The Stuff in the Middle
Last week’s rankings of the top eight teams in the NBA were as follows: (1) the Los Angeles Lakers, (2) the Boston Celtics, (3) the Cleveland Cavaliers, (4) the San Antonio Spurs, (5) the Orlando Magic, (6) the New Orleans Hornets, (7) the Denver Nuggets, and (8) the Atlanta Hawks. Since then, we have seen San Antonio and Denver go on winning streaks and The Celtics fall further into their mid-season slump.
Meanwhile, teams like the Houston Rockets, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Detroit Pistons, the Phoenix Suns, and the Dallas Mavericks—who are loaded with talent—are working hard to become teams that can go far in the playoffs. The Miami Heat and the New Jersey Nets on the other hand, have individual parts that could make them tough outs in the playoffs. Here are those seven:
Any team that faces the Rockets has to account for Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, and Ron Artest. Similar to the Celtics, their amazing trio makes them a tough match-up for any team in the NBA. However, their inconsistency is a problem. On any given night one of their big three will score 30 points but it is just as likely that they might all go flat for a game and lose because of it.
Brandon Roy made the All-Star team in his second season in the league last year and is looking to lead the Trail Blazers to a playoff berth this year. With 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists a night, Roy is in the process of leading the Western Conference’s version of the Atlanta Hawks to the playoffs. With guys like LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, and Rudy Fernandez running the floor with him, this team is young and explosive and will be a contender if they stick together.
Allen Iverson is averaging a career low of 18 points per game this season and it is as if most of Pistons’ roster is falling victim to old age. Their core of Iverson (33 years old), Richard Hamilton (31), and Rasheed Wallace (34) are all on the tail end of their careers. Their youth movement of Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiel has demonstrated that they can produce and Tayshaun Prince is a model for consistency. The Pistons’ success will have a lot to do with the competitiveness of their veterans down the stretch.
The Phoenix Suns have yet to play to their full potential and they have too much talent to settle for mediocrity. The addition of Jason Richardson to their lineup has brought 16 points a night to their offence and they are 6-3 since his arrival but it is not as if they are any better since the trade. The difference in the way they play with and without Shaquille O’Neal in the line-up has changed the way Steve Nash runs this team. Hopefully, they can overcome the adversity of playing in a new system.
The Dallas Mavericks Should never have traded Devi Harris. In his 14th season in the league, Jason Kidd is averaging 9 points and 8 assists per game. Dirk Nowitzki is consistent with 25 and 9 every night, but outside of Jason Terry, they lack fire.
Dwyane Wade’s resurgence as the best guard in the Eastern Conference has brought the Miami Heat back onto everyone’s radar. With 29 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds per game, HE has a good chance to lead the Heat back to the playoffs. Heat is a quick team with players like Michael Beasley and Shawn Marion running the floor with Wade, the.
Devin Harris, at 23 points and 7 assists per game is becoming one of the best point guards in the Eastern Conference. On any given night, both he and Vince Carter can score 30 points and the Nets are almost impossible to beat.
-Yi Jianlian might be a starter on the Eastern Conference All-Star Team. He is approximately 160,000 votes out of second place for all Eastern Conference forwards. At 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 assist per game, it would be the surprise of the All-Star break. Online voting ends the 19th of January leaving plenty of time for him to catch Kevin Garnett for a starting spot.
-NBA.com reported that the Celtics brought up rookies J. R. Giddens and Bill Walker from their NBDL team. Whether it’s through the minutes that they get on the floor or through the competition that they add to Celtic practices, perhaps there two rookies can provide the Celtics with the bump they need to get over their current slump.
Games to Watch:
New Orleans v. Dallas (Wednesday, January 14 at 8:30pm)—This game will be about the power forward and the point guard positions. In the end, David West and Chris Paul are likely to have been more productive than Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd. Expect the Hornets to take this game in the end.
L. A. Lakers v. San Antonio (Wednesday, January 14 at 9:00pm)—This game has serious playoff implications. Both teams are playing well right now and the Spurs are healthy. This game will likely come down to whether or not Kobe Bryant can take over in the fourth quarter.