Even though Jeremy Lin has captivated the NBA world at the moment, there are other stories to be discussed. Here are the top 5 non-Lin NBA storylines going on right now:
1. The Texas Two-Step / the Nuggets and Blazers nosedive
There are two teams in the Western Conference sprinting into the All-Star Break while two other West teams can’t wait for the break to come…
The Dallas Mavericks started off the season in the worst way possible. After two blowouts and a loss on a buzzer-beater from Kevin Durant, the reigning champs were staring right at an 0-3 record and had no explanation for their horrible start other than a championship hangover.
Throughout the next few weeks, they gained a little momentum, but could only muster up enough wins to sit at 8-7. With all the competition in the West, it was looking as though it might be a long season for the Mavs.
Since this point in the season, Dallas has brought their play to another level – a level similar to one from last year. All the players have been figuring out their role on the team, especially Carter, West (who will unfortunately be out for a while with a broken finger), and Wright. They have beaten the Spurs, the Nuggets (twice), and the Clippers during their strong run.
Back-to-back road games against two top East teams – Sixers and Knicks – will give the nation a good idea of how good this team really is.
The San Antonio Spurs didn’t necessarily have a bad start to the season, but it was nothing special. Achieving the record for most times proclaimed as “too old” and losing Ginobili (broken hand) early on in the season, the old-timer Spurs looked to be eyeing a low playoff seed with a 12-9 record.
Tony Parker, however, decided to show everybody through his play he is not actually as old as people portray him to be. (He hasn’t even hit 30 yet.) During the Spurs current league-leading 9-game winning streak, the Frenchman has averaged 23 points and eight assists. Even though the media has made it seem like the Thunder are so far in front that nobody could possibly catch them, the red-hot Spurs only sit 1 1/2 games behind them.
San Antonio has won the first five games of their current 9-game road trip and will finish up against the Clippers, Jazz, Blazers and Nuggets.
Early on, the Denver Nuggets seemed to be proving to the league that a number one guy wasn’t necessary for success. Having six players scoring in the teens, the Nuggets have had no one particular player leading the team night in and night out. One night Lawson. The next night Gallinari. Then Nene and Harrington.
This balanced offensive attack led them to a 14-5 blitz right out of the gate. They grabbed the #2 seed in the West, sitting only two games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Carmelo Anthony trade was looking to me more than a simple dump off for Denver.
The past two and a half weeks have been anything but balanced for this young squad. They have given up over 100 points in 7 of their past 11 games, losing the chemistry that came so easily earlier in the season. They now are simply fighting for a playoff spot with other .500 ballclubs.
These struggles from the Nuggets show that even though a balance offensive attack has its pros, a leader to take the last shot of the game has to be present for close battles. When the game is coming down to a few possessions, who do the Nuggets give the ball to? Until this question can be definitively answered, the Nuggets can’t be considered to be an elite team.
A win against the Memphis Grizzlies (16-14) could give this falling team an emotional boost.
As I showed with a post early on, the Portland Trail Blazers seemed to finally have overcome all the constant injuries that have hindered their franchise since, well, Greg Oden came to town.
All the pieces a championship contending team needs seemed to be present: The All-Star leader (LeMarcus Aldridge), the high-speed guards (Raymond Felton and Wesley Matthews), the tough-as-nails swingman (Gerald Wallace), the force in the middle (Marcus Camby), and the spark off the bench (Jamal Crawford and Nicolas Batum).
After a 7-2 start which included wins against the Sixers, Nuggets, Thunder, Lakers, and Clippers, many believe this team to be legitimate, including myself. The Rose Garden seemed to shake during these first few weeks and a high playoff seed looked to be a reasonable conclusion to the regular season.
The Rose Garden might still be loud for the Blazers, but the NBA community has slowly stopped talking about this team. They have lost 13 of their last 22 games even with Aldridge’s spectacular play, leading to his first All-Star appearance. They just can’t seem to play away from Portland, sitting at 5-10 on the road. This will hurt them if they (most likely) end up being in the bottom half of the playoff bracket and have to play at their opponent’s court more than their own.
Raymond Felton has become known for having “Feltdowns.” Shooting only 36% from the field and 20% from three-point territory, Felton has not been the point guard the Blazers expected him to be when they obtained him from the Nuggets this past offseason. Looking specifically at the Blazers loss to the Clippers last night, Felton had no points while shooting 0-7 from the field, two assists, and five turnovers. Unless he gets his act together or Crawford takes his spot in the starting lineup, the Blazers might have another decent season only to be finished early in the playoffs.
These four teams have gone in different directions recently:
*Even though the Mavs lost their best defender in Tyson Chandler this past offseason, they have shown strong defense comes from an entire team and not a single player. Not counting the first three games, the Mavericks have only given up 100 points three times on the season and one of those came in an overtime win against the Spurs. Their fifth best defense in the league (91.3 points allowed per game) comes from a team that doesn’t have a single player in the top ten in steals, blocks, or rebounds. They hold their opponents to 41.7% shooting, putting them at the top of the league for that category. With Dirk not being Dirk for a big chunk of the first part of this season, who knows where the Mavs would be right now without this consistent D.
2. LeBron’s words twisted
Picturing King James in a Cavaliers uniform for a second time in his career makes most sports journalists giddy… but this excitement has no reasonable substance to it.
The media went into a frenzy after LeBron James was asked whether he would ever play for Cleveland again later on in his career and answered that he would consider this option.
All of a sudden, every sports website didn’t wait a second to create a story pertaining to LeBron’s “inevitable” return to his hometown.
