In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons are jockeying for first place, while the top nine teams in the Western Conference are competing for favorable seeding.
The San Antonio Spurs (Surprise!) are first in the West after ripping off nine straight wins. The Miami Heat still ranks last in the NBA.
And at this point, we’re already seeing LeBron James and Kobe Bryant as frontrunners for the Most Valuable Player award.
All told, there is still a lot of regular season basketball left to be played, but there have been plenty of early post All-Star break surprises.
Shaq, Suns Flaming Out
Shaquille O’Neal was supposed to solve the Phoenix Suns’ interior problems on defense, and keep the team running on offense.
So far, neither improvement has been made. The Suns’ have gone 2-4 with Shaq in the line up.
The Suns have been blown out by the Pistons and Hornets, and they lost to the 76ers at home—allowing at least 116 points in all four losses.
Phoenix is still in sixth place in the standings, but could find itself in danger of missing the playoffs.
Shaq has not yet had enough time to adapt to the Suns’ philosophy, and the trade can still prove helpful to the team. Amare Stoudemire has been a monster since the trade, averaging more than 30 points and 12 rebounds. Boris Diaw has also been playing much better.
However with only 23 games left in the regular season, Shaq and the Suns need to figure things out fast, or see their championship aspirations burn out.
Yao-less Rockets Win 15 Straight
I recently wrote an article about how, without Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets would either miss the playoffs or be eliminated in the first round. Now I’m eating my words, having watched the Rockets thoroughly dominate the Denver Nuggets Sunday night.
To win 15 straight games is an incredible achievement, and it’s something the Rockets have not done since 1994 when they won their first championship.
The last four games without Yao looked especially impressive—the Rockets easily crushed their opponents. This winning streak has Houston ranked fifth in the West, just two and a half games behind first place.
Dikembe Mutombo has excellently protected the rim, while Luis Scola and Carl Landry have been active on both ends of the floor. The Rockets’ offense has performed very efficiently, averaging nearly 25 assists a game.
And the defense is still solid despite the absence of Yao. Tracy McGrady has looked very comfortable mixing his scoring and distributing.
The Rockets are flying higher than ever, and not even Yao could cause a crash landing.
Stop Kidd-ing around Mavericks
Jason Kidd is showing he can still play at a very high level. Kidd is averaging 11 points with 46 percent shooting, grabbing seven rebounds, dishing 11 assists, and thieving three steals. His passes have been sharp and crisp.
While the Mavericks still struggle on the road against elite teams—losing to the Hornets, Spurs, and Lakers—things are still looking very good for the team.
Despite a 4-3 record with Kidd in the line up, the losses have been close and the offense and defense are solid. Dirk Nowitzki has been on an MVP-like tear to lead the Mavericks, and Kidd’s passing has produced easy baskets.
The Mavericks find themselves in seventh place in the West, but only separated from first place by three games.
Erick Dampier has been playing well, but Josh Howard and Jason Terry have been mired in very long slumps. Those three will need to step it up if the Mavericks want to make a serious run at a championship.
Still Second-half Losers
Miami entered Sunday’s game against the Sacramento Kings having won two of their last three, and in search of a two-game winning streak.
Things looked great for the Heat when they raced to a 20-point halftime lead. But not even a 50-point lead is safe with the Heat.
Miami ended up embarrassing themselves again—outscored in the second half 71-40, and losing by 11 points.
Miami is still the worst team in the NBA.
The trade deadline passed with the Nuggets doing virtually nothing to improve their playoff chances. They had a golden opportunity to acquire Ron Artest from the Kings, but did not want to include Linas Kleiza in the package.
Seeing how difficult the Western Conference is, the Nuggets will be lucky to make the playoffs even once in the next five years.
Last Tuesday the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers with Michael Redd’s game-winning, very long three-pointer.
Saturday, the Bucks trailed by two points against the Spurs when Redd had a chance to tie the game at the free throw line. Redd, an 83.3 percent free throw shooter, bricked the first one and purposely missed the second. Then Andrew Bogut missed the close put-back.
It’s just one of those seasons for the Bucks.
Under 20 Wins
New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves, Seattle Supersonics, Los Angeles Clippers, and…New York Knicks. GO GIANTS!
Different Players, Same Story
Larry Hughes has averaged 19 points with 43 percent shooting since being traded to the Chicago Bulls. Where was this skill when he was playing for the Cavaliers? Still, this doesn’t change the fact that the Bulls are losing.
The Cavaliers acquired Ben Wallace, Wally Sczcerbiak, Delonte West, and Joe Smith to help bolster LeBron James’ supporting cast. The result? Cleveland is 3-2 in the last five, and LeBron has had to score more to win games by averaging 32 points since the trade.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs acquired Kurt Thomas to…keep winning?