. They’re 16-2 and are still dominating defensively and continue to get great production from their supporting cast members. And although the Lakers get much help from their bench and up and coming players, let’s face it… the Celtics are still the champs.
The last three teams I must mention are the Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns, and Utah Jazz. To me, these three teams are in a state of limbo. Houston would look to be an upstart, but they can’t seem to keep their stars, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, healthy. The Suns seem like the same team as last year, which wasn’t a contender anyway, and the Jazz keep being a team with potential that can’t seem to build on it.
That would about sum up the NBA season at or around its quarter mark. We’ll look to see who shifts from wherever they were in this discussion and who remains where they are in the coming weeks. As for those that I did not include in this article… you really just aren’t worth mentioning (Chicago, Indiana, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Golden State, Minnesota, Sacramento, Memphis and Oklahoma City).