New York Knicks
All-Star weekend in Houston is over, and the trade deadline has been met. A handful of teams have surprised the world, while others have been utterly disappointing. With the month of February coming to an end, here is what you need to know about the NBA today.
Starting in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers have essentially been a failure. Before the season, small forward Metta World Peace believed the Lakers could win 73 games, something that has never been done. L.A. has only won 28 games with 24 remaining. Mathematically, it looks like the Lakers will not be winning 73 games. Kobe Bryant is more than confident that Los Angles will make a late season push into the playoffs, yet the Lakers are currently ninth in the West.
The San Antonio Spurs are as good as they seem. Though the Spurs may be old, this team currently has a 45-13 record, the best in the NBA. Tony Parker is averaging 21.1 points per game on the year, and Tim Duncan is rebounding around 10 times per game. Many believe the team is so old that they have forgotten how to lose. San Antonio looks like a legitimate contender for the NBA championship.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the same, explosive team as last season. However, the loss of James Harden is proving to be a burden for OKC. The Thunder are just 17-9 in the new year, but are still second in the West. Kevin Durant is making his case for MVP, leading the league in scoring, averaging 28.8 points per game. Oklahoma City is still a tough place to play at, and that could hold well for the Thunder come playoff time.
To me, the surprises of the West are the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets. Golden State is a young team that is statistically one of the better teams in the league. The Clippers are third in the West and have a roster that can win match-ups against nearly any team. No one expected the Houston Rockets to be where they are right now. James Harden has Houston eighth in the West after being predicted to finish last in the conference. The obvious disappointment is the Lakers, but I also think of Minnesota as a disappointment. Although Kevin Love is out, I did not expect the Timberwolves to have a record of 20-33. Next season, Minnesota could be a serious playoff contender.
In the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat are dominating. LeBron James is at the top of his game right now, averaging 27 points per game with a field goal percentage of 57. Plus James is grabbing a career high 8.1 rebounds per game along with 7.1 assists per game. He is the frontrunner for the MVP, and the Miami Heat are frontrunners for the title, currently first in the East at 40-14.
The Indiana Pacers are on the rise with the return of Danny Granger. The Pacers are virtually and physically the only team in the East with a chance of beating the Heat in the playoffs. Their size and athleticism gives Indiana a colossal advantage over some teams, more notably Miami. The Pacers are second in the East, trailing the Heat by six games.
The East may not be too competitive, but the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls have been impressive thus far. The Knicks got off to a hot start at the beginning of the year, going 11-4 in November, but have since fallen to third in the East. Carmelo Anthony is having the best season of his career as he looks to carry New York to a high seed in the playoffs. The Chicago Bulls have been missing their star player in Derrick Rose the entire season, yet are still in playoff contention. With Rose’s return coming any time he feels like he can play, the Bulls will only be better. The Boston Celtics are the only disappointment to me in the East. They lost point guard Rajon Rondo to injury, but I feel like they should be better than 30-27. Boston had a chance to go to the Finals last season, but it looks like a championship run is out of the Celtic picture.
As the race for awards begins, here are some of my predictions for the more major awards.
Rookie of the Year- Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
Sixth Man of the Year- Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers
Coach of the Year- Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Most Improved Player- Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers
Most Valuable Player- LeBron James, Miami Heat
2012-2013 NBA Champion- Miami Heat over San Antonio Spurs (4-3)
With about two months left, the rest of this NBA season should shape out to be an exciting one.
Some of the best players to ever play basketball have played the small forward position. From Elgin Baylor to today, the game has been run by the small forwards. Today, this is who I believe are the five best shooting guards in the league.
5. Paul Pierce- The former Jayhawk is now in his fourteenth season, and his age is beginning to show. At 35, some of Pierce’s talents and abilities are beginning to fade. He is playing less minutes, but his stats remain average for his career. Pierce averages 18.6 points per game, as well as 6.1 rebounds. Unfortunately, most of his numbers are going down and the simple reason why is because he is just not the same player he used to be. Because of Rajon Rondo’s injury, Paul Pierce has to create shots for himself. It is now Pierce’s duty to try and push the Boston Celtics into the playoffs.
4. Luol Deng- He has certainly stepped up his game for the Chicago Bulls due to the absence of Derrick Rose. In his ninth season, Deng is averaging 17.3 points per game, 6.7 rebounds and a career high 3.1 assists. He can hit clutch three point shots and knock down his free throws. With the talent Deng has, I would like to see him attack the paint more and take more shots. However, with the return of Derrick Rose in less than a month, Luol Deng’s opportunity to shine may not come. However, he is still an elite player and his team only gets better with Derrick Rose on his way back.
