With the second half of the lockout shortened 2012 NBA season underway there are plenty of things to be on the lookout for over the stretch run. Whether it is trade rumors, playoff jostling, or scheduling issues that teams will face, over the next week or so we’ll be breaking down each division. Starting where the sun rises in Queensbridge, and resting where it sets in Compton (no, we’re not writing a novella on Mehta World Peace’s American Journey) let’s sling the rock around the country.
An enigma from Christmas Day, the Atlantic shows no signs of letting up its mystique. With the three top teams fighting for the 4, (maybe 3, if Dwight gets dealt) 7 and 8 seeds in the East the battle for the crown in the Atlantic literally is the difference between living into the second round and being unceremoniously shown the exit before Lala’s reality show ever even airs in June. With Philadelphia sitting at the top of the division at 21-15, and Boston and New York not so subtly (maybe you’ve heard of this Lin kid) creeping behind at 17-17 and 18-18 this thing looks as if it will go down to the wire. A closer look at the schedule however, reveals that the Sixers may stay in the pole position and the division’s most seasoned Coach will have his work cut out for him as the 2nd half schedule for Doc’s C’s is pretty brutal. As for the Knicks…well it appears that Lin isn’t as good as the 38 he dropped on Mamba and not as bad as the CYO performance he put on in South Beach. If can play like he did two nights ago against Kyrie Irving (19, 13, 1 turnover) they may be able to make the playoff run that some pundits are now starting to expect.
Philadelphia is the Number 1 defensive team in the league when it comes to points allowed. This is not by accident. F*ckin’ Dougie, (how my father adoringly refers to him) has this bunch playing inspired, unselfish basketball on both sides of the floor. By having continuity, a young, deep rotation of players, and the ability to just flat out D up better than 95% of teams in the league the Sixers have without question earned the top spot in the Atlantic . If this were a card game the Sixers have brilliantly slow played their way to an early chip lead. With only 30 games remaining, more than half of their games (16) are against teams with sub .500 records. While 17 of these games are on the road they play .500 ball away from the land where Pat Croce used to “drop in” from the rafters so they will be a tough catch.
What troubles me is their lack of a go to guy in the 4th quarter as we head into the second half. AI is a stud, and Lou Williams is not scared of the big moment but neither one strikes fear in the heart of the opponent with the game on the line. Essentially, they are not the pair of Aces that the slow play chip leader needs to come out on top when their opponents have picked up on their tell. With the schedule in the Sixers favor the burden is on the Knicks and C’s to not rely or hope for their collapse. If either, or both can pull even with them within the next few weeks (very possible, as noted below) I think we are looking at a repeat Miami/Philly first round matchup.
With 32 games remaining on the schedule and 19 of the 32 on the road, the playoff tested Celtics will be forced to rely on their ragtag bunch of role players who have combined to average approximately 37 points off the pine this season. Brandon Bass, Mikeal Pietrus, Keyon Dooling (no, this isn’t yesteryear, and no I’m not discussing the Orlando Magic) Chris Wilcox, Avery Bradley, JaJuan Johsnon and Marquis Daniels are not an imposing bunch but they are solid, defined role players who I expect will step up and play well for Doc the rest of the way. The recent Rondo trade rumors can’t help, and Danny Ainge is in a tough spot because he doesn’t have the time to wait and see if the Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green trade was a complete and utter disaster. With March 15th looming and Rondo dropping triple double’s like he was Ice Cube on a Good Day the rumors are only going to intensify. A seasoned group of veterans should be able to play through the media drama but the schedule may not permit it.
The Celtics have an 8 game road trip coming up from March 11th thru March 23rd where they will play the Clippers, Lakers, Nuggets, Hawks, and Sixers. The other three teams they face on their trip are the Warriors, Kings, and Bucks. 7th or 8th in the East is a death sentence so .500 ball is not going to cut it. They need to go at least 5-3 on this trip, with one of those wins coming in the Illadelph. Seems daunting, but you don’t count out the Green Mafia and with The Truth’s penchant for clutch performances when other teams get tight, they should eek out a few close games keeping them in the hunt until the final few weeks. Obviously, if the West Coast Trip goes horribly wrong, or Rondo gets traded all bets are off.
