It’s already time for my quarterly NBA review here at TSJ and what a wacky, unpredictable, and positively entertaining NBA season we have been blessed with thus far! Between the surprisingly dominant Tim Duncan-led Spurs, the unbelievable improvement in Russell Westbrook’s game, Blake Griffin’s ridiculous highlight-reel performances almost nightly, and the Miami Heat’s demise and resurrection almost weekly we have been on one heck of a roller-coaster ride. Though we’re only about twenty contests into the regular season there are a plethora of intriguing storylines to present and debates to be had.
Here are ten questions I have heading toward the mid-point of the season:
1. Have the Miami Heat figured things out now?
After three consecutive convincing victories including their demolition of the Cavaliers in LeBron’s first game back at the Q on Thursday night you would think they are heading in that direction. However, the three teams they defeated are a combined 19-37 entering Saturday and Miami has beaten just two teams this year who currently have a winning record. Not exactly dominance, I’m afraid. They have looked much better lately, especially defensively, but until LeBron, Wade, and company start winning against elite competition I’m afraid their bark remains much worse than their bite. I do think they’ll put it all together at some point, though.
2. Could the Knicks be for real?
New York has won an amazing eight of nine and have the Raptors (twice), Wizards, and Timberwolves on tap next so a 15-9 mark isn’t out of the question. Their schedule has been rather soft during this winning streak but they did defeat the Hornets on Friday behind 34 points and ten boards from Amare Stoudemire. Stoudemire has been an absolute force this year for the Knicks, averaging 24.6 points and 8.7 boards while beginning to build real chemistry with one of this years biggest surprise players, Raymond Felton. Felton is posting career-bests across the board including 18.2 points and 8.3 assists in New York’s fast-paced offense and proving himself an above-average starter for the first time.
3. Can the Spurs and Celtics hold up until May?
Combined these teams are 31-7 and I’m going to guess that they both will at this point. The Spurs are doing a magnificent job curtailing their stars’ minutes as Tony Parker leads the team averaging just 33.6 of court time per outing. Not only that, Manu looks rejuvenated in a starting role (21.2 ppg) and, combined with his recovery from various injuries, is resembling the game-changer and MVP candidate we always thought he could be. The Celtics are still playing Ray Allen and Paul Pierce quite a bit more than they’d like (35 and 37 min., respectively) but both look to be in great shape and are playing within their means. Both teams have deep benches and I expect starter’s minutes to curb back in early February to prepare for the stretch-run.
4. Can the Mavericks challenge the Lakers in the playoffs?
I’m going to go with a resounding yes on this one, barring Tyson Chandler’s health. The addition of Chandler has proven a resounding success as the Mavs sport the NBA’s #4 ranked defense and have registered quality victories over the Jazz, Heat, Spurs, Thunder, Celtics, and Hornets already this season. They can play any type of style you wish because of the versatility of Nowitzki, Butler and Marion while their bench may be one of the deepest we have seen from a Dallas team since Cuban began running the show. I would love to see these guys face off against San Antonio and L.A. in May.
5. Are the Lakers as vulnerable as their recent losing streak has displayed?
I don’t think so – as their victory over the Kings the other night can attest, when these Lakers are operating at peak efficiency there are few teams in the league with the power to stop them. Pau Gasol has crept a bit back to earth after his ridiculous start to the season but when Andrew Bynum returns and Pau jumps back into his natural forward spot, look out. Kobe Bryant finally shot over .500 from the floor versus the Kings – he hadn’t hit fifty-percent of his shots in his seven previous contests! Ron Artest has been very disappointing for the champs but I see him having a much better second half of the season as well. Overall, if I were a Lakers fan, I definitely would not be panicking.
6. When was the last time we were treated to so many outstanding point guards?
I love watching fantastic point guard play and we have witnessed some spectacular performances by Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Steve Nash – the list goes on and on! The improvement over last year from Rose (25.4 ppg, 7.9 apg) and Westbrook (24.4 ppg, 8.5 apg) for Chicago and Oklahoma City has been phenomenal and when John Wall starts playing regularly this league will sport about twenty guys who are simply a joy to watch. With any luck sixteen of these players will continue to deliver in the postseason.
7. Is this just the beginning of the Blake Griffin show?
Griffin has been better than most of us could have ever imagined thus far and it looks like we’ve seen just a glimpse of his potential. Forget the 20.6 points and 11.7 boards he averages nightly – between Griffin and Gordon Clippers fans finally have a reason to believe, which is an accomplishment greater than any stat. With Griffin averaging nearly thirty points and fourteen rebounds in his last seven, leading the Clippers to wins over the Spurs and Hornets, the best is yet to come.
8. Could this be the last stand for Steve Nash?
I never want to see this guy hang it up but I have to be realistic and know that just a couple of years remain of this amazing star. Despite Nash posting his usual 18.1 points and 10.1 assists in dazzling fashion the Suns simply can’t stop anyone (#30 ranked defense) and when Nash sits for any reason this offense looks incredibly out-of-synch. Their recent wins over the Warriors and Pacers were encouraging but I fear we’re going to watch the final years of Nash’s playmaking ability wasted on fighting for a playoff berth. I know that most people predicted this but I was holding out hope and still am, although less than before.
9. Is Dwight Howard elevating his game to all-time great status?
Howard was a beast before this season but after working on his offensive repertoire this off-season he, at least to me, is finally entering the realm of the all-time great centers. In leading the Magic to a sparkling 15-4 record and ten wins in their last eleven Dwight has averaged 21.3 points, 12.1 boards, and it appears that only a stomach virus (which he currently has) will derail Howard from etching his name among the great big men in history. As a Celtics fan I fear what Howard might become in two years.
10. Will Carmelo Anthony finally be traded?
Denver is not in an enviable position right now. Caught between losing Anthony for nothing this summer or attempting to satisfy him and compete for a title this season the Nuggets have been subjected to harsh distractions all season. Carmelo is averaging 23.3 points and a career-best 8.3 boards and the Nuggets are on a six-game winning streak but until he signs on the dotted line anxiety will spread throughout Denver right through the February trade deadline. I do not expect him to remain in Denver beyond that point – several teams including New Jersey and Orlando have made inquiries and the Nuggets simply don’t want to put their fan-base through what Cavs fans endured this summer. I don’t blame them.
Now check out part two of the quarterly review HERE featuring my award winners.