The Rise and the Fallout Out East
So, the All-Star Break was fun but let’s get back to it, people. For a while, it seemed as if the Celtics, the Cavaliers, and the Magic, in that order, were a lock for the top three spots in the East. But stuff happens. Now, the Heat are creeping up the rear and the Cavs and the Celtics have each taken hits on their starting line-ups.
Yesterday (Thursday, February 19), the NBA trade deadline passed. And along with the injuries that naturally happen over the course of a season, the active rosters of many teams look different than they did at the beginning of the year. Here’s the major damage out East:
Kevin Garnett injured his right knee in a loss against the Utah Jazz on February 19th. ESPN reports that he will get his knee examined today, February 20th in Boston. And all-Star point guard Jameer Nelson underwent season ending shoulder surgery.
Not to say that the guys in Boston are bums (they do have two other future Hall-of-Famers in Pierce and Allen), but Garnett’s injury hurts the Celtics chances of gaining home court advantage late in the Playoffs. And they didn’t win a road game in last year’s Playoff run until the Conference Finals against Detroit. Home court is a bit of an issue here. The big question out East is this: how far will the Celtics drop?
Let’s look at who will be replacing Garnett. The Celtics’ current roster includes guys like Brian Scalabrine, Glen "Big Baby" Davis, and Leon Powe. Scalabrine, the most experienced of the four, fouled out in the 15 minutes he played the night of Garnett’s injury. Things are not looking up. The Boston Herald reported that the Celtics were already looking for another big man before Garnett’s injury. Perhaps that is Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge’s way of saying he does not have much faith in Scalabrine, Powe or Big Baby. Outside of signing retired or waived players, there is not much Ainge can do now.
Perhaps because of the injury to Jameer Nelson, the Orlando Magic made a trade that helped them to acquire Rafer "Skip to My Lou" Alston. If you were a fan of the And-1 mix tape series, then you know him well. The hope is that his 11 points and 5 assists per game can minimize the effects from the loss of Nelson, who, in his first year as an All-Star was averaging 17 points and 5 assists per night. However, there is no replacement for team chemistry and the Magic were playing well together. The next big question out East is this: How will the loss of Jameer Nelson affect the Magic?
Not everyone out East in is panic-mode, though. The Miami Heat made an excellent move before the trade deadline and with the Celtics and the Magic in transition, the Cavaliers are in position to clinch home court throughout their Eastern Conference Playoff run.
The Miami Heat were already the surprise of the 2008-2009 season with Dwyane Wade back in championship form leading the league in scoring. Currently at the fifth spot in the East, Heat management saw a way to improve their team and went for it. The Heat acquired Jermaine O’Neal and lost Shawn Marion.
O’Neal could have a huge upside. The hope is that they get more from O’Neal than they did out of Marion. And if O’Neal can produce anywhere near the way he was able to with the Indiana Pacers when he was a 20-10 guy, the Heat will gain ground in the Eastern Conference standings. Additionally, O’Neal can play center which might open up more minutes for rookie Michael Beasley at the power forward spot. We know he’s good, but this will give him more time to shine.
-The New York Knicks are at logics end. In one week, Kobe drops 61 on them, LeBron drops 52 en route to a triple double, and they take a loss to the Celtics. Even Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni found it amusing. Then, in a New York minute, Nate Robinson wins the dunk contest and they acquire Larry Hughes and there are smiles all-around. As of the morning of February 20th, they are only 3 games out of the 8th spot in the East. The important thing about a New York minute is that it is quick and requires that one have a short memory.
Games to Watch:
-Miami v. Orlando (Sunday, February 22 at 5:30pm)—Both teams have had recent makeovers. This will be an early test to see if Jermaine O’Neal has made the Heat good enough to compete with a team like Orlando in the Playoffs. We will get to see how well Rafer Alston performs in his new role as well.
-Atlanta v. Denver (Wednesday, February 25 at 9pm)—The Hawks have quietly become one of the NBA’s most consistent teams. Their fast break style is exciting and the Nuggets will pose a good match-up for Atlanta’s speed. Josh Smith will likely have to play defense on Carmelo Anthony and the two most experienced players on the court, Bibby and Billups, will be facing each other all night. It will be interesting to see if the Nuggets can handle Joe Johnson. He might be the reason why the Hawks get this win.