January 25, 2013

Rise & Fall: A midway review of the NBA season


This feature was first published on Court Side News on January 19, 2013.

Let’s clink our beverages together and declare ‘cheers!’ to an incredible first half of the 2012-13 NBA season, for by the time that you read this, most NBA teams would have played around 41 games each and the NBA calendar would be hovering right around it’s hallway point. Through November to January, we’ve seen great Basketball, fantastic individual accomplishments, surprising highs and some shocking lows.

If NBA teams and players were on the stock market, they would have seen some serious fluctuations in their value over the past three months. We take a look back at those rises and those falls in our mid-season review of the stories that shaped the first half of the season.

Rising: The Los Angeles Clippers. In a half-season to remember, the Clippers have already played the best Basketball in the cursed history of this franchise, even going back to the days of the Buffalo Braves or the San Diego Clippers.

Rising: Chris Paul. Until this year, Paul used to be a frontrunner in arguments of the league’s best point guard. There’s no one arguing anymore.

Falling: The Los Angeles Lakers. Recent turnaround notwithstanding, the Lakers have had a terrible three months. With what was assembled and dignified as one of the greatest starting fives of all time – Kobe, Howard, Nash, Gasol, World Peace – they have achieved little and find themselves outside the playoff picture. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, as a healthy return to their crucial pieces has produced positive results.

Rising: New York Knicks. For a team that hasn’t been past the first round of the playoffs for over a decade, a top two place in the Eastern Conference is looking assured this season. Thanks largely to the brilliant play of Carmelo Anthony, but also to the defence and leadership provided by Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, and the rest.

Falling: The stocks of a whole bunch of injured players, from Andrew Bynum and Derrick Rose to Kevin Love and Danny Granger. Many of them will return in the second half of the year, but their form will be questionable. And a few who have returned of late – Dirk Nowitzki, Eric Gordon, John Wall, and Amar’e Stoudemire – the pressure is on them to acclimatize themselves as soon as possible.

Rising: The Golden State Warriors. David Lee and Stephen Curry are playing like All Stars, and this team is winning. A lot. But the Warriors will need the return of Andrew Bogut to be their defensive stalwart in the middle if they have greater ambitions of playoffs success.

Falling: The job prospects of the Minnesota Timberwolves medical staff, who have lost Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, JJ Barea, Josh Howard, and Malcolm Lee to a various slew of injuries. Somehow, the team remains in the playoff hunt!

Rising: Damian Lillard who? The rookie point guard who took the now unheard-of path to the NBA with four years in college has exploded on the scene, leading all rookies in points, assists, steals, and minutes and has provided fresh hope for the Trailblazers.

Rising: James Harden. From sixth man of the year in Oklahoma City to sure fire All Star in Houston. Harden has developed into one of the best all round players in the league, and has improved his scoring average by nearly 10 points from the past season to rank fourth in the NBA this year (26.3 ppg). He’s only 23, so expect him in the ‘rising’ column a lot more.

Falling: The value of Harden’s Houston teammate Jeremy Lin, who was an unstoppable force of nature on and off the court for a few weeks last year, but now finds himself comfortably shelved playing average Basketball for an average team. Judging by his All Star votes, he’s still immensely popular; and judging by his salary and endorsements, he’s still going to be immensely rich.

Rising: Kevin Durant and the Thunder. No doubt that Durant – who is on pace to have one of the greatest shooting seasons of all time and has led the Thunder to the NBA’s top record – is my pick for the mid-season MVP. Durant has drastically added to his game and as a result, the Thunder sit pretty on top as the favourites to steal the NBA championship.

And finally… Stocks are Even for LeBron James and the Miami Heat. What can a three-time MVP, reigning champion, and Finals MVP do to get better? Just keep doing what he’s always done at a historic pace. The path to the title must still go through James and the Heat, and you can be sure that they’ll be standing in the way of any challengers. They haven’t been perfect this season, but Miami will surely up the ante defensively once the playoffs begin to rise again.

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