The Knickerbockers are more than just back page fodder these days. Coming off of their first 10 win month in fifteen years New York is playing as well as any team not named Miami or OKC right now. When they were 8-15 and Mike D’Antoni was down double digits to the lowly Nets all seemed lost in Gotham City. SuperLin popped off the bench that night to spark the team to victory and has refused to let up since, leading them on a miraculous 10-3 run. The Lin story has been hotter that a “Tebow loses virginity to Katy Perry” hyperlink on Perez Hilton.com, and for good reason. He is why they are where they are: 18-18 and playing team basketball. However, his play can now be recognized for what it is; borderline all-star level play out of the PG position in the D’Antoni offense. If he can drop 18-8 every night the Knicks can, and should push Philadelphia for the division. However, he isn’t the key to getting over the hump and making a push deep into the playoffs.
Before we all went Linsane in the Membrane, the Knicks’ backcourt consisted of a Corpse (Mike Bibby), an out of position/oft injured rook (Iman Shumpert), a non-shooting, shooting guard (Landry Fields) and a guy who was playing his way out of the NBA (Toney Douglas). Arguably, the worst backcourt in the NBA. Suddenly, a position of incredible weakness if one of immense strength. They replaced Bibby and Toney Douglas with a slimmed down and playing better every night, Baron “Boom Dizzle” Davis. They signed JR Smith who has been reminding Knicks fans of John Starks ever since he hucked up three three’s in three minutes against Dallas before the announcer let the fans knew he was even in the game. Reminding Knicks fans of John Starks is a good thing. (Game 7, 1994, 2-18 notwithstanding) They have found a perfect role for Iman Shumpert who is 4th in the NBA in steals and is regularly asked to come off the bench and D up the other teams best player, and most importantly, they found the yin to D’Antoni’s yang; Jeremy Lin. ***Also, enough of limiting perfectly appropriate sport cliche’s because they are sounded in Asian heritage. Yin/Yang is not offensive, it isnt meant to be offensive, and I had to re-read the piece before I realized it could be construed by hypersensitive curmudgeons as crossing a line. The kid is just a baller to me, and a damn good one at that. Enough.
You may notice we didn’t mention Chandler, Amar’e and Melo once. This Knicks team can be scary good come playoff time and the key to making it happen is this suddenly very deep backcourt. This just in, sharpshooter Steve Novak just did a discount double check for not mentioning him. My bad Novacaine, my bad.
Trading Brook Lopez and a bunch of picks for Dwight Howard is an absolute must. If they lose out on Superman, they lose Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets open the Barclay Center next year by hanging banners showcasing Marshon Brooks and Kris Humphries as their cornerstones. Ouch. The rest of their season will be leading up to March 15th and will either be the end of the Deron Williams era, or the start of something really, really awesome. If I thought you cared about the Nets until then, I would write something more. If you do, let me know and I will probably ignore you.
Brian Colangelo, you are not your father. The Raptors are a far cry from the team that had the foresight to draft Damon Stoudamire, T-Mac, Marcus Camby, and trade Jamison for Vince Carter. Did I just give a compliment to Isiah Thomas? I must be in a GREAT mood. The Raps struggles are directly related to their draft woes. Since 2006 (can you believe Bargnani has been in the league this long?) they have drafted Andrea Bargnani, 2012 NBA All-Star Roy Hibbert (who they traded for Jermaine O’Neal), DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, and unknown Jonas Brother, Jonas Valanciunas all in the first round. The list of players selected after this bunch is eye popping. Absent Jonas coming to play for them now and turning into a young Arvdyas Sabonis, something us old school guys all longed for back in the day but never got to see, I do not see any reason to tune in to Toronto Raptors games for the 2nd half of this season. Oh, kudos to them for having pre-scheduled Asian Heritage Night when Jeremy Lin was in the building. Too bad the place sounded like MSG Light when he drilled that 3 to end the game, eh?
What to Look For:
The Knicks and the Celtics have a big time showdown in Beantown on Sunday. With the head to head matchup locked up at 1-1 and the Celtics headed out on the road for that 8 game sojourn, if the Knicks leave Boston with a W, it could mark the beginning of the end of the Celtics hopes to steal yet another, division crown.
Also, the Sixers face the Knicks and Celtics twice each between March 7th and March 23rd, with a home and home against the Knicks and C’s on March 21st and March 23rd. These 4 games will undoubtedly change the landscape of the division for each of these teams. We should have a pretty good idea of who is serious about making a run at the division and who is going to be a Lebron/D-Rose victim before a 2 seed falls in the NCAA tourney.
COMING ON MONDAY-The Central.
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