All-Star starters have been announced as the season trundles toward its mid-point. If you need a reminder that the game is a popularity contest and not necessarily a strict honoring of accomplishment, note how the Los Angeles Lakers will boast two All-Star starters in Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.
The former deserves his starting distinction while the latter most certainly does not. The Lakers aren't alone in presenting a disappointing product to go with two All-Star starters.
Much as I might want to hypothesize about whether L.A. is the worst team to ever claim two All-Star starters, the Boston Celtics are sending Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo to represent the club in the East's starting lineup. It's not the fault of either player, but Boston could be worse than Los Angeles, once you consider strength of conference and victory margin.
Yesteryear's celebrated teams are having a rough go of it this season.
At least this awful Bobcats team is better than last year's awful Bobcats team. It's a soft solace, but a solace nonetheless.
Kemba Walker won't get much All-Star consideration, but he's made strides this season. If he ever gets that three-point shot in order, the All-Star selections will come easily.
Bismack Biyombo has been a disappointment this season. He hasn't been the defensive force I expected and his offense is absolutely brutal.
Biyombo's hands are good at blocking shots, but catching is another matter. These hands can only destroy, they can't create. Because of this, it's doubtful that the kid will ever be a plus offensive player.
Dion Waiters had a breakout game in a Monday loss to the Kings, but you wonder if it will just encourage him to take more bad shots. Waiters followed up his 33-point Kings performance with a miserable 1-of-9 shooting night against the Trail Blazers.
Waiters' development is important because he possesses the "ability" to freeze Kyrie Irving out of games with his tunnel vision. If this doesn't correct itself, it could be a massive problem for the Cavs going forward. Irving doesn't have much reason to be happy with the organization so far, and the Waiters situation could be the final straw.
There's plenty of time before Irving's rookie contract expires in 2016, but Cleveland hasn't built much around him in the past two years. There's time, but the clock is ticking.
Bradley Beal has been awesome lately, and Wizards fans can be thankful for finally having something, anything to celebrate. After struggling with his shot this season, Beal strung together three straight games of over 60 percent shooting.
Beal has finally crept above the 50 percent true shooting plane, which prompted a sigh of relief in my apartment. I've worried that Bradley will go the way of John Wall, and regress as a shooter in this wayward organization.
Speaking of Wall, he's looked fantastic since coming back. Despite all the injuries, Wall has retained the athleticism that makes him special.
Alvin Gentry was fired last week. Obviously, coach Gentry was what's been holding back this superstar-laden, dream team of a Suns roster. Now they'll power right to the Western Conference Finals.
It's hard to see what Gentry could have done to make this team win. Their best player might be Goran Dragic. They added inefficient players like Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson.
If Phoenix is expecting another coach to come in and make the playoffs with this squad, then it's indicative of the foolishness that caused this roster in the first place. This is a bad team and no coach can save it from the lottery.
J.J. Redick is on fire, having hit .455 percent of his 6.6 three-point attempts per game this season. He's such a valuable player in today's space-conscious NBA with his ability to shoot off the catch and off the dribble.
The Magic have been losing to some bad teams, but wasn't that the plan when they traded Dwight Howard for almost nothing? It's hard to judge a squad that had "planning to tank" seeping through all of its actions.
Though it's coming in losses, Nikola Vucevic has been a pleasant surprise this season. The young big man is averaging a double-double, thanks to a refined offensive game. Vucevic will never be Dwight Howard, but he'll probably be much better than the consensus expected of him.
The Sacramento Kings have been sold to a Seattle-based group, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com. Barring a surprising intervention from the league, the Kings will be Seattle-bound.
The Maloofs will retain a small stake in the franchise, but for the franchise to succeed, that stake had better not come with any real power. They ran this operation into the ground, and were only financially saved by this bizarre circumstance where the NBA had no team in Seattle.
Sacramento was a viable market, and these guys floundered in it for nearly a decade. Had they managed to actually develop one of their many draft picks, Sacramento might still have a team.
The New Orleans Hornets look good these days, even in defeat. After sufficiently smacking the Celtics and Sixers, New Orleans lost a tough one to Golden State. They were haunted by Jarrett Jack, a point guard they should have kept on the roster.
