Tuesday, February 28, 2012

MAMBINO's NBA 2nd Half Preview

If it feels like the season just started, you're not that far off -- amazingly, opening day tip-off was little more than 2 months ago. However, even with only 33 games under our belts, this season has developed similar to every season we've seen before; teams have dissapointed, and teams have surprised, with the caveat of a insane schedule where guys are playing 5 games in 6 nights and back to back to backs.
We've each picked teams that will, in the second half of the season, wilt like LeBron in the 4th quarter, rise up like Dirk or are badly in need of a trade. Read on MAMBINites.
Falling like LeBron in the 4th
Eastern Conference: Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic
KOBEsh: My disdain for the Atlanta Hawks is well documented on this blog, to the point where I thought over 2,000 words was tragic understatement. Though they were missing leading scorer Joe Johnson this past week, their epic no-show against the Knicks on Tuesday was both completely exemplary of why I have no respect for this pitiful Atlanta franchise and how the second half of the season isn't getting any easier for them.
Horford isn't coming back from surgery anytime soon, and the team really won't have any other reinforcements coming via trade; they are up against the cap, and with the exception of All-Star snub Josh Smith, have no tradeable assets. They have no leadership in the immature Smith and "Silent" Joe Johnson, nor do they have discipline to reach whatever ceiling they have. Their 20-14 record is not at all indicative of how pathetic they really are. I expect a steep fall in the second half, maybe even out of the playoffs.
BockerKnocker: I'll put my hate for Dwight Howard aside. Whether or not general manager Otis Smith decides to deal the big man at the trade deadline, the rumor mill will churn with more garbage than you or I can handle. And if the resulting impact is too much for simpletons like us to deal with, I can't imagine what it will do to an already fractured Magic locker room. Obviously, if Howard does leave Orlando soon, then head coach Stan Van Gundy will have to work some magic of his own to sustain the team's playoff run. Think Denver post-Melo, but with far less talented players and a more panicky coach. If Howard stays in Orlando, they'll clearly do better than without him, but again, those rumors will gnaw at them every single day. The rumors won't stop; they will just turn into "where will Dwight sign after the season." Place your put options on the Orlando Magic right now.
Western Conference: Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs

K: Don't get me wrong; I really like this Utah team. They're really playing hard for coach Ty Corbin both on the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. Utah is a young team with a lot of rookie and sophmore players that seem to be relatively undaunted by the ultra-competitive Western Conference in front of them. That all being said, they're 28th in the league with only 14 road games. Without the altitude and voracious home crowd behind them, I can't see them keeping up their modest 31 win pace. Specifically, I expect Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and Alec Burks to slow down a bit in the second half.

BK: Just to set the record straight: the Spurs are a bonafide playoff team and will enter the playoffs with home court advantage in the first round. But to come in as the #2 seed, where the team currently sits, will be especially tough. It would be hard for any Western team to keep their standing, with the conference once again loaded from 1-8. But head coach Gregg Popovich knows exactly what happened last year, when an upstart Memphis Grizzlies team shocked them in the first round. Pop will rest Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker whenever possible, even if it leads to a couple of regular season losses.
Rising up like 2011 Dirk
Eastern Conference: The New York Knickerbockers
K: As shown on Thursday in Miami, throughout the waves of Linsanity the past couple weeks, we all neglected to mention that we hadn't yet seen Lin play in a hostile road environment. He didn't respond very well, with his worst game of the season. Also, the Knicks have the hardest schedule in the league the second half of the season. So why would I expect them to get better?
BockerKnocker could and will cover this more extensively than me, but if you examine their team, what don't the Knicks have? They start arguably the best front line in the league. They have, at worst, an adequate playmaker in Lin. They have outside shooting in Steve Novak, Landry Fields and JR Smith. Their much maligned defense has been sneakily good in this 12 game run. The pieces of this team, as currently constructed, just came together. Even with their schedule working against them, I could see a 4th or 5th seed and contention for an Eastern Conference Finals berth. I think they're that good.

BK: Of course I'm picking YOUR New York Knickerbockers to rise in the East. At the beginning of the season, all the talking heads said that teams with depth would have success in the regular season. Better late than never for the Bockers, who can soon boast of a solid 11-man rotation with the return of rookie sensation Iman Shumpert, and forgotten big man Josh "Jorts" Harrellson. (And don't forget about Toney Douglas, a capable rotation guard who has started to put wallpaper up in head coach Mike D'Antoni's doghouse.)