I think people need to be careful when athletes answer hypothetical questions about possible destinations. I don’t see this statement by LeBron needing any attention. How else was he supposed to respond to this question? After all he has done to his hometown, he would not go as far to say he would never play for them again or that he does not like the city. He would be labeling himself permanently as the most disliked NBA player (or athlete for that matter), and I just can’t see LeBron going as far as to completely shunning his hometown.
What James told an ESPN reporter today shows that his previous statement doesn’t mean much.
“The question is could I see myself playing back (in Cleveland),” James said. “I said ‘yeah’ in the sense of I don’t know what my future holds and I don’t want to take that (option) out. I answered truthfully.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that sounds like a player that put much thought into his answer.
This isn’t the first time a manufactured story has been created by the media. Last year, when the Texans lost Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart to injuries, a reporter went to Brett Favre and asked him if he would consider playing for the Texans if they wanted him. He gave a reasonable answer – yes, he would consider it. Storylines broke out about Favre possibly coming back from retirement once again. What ended up happening? Favre watched the rest of the season from his house as retired players usually do.
Before these types of quotes should be turned into stories, there needs to be more foundation behind the information. At the very least, there should be interest from the other side before major analysis takes place. I understand there aren’t many other players out there as skilled as LeBron James and he has to be considered one of the best basketball players in the league. But don’t forget that fiery Dan Gilbert still owns the Cavaliers and he took LeBron’s departure personally. Who is to say that Gilbert would even take the ringless King back after all the pain he has caused in Cleveland?
I don’t know what will happen in LeBron’s future NBA years, but I am not going to buy into the fact that he will one day be wearing #23 in Ohio… yet.
3. J.R. reunited with Baron and Carmelo
Just when the Knicks looked to finally be shedding their “selfish” basketball image, a former Denver Thugget decided to show that some things just can’t change so easily.
High-flying shooting guard J.R. Smith sent out a tweet today – “New York Knicks It Is!” -signaling that he will be joining the red-hot New York Knicks.
Smith played for the Denver Nuggets last season but decided to travel to China this year due to the perpetual NBA Lockout.
China would not let Smith return to the U.S. until his team’s season was finished, but a source with knowledge of the situation says Smith has been cleared.
New York will offer Smith a piece of their $2.5 million mini mid-level exception and a player option for a second year. He will be making his debut against the Dallas Mavericks this Sunday.
The Knicks are taking a risk signing Smith and they know it. He wants the ball to be in his hands, he will take ill-advised shots if he hasn’t touched the ball in a while, and his attitude has always been a problem.
I don’t like this move by the Knicks. The currently active Knicks team doesn’t have many ballhogs playing and everybody is sharing the ball. This has brought many people to the conclusion that Smith will be great for the Knicks who could use a shooter and a guy to take it to the paint.
What can’t be forgotten is that two other guys – Davis and Anthony – currently wearing suits to every game have the same mentality as Smith. J.R. Smith and Baron Davis played together for the Charlotte Hornets in 2004-2005. Smith later played with Anthony for the Denver Nuggets from 2006-2010.
All of these men have never been known for their unselfish play or lockdown defense, something that the Knicks are thriving on right now. Put these three men on the court together and they might have to request a second ball to be used during games. None of them will have any desire to put their effort into the defensive side of the court. I just don’t see these players being able to work out their differences – or similarities – while Lin attempts to run the pick-and-roll with Stoudemire and Chandler.
Aside from the play on the court, I don’t see Smith as a good pick-up, no matter the team’s system. In December 2006, he was one of the main contributors to a brawl between the Knicks and Nuggets. This was probably the worst fight the NBA has seen since the infamous Palace Brawl. He has also had many fights outside of NBA gameplay throughout his career and never been much of a team player.
Unless China has changed Smith’s approach to basketball, expect the 26-year-old to hinder the Knicks’ recent success.
4. So long contest judges
I can’t stop thinking “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” when looking at these new rules…
The league announced yesterday that judges will no longer be used for the All-Star slam dunk contest and fans will directly choose the champion. Also, instead of three rounds, there will be a single round of three dunks for each contestant.
The recent format has consisted of two rounds, with a panel of judges voting two players through the first round before fan voting in the second.
Blake Griffin has oddly declined to defend his championship from last year when he jumped over a Kia to win the contest. Iman Shumpert, Paul George, Chase Buddinger (really?), and Derrick Williams will be the guinea pigs for these new rules. (I have my money on Shumpert winning it this year. He is extremely athletic.)
Even though change can bring about improvements in many situations, I don’t see this being one of those. Having retired or veteran NBA players holding up those signs and putting their opinion out there adds just a great feel to the event. Seeing Hawkins, Erving, and Jordan together for this event is an awesome sight! I am not a fan of this change and will miss the presence of a panel for the contest.
5. Happy Birthday to one of (if not the) greatest
Even though this is not much of a story, I thought this man that was kind of decent at basketball deserves a shout-out.
Michael Jordan turns 49-years-old today. This former player single-handedly took the NBA to a new level it had never been before and may never be at again.
Jordan showcased a certain will that few NBA players have ever had. He would take over games no matter who or what stood in his way. There is not a single player I can think of that could come close to 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 block… in a crucial Game 5 of the NBA Finals with the series split 2-2… with the flu.
To name some of his records would not be fair to him since he was so much more than numbers on a stat sheet. He played basketball at a different level than his competition and his six championship rings reflect his dominance.
Here’s to you Michael Jordan and your 49th birthday. Thank you for all you have done for the sport of basketball.
Ignite the Site!