Anthony Davis has looked fantastic of late, scoring efficiently and playing much better defense than he had earlier in the year. The brow's defensive dominance should take a while to develop, seeing as how he's a rookie in the league, but the kid is well on his way so far.
The kid is nearly back to offering more blocks than fouls. I say he'll get there before the season is up.
Nothing this team does matters as much as what Andre Drummond does. This is because Drummond is the future, and Detroit's present status isn't all that great.
Drummond reminds many of a hulking Tyson Chandler, and is a far cry from the "Kwame Brown" comparisons his detractors were making in the draft. Check out the dunk party he celebrated against the Celtics on Sunday night:
Lillard has been fantastic, but the young center has a great Rookie of the Year argument in his limited minutes. The kid is shooting .742 from the field in his last five games. He even hit 6-of-8 free throws last game.
This defense is bad, but I'm not sure it's Mike D'Antoni's fault. For one thing, it was bad at the beginning of this season, back when Mike Brown was running this operation.
The Lakers just might not have enough defensive talent to compete this season. Dwight Howard has little lateral mobility, and his lift is significantly compromised. This is nowhere near the player who once legitimately competed for MVP awards.
Even if Dwight magically gets healthy, the Lakers have other problems. Kobe's efficiency is starting to trend downward as he still keeps slinging copious shots.
Ed Davis hurt the visting Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, hitting them up for 18 points on 69 percent shooting. The most eye-catching aspect was the fluid jumper that Davis flaunted:
Ed has not had that until quite recently, and it will go a long way to making him a quality starter. Davis had been seen as a skill-less "energy guy." We might have to change the scouting report on him.
As for the Raptors, they've struggled recently against Eastern Conference teams. Lucky for them, they were able to pick on the weak, lottery-bound Lakers.
This might be a disappointing season for the Philadelphia 76ers, but at least they're likely to get an All-Star out of it. Of course, that All-Star isn't Andrew Bynum.
Jrue Holiday should make the ASG, thanks to decent production in a weak year for Eastern Conference players. One wonders if he all but sealed the deal in this last five-game stretch.
In that stretch, Jrue is averaging 25.4 points, 9.2 assists, 52 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range. Suddenly, the Sixers are playing respectable offensive basketball. If Bynum ever returns, he'll probably like the point guard he's paired with.
It really felt like that Friday night game between Dallas and Oklahoma City was for the Mavericks' season. In the end, the Mavs came up short in the overtime battle, due in part to a bad shooting performance from Dirk Nowitzki.
Perhaps I am being a bit dramatic, though, seeing as how the Mavs have won five of the last six. They've gone from having almost no shot at the playoffs to a 22 percent chance in the Hollinger Playoff Odds.
With so many teams near the eighth spot struggling, an opportunity has opened up for the Mavs. Should they get Dirk Nowitzki back on track, few playoff bubble teams are better equipped to string some wins together.
Should Nicolas Batum make the All-Star team? It's a serious question, especially when you realize that he's nearly unimpeachable as the West's second-best small forward.
I'm not sure if every position needs to be included in the All-Star game, but being the second-best small forward should count for something. Such a distinction should also make the Blazers feel better about handing out that contract.
Though his defense has been questionable, Batum's propensity for shooting the three has helped space the floor for Damian Lillard's pick-and-roll attack. Lillard gets the ROY accolades, and Aldridge is the team's only returning All Star, but Batum has his own shot at stardom.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are still in the playoff hunt, but it's no thanks to good medical fortune. Nikola Pekovic and Alexey Shved went down with injuries in the same game against the Los Angeles Clippers last week; a game that the Wolves lost badly.
It's hard to see where the victories will come from as Shved and Pekovic join Kevin Love on the sidelines. Ricky Rubio is half himself after coming back from ACL surgery, and he's shooting 25 percent so far on the season.
This is all a long-winded way of saying that, "Yes, I know it's strange for this team to climb two ranking spots." Some of the other teams have just been relatively worse.