Swag Central.
It remains to be seen whether D'Antoni can adapt to having so many players who deserve minutes on the court. Throughout his NBA coaching career, he has favored a strict 8-9 man rotation, eschewing criticism that came with running his superstars into the ground. But as KOBEsh pointed out, the team is remarkably playing defense. Let me say that again:

The team is remarkably playing defense.

It is fascinating to watch this Tyson Chandler-led defense when D'Antoni has been known to go whole practices, film seshes, and shootarounds without speaking of the word. The players have compensated for the team's Achilles heel by taking it upon themselves to get stops. If that continues, then maybe Phil Jackson stays on the sidelines beyond this summer, because it's going to be hard to let MDA go if the team reaches its full potential this spring.
Western Conference: Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves
K: Check this out - so far, Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Rudy Fernandez, Nene, Chris Anderson and Timofey Mozgov have missed 52 games between them. One of their leading scorers from last season, Wilson Chandler, has been trapped in China until that daring rescue attempt by Jack Bauer. This team has been decimated by injuries all season, which has disrupted their chance to create any sense of continuity. There's way too much talent here for them to stay out of the playoff race.

Eat it, Dwight.
BK: Kevin Love is playing at such a high level that I was wondering why Scott Brooks chose to play Blake Griffin in crunch time of Sunday's All-Star game. It worked out for the West, as Griffin intercepted LeBron's errant pass to seal the win. Regardless, the former UCLA Bruin standout rolled through All-Star weekend, winning the 3-point shootout in dramatic fashion. He lost weight in the offseason, and has proved that it hasn't messed with his hard-nosed play; Love is currently 2nd in the league in rebounds, and 4th in points. But more importantly, the other players in Minnesota are quietly having decent seasons. While all the hype behind Ricky Rubio has been confirmed, catapulting the Spanish star to Rookie of the Year contention, Luke Ridnour has been steady as the team's starting shooting guard, and Nikola Pekovic has shown that he can be an absolute bruiser underneath. This team is ready to hit the gas.
Badly needs an injection of new blood
Eastern Conference: Boston Celtics
K: The downfall of The Big Three due to advance age has been the preseason chatter before every one of their five seasons together. Unfortunately for Boston, this is the year where the 30-something veterans have started to crumble.
This team desperately needs a trade. Right now they're on the edge of the top eight teams in the East, but could slip out to the surprising Cavs or the Bucks from The Good Land. The second half of a hectic season won't be kind to the weary legs in Boston. Along with the constantly dangled Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett's expiring $20 million dollar contract, Ray Allen and Avery Bradley are very attractive chips for a C's team going nowhere.

BK: Rajon Rondo's 2-game suspension for throwing a ball at an official (2 games for that? Metta World Peace would have gotten TEN.) could be the injection of new blood that the Cs really need. I say that because his short absence felt like lightyears, as the Celtics were exposed as an old team on the brink of extinction. With Rondo, the team at least had a semblance of a young superstar. Teams still back off of him as if he carried the plague, but his jump shot is a notch better than it was last season. Boston might not make the playoffs, but if they do, it will be because of Rondo.
Western Conference: Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers
K: Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee, Jordan Hill, Patrick Patterson, Kevin Martin, Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic and Luis Scola. Those are all names of guys that, if you come to this blog for just Lakers or Knicks insight, you'll never know. They're all young players who are more known mostly for their potential over actual performance. As shown by the aborted Pau Gasol trade from December, GM Daryl Morey has been stockpiling trade assets in Houston for years, and we've all been waiting for him to strike. Pau would have been a great climax to his never-ending saga of garnering talent, but with no true difference maker, the Rockets are just a playoff team, nothing more (but think of that team with Pau; they would run Kyle Lowry, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, Pau Gasol and Samuel Dalembert, with Jordan Hill, Patrick Patterson and Jeremy Lin on the bench. Another fantastic "what if" from The Veto).
The time is still right for a Rockets trade. If Dwight decides to stay in Orlando, or gets dealt to Dallas, LA or Chicago, does New Jersey pull the trigger and send him to Houston for Lowry, Scola and Dragic? Do the Rockets have enough to make a run at Dwight, even for a rental? Lots of possibilities for Houston, and I don't expect them to stay pat much longer.

BK: I'm surprised that KOBEsh didn't talk about his Lakeshow here. The team is built to win now, and needs 1-2 more pieces to make opponents fear them once again. If Jim Buss can avoid trading Gasol, and can instead add an ancillary part or two, the Lakers will be a tough out in May.

Enjoy the 2nd half!

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