3. Carmelo Anthony- He is having an MVP season, recording 28.5 points per game, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists. At 6’8”, Melo can beat a player on the outside with his jump shot, or down low with his size. He is hitting 44.7% of his attempted shots this season, 41% on three point attempts. Plus, Anthony is only turning the ball over 2.6 times per game, which is very impressive for someone who has the ball in his hands a majority of the time. Carmelo Anthony’s game has matured greatly, as he has put the New York Knicks in second place in the Eastern Conference.
2. Kevin Durant- The 24 year old is certainly making his case to be the best player in the NBA. Durant, who stands at a lanky 6’10”, has one of the toughest jump shots to defend. His size gives them ability to shoot over almost any defender. KD is knocking down a career high 51.6% of his shots this year. Like the past three seasons, Durant is leading the league in scoring once again, averaging. 29.6 points a game. Along with scoring, he is averaging 7.4 rebounds a game and a career high 4.4 assists. Durant is in charge of the Oklahoma City Thunder, as they look to get back to the NBA Finals.
1. LeBron James- This should not come as too much of a surprise to anyone. As arguably the most physically-gifted athlete to ever play basketball, James continues to evolve his game. He is shooting an average of 55% from the field, 40.4% from three point range, and grabbing 8.3 rebounds, all career highs. LeBron is also scoring an average of 26.6 points per game and dishing 7 assists per game. With his 6’8”, 250 pound frame of what is sheer muscle, LeBron James has the ability to play any position. For now, James has established himself as the most preeminent player in the game of basketball.
Now, I am on to the big men down low in the paint. Up next, I will rank the top five power forwards in the NBA.
New York Knicks – Will the Knicks aging bench catch up with them at the end of the season?
So far, the Knicks have not shown much age at all. In fact, the team looks younger than they have in year. The Knicks stand as the only unbeaten team remaining in the league and have a point differential of 15.6 points per game, the highest in the NBA. Their defense has shown more grit under Mike Woodson than it ever did during the Mike D’Antoni run-and-gun era. Carmelo Anthony is beginning to show that he’s more than just a scorer and has made strides in improving his all-around game. Look for the Knicks to finally put all their talent together and finally make a deep run in the playoffs.
Prediction: 58 – 24; 1st in the Atlantic, 2nd in the East
Brooklyn Nets – Are the Core 4 built for a deep playoff run?
At first glance, the Nets made great moves this offseason in hopes of making their inaugural season in Brooklyn a successful one. However, they invested in a window that is rapidly closing. By missing out on the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, the Nets ended up investing $35.3 million in Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez, and Kris Humphries for this season, taking Joe Johnson’s remaining $90 million, and inking Deron Williams for another $100 million. Needless to say, the Nets haven’t given themselves much wiggle room over the next couple seasons. In my opinion, the only elite caliber player in that bunch is Williams, but they are paying each of them elite caliber money. Joe Johnson has, by default, been considered a top 5 shooting guard in this league, while still never really being the go-to-guy in Atlanta. Lopez is an atrociously bad defender and has improved very little in that aspect since entering the league. Humphries is a consistent double-double kind of guy, but not worth the money he’s being paid. And Wallace is beginning to fall past his prime and could be easily be replaced by a younger, cheaper swingman. While this season has promise looking forward, look for this franchise to implode 2 or 3 years down the road as they go way above the luxury tax.
Prediction: 47-35; 3rd in the Atlantic, 5th in the East
Philadelphia 76ers – Will Andrew Bynum be able to make a difference in his first year in Philly?
So far this season, we have yet to see Andrew Bynum suit up for the Sixers. It may be around Christmas time before we do, and what a Christmas present that would be for the fans in Philly. In the meantime, the Sixers have won 3 straight and have shown they can be a competitive team without Andrew Bynum, thanks in large part to the play of Jrue Holiday, who is playing at an elite level so far this season at point guard.
Prediction: 41-41; 4th in the Atlantic, 8th in the East
Boston Celtics – Will the new Big 3 make another title run?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you may never find a bigger Rajon Rondo fan than me. Rondo has single-handedly extended the success of Allen, Pierce, Garnett and the rest of the Boston Celtics since they won a title back in 2008. This season he’s poised to be in contention for the MVP while also keeping the Celtics in title contention. Look for the revamped Big 3 of Rondo, Pierce and Garnett to present a strong challenge to Miami, New York and Indiana for contention in the East.
Prediction: 54-28; 2nd in the Atlantic, 3rd in the East
Toronto Raptors – Can Kyle Lowry help the Raptors bully their way into the playoff mix?
While many believe that Lowry is the missing piece to propel this Raptors team to the postseason, I don’t see enough proven talent on this roster for this to be their year. That said, they certainly will be right in the mix. After a 1-5 start, Lowry is currently leading the team in each major statistical category except blocks. You definitely have a toughness problem if your point guard is the one leading your team in rebounds. Expect the Raptors lack of depth and soft playing style to keep them out of the postseason for another year.
Prediction: 38-42; 5th in the Atlantic, 9th in the East