The Atlanta Hawks have been in a tailspin (get it?). It's enough to make you wonder whether the organization will seriously consider parting ways with Josh Smith.
He's been offensively frustrating yet again, averaging a career high in three-point attempts despite remaining terrible at the shot. Smith's true shooting percentage is down to a miserable 47.4, which would qualify for worst of his career.
Most players get better at shooting as they age. Smith doesn't improve and his shot selection worsens. This would concern me, were I considering Josh Smith for a long-term contract.
This team is a roller coaster. When Avery Bradley came back, the buzz was that every problem was solved.
Now, the Celtics are slumping and Doc Rivers is strongly hinting that players will be traded (via Sekou Smith of NBA.com). That's concerning for Celtics fans, but it's also a testament to just how much power Doc has in the organization.
Most coaches wouldn't dare blame the players for a losing streak, fearing that the blame would fall right back on the themselves. Rivers has enough power to plainly insinuate that he can get his guys traded, should he feel like it. Amid the chaos, this speaks to a certain Celtic stability.
It would be ridiculous, but I'd love for Larry Sanders to make the All-Star team. The talent out East is so bad that you could actually make the argument for his 3.2 blocks on 24.8 minutes per night.
You could also make the argument that I was wrong for doubting the Bucks after Scott Skiles got fired. Though beating the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns isn't that impressive, it is when the games come on the road—as far from Milwaukee as the schedule takes them.
Mike Dunleavy remains an unsung hero for Milwaukee. The veteran swingman is hitting over half his shots and half his threes over the last five games.
For all the coverage of how the three-heavy New York Knicks are struggling, we forget that it's the three-heavy Houston Rockets who are really struggling. The Rockets have lost seven in a row, after briefly appearing destined for a home playoff series.
When your team employs the volatile three-point strategy, highs and lows can result. A hot stretch of shooting makes you indomitable. A slump makes you feeble.
The Rockets are shooting 32 percent on threes in their seven-game losing streak. When they regress to the mean and start hitting again, expect another win streak.
The team's recent stretch has featured three victories in a row for the Utah Jazz, including a home win against the Miami Heat. The Jazz showed their version of a running offense in that victory, relying of offensive boards, as opposed to pretty offense.
The Jazz are on a similar trajectory to last year. They're hanging around the eighth seed, waiting out the season.
The question is whether this is good enough for this organization. Is it enough to just make the postseason, or do the Jazz plan on making a move this trade season?
The Nuggets should feel good about a home victory over Oklahoma City, except, there were concerning moments. Denver had control of the game throughout the second half, until some typically stagnant crunch-time offense helped send the game into overtime.
If Denver preaches a philosophy of the collective beating individually talented teams, it should rely on that philosophy. It makes no sense to run an isolation for Ty Lawson at the end of the fourth quarter when the Nuggets can run an actual offense.
The conventional wisdom is that the Nuggets suffer for lack of a star who can get them a bucket when needed. I would argue that they suffer for acting like they have said star in those moments. Play the team game.
The Chicago Bulls split two overtime games after beating the Toronto Raptors by two points. Nothing comes easily for this squad. Well, nothing with the exception of wins over the Atlanta Hawks.
On Monday, the Bulls devastated Atlanta, to the tune of 97-58. That's the kind of potential that Chicago carries. The Bulls can take a good team and hold it to under 60 points.
The Bulls also carry the potential to hit 36 percent of their shots against a good defense like Memphis. That's fine, for now. If the offense is still shaky when Rose returns, though, that's concerning.
The Brooklyn Nets are silently reclaiming their dignity after much of the buzz faded. Once they lost a few games and fired their coach, fans tuned out what had been a new, celebrated franchise.
Today, the Nets would qualify for the No. 4 seed out East. When fully healthy, this is an offensively potent unit.
For example, Brooklyn is surviving another Deron Williams shooting slump. The last slump got a lot of media attention because the Nets were losing. Now that they're winning (thanks to Brook Lopez being back), few notice how Deron has shot .384 in his last five games.
