With the 2009 All-Star game now behind us, it's time to focus on the real regular season.
With each team having roughly 30 games left to play, we should expect teams to raise their level of play as they jockey for playoff positioning in both conferences.
But before we make assumptions about what is to come before us, let's look at what we have learned from the first half of the season.
1. Beasts of the East
Clearly, the Eastern Conference belongs to three teams: the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Orlando Magic.
With the terrible injury to Jameer Nelson of the Magic, it looks as if it has slimmed down to a two-team race.
Atlanta and Philly have been fair, but their play in last year's postseason was obviously a striptease, lacking any kind of consistent play. Miami is a far cry from last year, but they are nowhere near their level of play from their championship team of a couple of years ago.
And what happened to the Detroit Pistons? This is a team that has been the Atlanta Braves of basketball, reaching the Eastern Finals six years in a row.
So with this lack of consistent play from teams that were supposed to be contenders this year, it looks as if it will be Cleveland vs. Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.
2. Best In the West
The field in the West is even thinner.
Not even an injury to Andrew Bynum is going to keep the Lakers out of the Finals. The second-best team, San Antonio, is 6.5 games behind and I doubt they will be able to catch the Lakers, who have only lost 15 regular season games since acquiring Pau Gasol last year before the trading deadline.
It hasn't been just the West that has been won by they Lakers, but they also are 4-2 against the East's top three teams, with the only two losses coming to the Magic.
But with Nelson's injury, I don't suspect the Lakers will have to be worried about them. So what happened to the other teams that were supposed to give the Lakers a run?
3. The Sun Has Set
The only thing that comes close to my delight in watching the Lakers and their success, is watching its rivals bow out of competition before them. Since Steve Kerr became GM, the Suns have gone through a complete makeover, trying to look like a real-life basketball team instead of a video game.
Gone are Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, and Shawn Marion. Hello to Shaq, Jason Richardson, and Matt Barnes. Amare Stoudemire has been the most prominent name in trade talks.
If that wasn't enough, the guy who was supposed to make this a more balanced team, Terry Jermaine Porter, was fired this morning (Feb. 16).
Where once the Suns had direction (though it couldn't lead them to the Finals), they have dissolved to a shell of a team, composed of at least three different groups of men who don't know what they are going to do once the ball is tossed in the air.
4. Not the Year for Mavericks Of Any Sort
Dallas has been dissolving for some time now. You now have to question even more Mark Cuban's move last season that sent Devin Harris to the Nets for Jason Kidd. Now Harris is an all-star player for a poor team, while Kidd is an aged player for an average team. The firing of Avery Johnson didn't help either. Rick Carlisle has proven throughout his coaching career that he can put together a good regular season team, but don't expect them to put a dent in the playoffs.
5. Fresh Meat
So far, I stand by my previous blog concerning the 2008 draft class.
The only thing Derrick Rose has been able to really accomplish thus far is fewer minutes for the other eight guards on the Bulls roster.
The guy who some thought should've been picked first, Michael Troy Beasley, is not even the best rookie on his team. That title would go to Mario Chalmers. It looks like the Rookie of the Year Award will go to OJ Mayo, who has been decent on a crappy team.
By reading this, you may be thinking, "Wow, what a mediocre season." There have been some exciting moments, most notably two weeks ago in New York with Kobe's 61, Lebron's near triple-double, and the Celtics visit to the Garden.
Unless you have only been able to watch Wizards games, there are some redeeming stories this season. But if you thought that the cream might not rise to the top this year, think again.