Sports Chat: Checking in with the NBA
Yes, ladies, gentlemen and other. Spring is right around the corner. Breathe it in. Smell it. People are begining the annual trek to Florida and Arizona and the groundhog missed seeing his shadow. I swear, this isn’t another baseball column. We’re going to check in with the other pro-game.
Thus far, the 2010-2011 NBA season has been a lot of fun. The San Antonio Spurs (45-9) are playing the best basketball of all. For all the talk of sputtering, the LA Lakers (38-17) still have Kobe, Gasol and the best coach in NBA history. The Dallas Mavericks (38-16) are armed with an owner that will never shut up and have been slowed lately by an injury to power forward Dirk Nowitzki but will still make your life difficult. Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder (34-19) will win an MVP award at some point, soon, in his NBA career but the Thunder don’t quite have the muscle to get to the Western Conference finals. They are still a terrible, awful, no-good-basketball team, but Blake Griffin of the LA Clippers (20-34) is just a wonder to watch. He’s a rookie and just physically bullies grown-ass men around on the floor for 44 minutes a game. And dunksimpressively—like these.
The Eastern Conference can’t match the depth of the West, but among the four best teams, Miami, Boston, Chicago and Orlando, there is plenty of intrigue and drama. The Boston Celtics (39-14) continue to roll along, like some sort of old stone that should crack/crumble/fall apart/stumble but just keeps rumbling. The recent shackling of the Lakers (in LA), the best record in the East, total domination of the Miami Heat (39-15) in the three games they’ve played…scary.
The Heat are an enigma, in many ways. Armed with two of the five best players in the game today in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (and another top 15 in Chris Bosh), the Heat can’t figure it out. Oh, yes, they’ll dominate and toy with teams at time, but when the real competition comes in, they struggle. LeBron may be starting to realize he has to be ‘the man’ for the team to live up to all of its preseason hype and win a title, but good luck getting Wade to dish him the ball in crucial playoff situations. Bosh, for all his talent, is soft and gets pushed around by other bigs down in the post. A thin bench and injuries hamper the team, as does a seeming lack of killer instinct (yes, that matters in basketball). While LA (Lakers), San Antonio, Boston and Chicago have the talent and drive to win, the question must be asked: are the Heat in the same class of team? They do have the physical talent to beat any team any night, but that’s not enough.
The Yes-We-Also-Play-Basketball-In-Florida Orlando Magic (35-21) have been hampered by a December trade bringing in old favorite Hedo Türkoğlu, and gun-loving Gilbert Arenas for Vince Carter and other pieces. Dwight Howard is a treat to watch and the Magics are competitive, but this is a team that was in the Finals just two years ago. They are bad at free-throw shooting (69.6% in February), don’t seem to have a defensive identity nor enough jump shooters. Competitive is not good enough.
Which brings us to the total wild card of the NBA, a team that people thought was good coming into the season and expected to get better, but sit now with the third best record in the East, a budding super-star, a key player coming back from injury, a coach who actually knows what he’s doing and the want/desire/need to win. Yes, everyone – da Bulls are back. After wasting two years under hair-model strategically challenged Vinny Del Negro (now with the Clippers [good luck Blake! Enjoy that!]), the Bulls (36-16) are blessed with the best story in the NBA. The definition of ‘local boy done good,’ Rose is turning (more) heads with his play (like this posterizing dunk)*, his preseason ‘why can’t I be the MVP?’ comment and his ‘I don’t need LeBron’ attitude**. Rose will get MVP votes this year (LeBron is still the actual MVP, however) and is leading the Bulls to territory previously only explored by one who wore 23.
Rose isn’t alone on the Bulls. Again, now he has a coach in Tom Thibodeau who can actually teach defense (the weakest aspect of Rose’s game) and won’t simple ask for energy and effort on the floor. Negro’s problem was that during late-game timeouts, he would merely say over and over, “You really gotta try here and hustle out there.” Thibodeau will say, “When the clock starts, this player is going to go here and do this. We are going to go here and do that.” You know, actual game strategy.
Though spurned by Wade/Bosh/James in free agency, the Bulls did manage to secure the services of Carlos Boozer, a low-post presence the Bulls have missed ever since 1998. Boozer did miss a significant portion of the first quarter of the season with a broken hand, but the Bulls survived. Then after 9 games together with Boozer, Joakim Noah (center, emotional soul of the team) went out with a torn ligament in his hand. He’ll be back soon and the Bulls survived.
Missing their second and third best players for half the season and you’re still the third best team in the East? You’re still holding teams to the lowest amount of points per game in the league? You’re one of three teams that has yet to go on a three game losing streak? Oh, snap. Yes, Boston is the favorite and the Heat get the headlines, but they’re looking at Chicago. The Eastern Conference runs through the recently-less snowy Windy City.
Get ready, y’all. Derrick Rose finna blow you away.
**Damn right, you don’t need no LeBron!!!!!
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