NBA Second-Half Storylines
Although the quality of play has been suspect at times and the schedule brutal, the beginning of this truncated NBA season has definitely been fun to watch. With the 2nd half of the season just under way, we look ahead to some of the intriguing questions that will be answered in the weeks and months ahead.
Where will Dwight Howard end up? – With Howard’s trade demand still at on the table, the question remains whether Magic GM Otis Smith will deal his star center to one of his preferred landing spots or ride it out the rest of the way and hope to re-sign him in the off-season.
Will Philly win the Atlantic? – The Sixers currently hold a 4 game edge over the Celtics and Knicks, but the race will undoubtedly tighten up down the stretch. Philly has a great coach in Doug Collins and a young team that shouldn’t be fazed as much by fatigue as some of their rivals.
What does Boston have left? – Will Danny Ainge add a piece to his veteran team to make one last run at it, or does he think that his team has no shot of getting by Miami or Chicago in a playoff series and attempt to blow up the Big 3? Boston will definitely be a team to watch as the March 15th trade deadline approaches.
How will Linsanity and the resurgent Knicks play in the 2nd half? – New York came on strong before the All-Star break, and with their schedule getting tougher in the coming weeks we will get a better indication of whether or not they be will a serious threat in the Eastern Conference come playoff time. They have one of the most talented rosters in the East, and if they play up to their full potential will be a team no one wants to face this spring.
Will Larry Bird make a move? – Indiana is currently the 3 seed in the East and has a plethora of talented young players (Roy Hibbert, Paul George, Danny Granger, Darren Collison, Psycho T)to go along with David West. With plenty of cap space and trade chips to work with, it will be interesting to see if Larry Legend makes a move to turn his team into a more viable threat.
Can the Bulls get by the Heat in the Eastern Conference? – Last year Miami took out the Bulls in 5 games in the Eastern Conference Finals by dominating the 4th quarters and illustrating that Derek Rose desperately needed another scorer to work with. Will Rip Hamilton be that scorer down the stretch? He has been banged up this year and not looking very much like the Rip of old (just old), while Rose has had to deal with some back issues. The Bulls will need Rose to be as close to 100% as possible and perhaps add one more player to get by the Heat.
Who will win the Anthony Davis sweepstakes? – The Bobcats, Wizards, Hornets, Raptors, Pistons, and Kings should all be in the running to land the top pick in next year’s draft and select the highly touted Davis (barring he declares). Kentucky’s shot blocking phenom is considered one of the top draft prospects in recent memory, and should be able to change the prospects of one of these lottery bound teams.
Will San Antonio suffer a repeat of a year ago? – Last year San Antonio went into the playoffs as the top seed in the West only to be bounced in the first round by Memphis. Enjoying another superb regular season, the question remains whether or not this team has enough to beat some of their younger opponents in the playoffs. Tony Parker has been playing out of his mind this season, and will need a healthy Manu by his side if Pops team is going to make another run to the Finals.
Z-Bo and the Grizzlies – Memphis is hanging on in the Western Conference playoff standings despite losing Zach Randolph to an injury on January 1st. He should return in time for the playoffs, and adding him to a team with some of the best individual defenders in the game could propel the Grizzlies to another deep playoff run.
Is this the year OKC breaks through? – They came close last year, losing in the Conference Finals to the Mavs. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and company are poised to make it to the Finals this year and should have home court advantage out West. Winning at OKC is no easy task and few teams boast a core as talented as the Thunders. Wouldn’t hurt for them to grab a low-post scorer for late-game situations, as the Thunder are primarily a jump shooting team at this point.
Lob City – Chris Paul has quickly transformed the Clippers into a contender and they will be a tough out in the playoffs. Their game relies a great deal on Paul creating for the freakish athletes at his disposal (Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan), so when the games slowdown in the playoffs it will be interesting to see if the Clippers can excel in half-court sets. CP3 can break just about anyone down and create opportunities for himself and others, but they might be just a player or two away.
What will the Lakers do? – The Lakers have three premier players (Kobe, Gasol, Bynum), but unless they upgrade the point guard position and get some more speed on the edges they will likely suffer the same fate as they did in the playoffs a year ago. A lot depends on who they face, but as currently constructed any team with speed and athleticism (OKC, Clippers) creates matchup issues for them.
Will the Mavs repeat? – Dallas got off to a slow start this year, suffering a post-championship hangover while trying to get players into shape and work in new additions. The Mavs have been on a roll of late with Dirk finding his stride, and in the wide open Western Conference they have as good of chance as anyone to make it another run at it. You never know with Mark Cuban so they might be active near the trade deadline, and when Delonte West comes back from injury and if Lamar Odom ever decides to play like Lamar Odom they could be as deep as they were last season.
Is this the year LeBron gets his first championship ring? – The million-dollar question, as Miami has looked unbeatable at times this year with their unique blend of talent, speed, and athleticism. LBJ has been playing like a man possessed, but for all the success the Heat have had up to this point this team will ultimately be judged on how they play in the postseason. Anything less than a title and this year will be deemed another failure and the Heat will be forced to answer a lot of questions. LeBron is more than due for a breakout Finals appearance, is this the year? Or will he fade under the bright lights like he did a year ago?
A few of these questions will be answered March 15th at the trade deadline while others will play out over the course of the season. The last strike shortened season (1999) created one of the more memorable playoff runs of my lifetime as the 8th seeded Knicks made their improbable run to the Finals. A lot depends on the health of the top teams as we approach the playoffs, but as it currently stands the Eastern Conference will go through Miami and Chicago while out West it is up for grabs. Stay tuned.
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