Trying times have arrived in the Bay Area. First, Stephen Curry sprains his ankle during shootaround before a loss to the Miami Heat. Then, David Lee sprains his ankle during a loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
If this team misses the playoffs, the Warriors medical staff will have a lot to answer for, fairly or unfairly. The Warriors have traditionally suffered worse injuries than their competitors and fans are sick of the ever-long trend.
If even a little bit healthy, Golden State should make the playoffs. But it increasingly feels like asking for "a little bit healthy" is asking for a lot.
Is it finally happening for Paul George? The man whose name represents 50 percent of The Beatles has been on fire lately, leading some to believe that he'll cash in on that superstar talent.
George averaged 20.5 points and .464 percent three-point shooting last week, which qualifies as an offensive explosion for a Pacer team that struggles to score. The 22-year-old is blessed with hops, handle and shooting touch, a rare combination for such a tall forward.
For the Indiana Pacers to make noise in playoffs, George must continue his progression. Right now, he's well on his way. The kid might even warrant an All-Star selection.
Count me among those who believe that people are overreacting to recent New York Knicks struggles. They aren't being revealed as a fraud team; they're getting revealed as a team that needs their point guard.
Raymond Felton might not be a superstar, but the Knicks lack guys who can penetrate and kick it out to shooters. Their four-out style of attack is compromised without Felton's presence.
The lack of Felton may not have hurt New York in its London game against the Pistons, but it will be a problem against the better competition. Maddening as his shot selection can be, Felton is a vital part of the Knicks.
Well, getting blown out by the Clippers when you're without Rudy Gay is one way to boost the guy's trade value. Suffering a big defeat when the Clippers aren't playing Chris Paul? That further amplifies the argument.
The most impressive Memphis victory doubled as the ugliest last week. The Grizzlies beat the Bulls 85-82. That's a low-scoring defensive brawl of a game, especially when you consider that it went into overtime.
If starting All-Star spots rewarded defense, Marc Gasol would have one. The Memphis center very well could be the league's best defender now that Dwight Howard is hobbled.
The Miami Heat's defense actually looked familiar against Golden State on Wednesday night and the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday evening. In the early season, this crew had been porous. Last week, against the aforementioned West Coast squads, the Heat were a swarming, smothering, frightening hive mind.
LeBron James continues to make the best argument for best player in the world. In the Laker game, he struggled to hit a jumper and still went for 39 points off 25 shots.
A lot of that had to do with how James attacked Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol as if they weren't even in the paint. Remember when the Lakers supposedly posed a threat to Miami's title chances?
The Red Rocket attacks! In a Saturday night victory over the Hawks, Matt Bonner finally announced his presence in 2013 with a 7-of-8 performance in which he hit all three of his three-pointers. He had only scored seven points in the new year up until that 17-point "explosion."
It was a reminder of how valuable Bonner can be for this team, with his ability to stretch the floor from the power forward position. He's also not as bad at defense as you may assume. Bonner is not an athlete, but he moves his feet well and is rarely out of position.
Perhaps this is the year when Bonner finally breaks free of his playoff downturn. The Spurs will need him to retain that regular-season game.
Los Angeles will claim four All-Star starters in February, and what a difference between the state of the two L.A. teams sending their superstars. The Lakers are sinking deep into the brine and the Clippers keep looking all the more championship-worthy.
I was most impressed by how the Clippers scored with relative ease against the stingy Memphis Grizzlies on Monday. Even without an above-average three-point shooting performance, Los Angeles gets enough points in the paint to wear down a rugged Grizzlies squad.
It's impressive whenever your team can beat Memphis 99-73. But to do it when Chris Paul's not even playing? That's terrifying.
I mulled dropping the Thunder a spot on account of losing to the Denver Nuggets, but it's hard to punish any team for losing in one of the toughest road environments. Also, the Thunder were impressive in many ways during the overtime loss.
For instance, Kevin Durant couldn't shoot well and he still dominated. The superstar forward made 7-of-20 field goals, which should have made for an inefficient evening.
Instead, due to his propensity for drawing fouls and hitting threes, Durant had a ridiculous 37 points on his seven made shots. To use a double negative, the guy doesn't know how to not be efficient.