Norris Cole stepped up in a major way for the Miami Heat against the Boston Celtics. He stepped up in a way that has not only challenged Mario Chalmers’ starting role in the organization, but has also provided the franchise with another dimension in transition, where they operate at their greatest.
Sorry, he is not the only shakeup that will be featured in the 2012 NBA playoffs. Landing Miami in the top spot of the Eastern Conference is not so premature anymore, but there are 15 other postseason spots to be captured. There are plenty of storylines floating around the league and no one would be the wiser if I don’t point them out ahead of time.
Here are the biggest headlines for each team along with predictions as to where they will be seeded.
Jeff Teague is the real deal. Even though Kirk Hinrich is slated to come back for the Atlanta Hawks in January, expect for Teague to have that position locked up nice and tight. It is just a situation that echoes a lifelong principle that we all learned as little kiddies playing with Elmer’s glue and Play-doh.
Move your feet, lose your seat.
Teague was a major highlight for the Atlanta Hawks in the postseason and gave Derrick Rose a lot of trouble in the second round after the Hawks ousted Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. Do not lay claim to anything else taking place. Teague is an air of static in a somewhat desolate franchise that does not exhibit much passion or heart in a lot of arenas.
He is their brightest star next to Al Horford and their second best asset. Yes, I’ve given up on Joe Johnson and Josh Smith as the future of Atlanta whether or not the franchise continues to attempt to force it on the public.
Andre Iguodala has become one of the most influential and memorable members of the Philly 76ers squad, past and present included. I can most definitely remember him playing alongside Allen Iverson for a short stint and even more outstanding has been his performances as the sole leader of the franchise. The only standing problem is that Iggy is never what Philly needs.
During the first-round matchup against the Miami Heat, the young players grabbed the reins to avoid a sweep. It was Lou Williams’ buzzer-beater that was the primary reason for Philly’s single win that series. There were only moments where Iguodala looked like he was ready to truly command his troops. A lot of the time he looked slow and out of whack.
It is harder to take when he does not perform to his potential because his ceiling was once so high. If nothing happens for Philly this season, even in the light of such a jam-packed time in basketball, the Sixers could grow tired of waiting for him to catch fire.
Darren Collison is on the come-up and there is really no other way for anyone to describe his speed, his agility (two different things of course) and his potential. Potential is something that is raved about consistently, but more times than not, we never see a young star-in-the-making reach it. There will be no such disappointment with Collison.
The young Indiana guard is ever-so-developing and first showed what he could truly do as Chris Paul’s backup. Last postseason against the Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose was supposed to manhandle the younger, less-talented, less-athletic guard. But, the determination in the hearts of a revitalized Pacers squad refused it. At the hem of that surge was PG Collison.
Next to players like Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert, Collison has so many opportunities to create offense for his teammates like he displayed against the struggling Detroit Pistons. He can be great. Greatest of all time? Not at all. But, he can be great.
Dwight Howard cannot be with the Orlando Magic much longer. I will not even give him until the end of the season because GM Otis Smith’s career is most definitely on the line if they lose him and are granted nothing in return. Howard is the franchise right now and there is no denying it.
Jameer Nelson has a little juice and heart left in him, but he is nowhere near enough to function alongside Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu to lead the Orlando Magic anywhere. We saw how badly they were mishandled last postseason with Dwight Howard. How great do you expect the outcome to be without him?
This could heavily rely on what Orlando receives in a possible trade for Howard. The league seems perpetually against doing anything for the Lakers other than making Kobe Bryant the sole determinant of their future in the league. But, if something were to be scripted where Andrew Bynum would be included, then Orlando may win a game and come close to two.
With anyone short of stable under the rim, Orlando can kiss their opportunity at the second round goodbye.
Rajon Rondo is Boston while Paul Pierce is out. How much that will change after Pierce’s return is still up in the air for now. Until his return is imminent or even possible, Rondo is leading the charge, even when he is not the team’s primary scorer.
The Knicks allowed him a 30-point game, something that Rondo is not accustomed to or even aims for. That is not his usual role with the franchise, but with the lack of energy everyone else seems to be playing with, it is what they need to even contend.
Their chemistry, despite their age, was supposed to function as their headliner. A lot of teams are looking brand new and are using the first eighth of the season to figure out their best rotations. But, with Boston barely operating at 75 percent, Rondo needs to be damn near error-less in every game they play this season. This will translate into a very strong postseason showing for the almost traded and angered Boston guard.
Watching the New York Knicks against the Boston Celtics was worse for the Knickerbockers than the Celtics. They were struggling and forcing Anthony into both guard positions creating offense and digging them out of holes. The Knicks were up early, but Boston is fighting for their lives without Pierce so far.
Anthony had a great game with 30-plus points, but watching Tyson Chandler get frustrated early and lose his luster more quickly than he grabbed it was disheartening for anyone with high postseason hopes for this franchise that is growing in relevance. Like I said, Carmelo is great, but he is not enough.
Defense is still a word that is etched into fans’ minds as to why the Knicks will not come out of the East and will struggle against teams that can score just as much as they can. Iman Shumpert is a ray of hope to change the philosophy in NY, but it is going to take supreme game time from both Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler for the Knicks to become true contenders to make it out of the Eastern Conference or even the first round alive.
Maybe the Chicago Bulls will actually be able to put a lower-seeded team out of their wits sooner than five games. Maybe they will actually be able to sweep as they should have against the Indiana Pacers. Yes, use the excuse that Derrick Rose was injured, but if you are on the court, you are responsible for playing just as you would at 100 percent.
After rolling his ankle, Rose had the worst game of the series leading to the only loss against the Pacers. It was a beacon of hope for a team scrapping for any inch of victory and showed flaws in Chicago that no one wanted revealed.
Everyone expects something so much more from Carlos Boozer this season, as they should. Boozer is somewhat insignificant right now and can only redeem himself by performing like a man of great potential in the postseason. Nothing is going to be mended by regular season play.
Still, with any flaws that the Bulls may have, the Philly 76ers are still without THAT GUY to ensure that the ball will get in the hoop regardless of the defense or the possible lackadaisical play of his comrades. They have yet to be defined and Coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system will shut them down consistently.
The Miami Heat are the league’s bad boys whether they are ready and willing to be or not. After hitting the game-winning shot against the Charlotte Bobcats and taunting Charlotte’s poster boy, Cam Newton, who was sitting on the sidelines with his own celebration, has officially labeled them with an evil laughter. If they keep winning, no one really cares.
The Heat have improved to 3-0 on the season after struggling early against the Bobcats with a 35-point clinic from LeBron James after Wade’s strange injury had him sidelined for more than a moment. Miami stayed alive with James actually scoring in the fourth quarter and strong pushes from Chris Bosh.
So, the question is, after barreling back from a double-digit deficit going into the third quarter, who is standing in the way of Miami making it to the NBA Finals? Weaker teams are always going to catch the Heat off guard, but they will always bounce back with a fiery vengeance. Chalmers played as if he were battling for his starting job from rookie Norris Cole who proved clutch against the Boston Celtics. Don’t misunderstand, however. Norris Cole is not done yet.
Although he was not able to snatch the starting job immediately, he will continue to make strides to grasp a tight hold of it.
Like them or love them, Miami is making a lot of noise this season. This is only the beginning.