The 2012-13 NBA season is officially in the home stretch, and a number of moments have shaped what’s happened up to this point.
Before the year even began, blockbuster trades shook up the league. Fans were already anticipating the season after Team USA's gold-medal performance at the 2012 Olympics, but a new-look league raised the anticipation to an all-time high.
Regardless of what we’ve seen at this juncture, one thing we can be thankful for is an 82-game season. For basketball’s biggest fans, 66 games condensed into a lockout-shortened year just wasn’t enough.
The time was too short, the quality wasn’t up to par, and having a full season to watch has been refreshing for the Association’s avid followers.
Whether your team is winning or losing, the league is providing quality entertainment most nights. The playoffs are just around the corner, and with the excitement level steadily rising, it's safe to say a few specific events have defined what we’ve seen thus far.
Mike Brown Out, Mike D’Antoni In
The Los Angeles Lakers had the biggest offseason of any team in the league. Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were supposed to help get this franchise back into contention, but after starting the year 1-4, it was clear that the Lakers weren’t who we thought they were.
As many coaches do, Mike Brown took the bulk of the criticism to begin the year, and after such an ugly start, he found himself out of the job just five games in.
It was obvious early that there was discontent within the Lakers’ organization, but Kobe Bryant’s death stare during a nine-point loss to the Utah Jazz was a major sign of change to come.
When Brown was let go, the search was on for the new head coach. According to Mike Bresnahan of Los Angeles Times, Phil Jackson emerged as a favorite, but the job ultimately went to Mike D’Antoni.
The team swapped one Mike for another, and while success didn’t immediately follow, the group is finally coming together for a push in the season's final months.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks Surprise Us All
Aside from the Lakers’ struggles, one of the most surprising stories of the early season was the New York Knicks. The team jumped out to an impressive 6-0 start, and they were looking like legitimate contenders alongside the Miami Heat.
Even more impressive is that the team got hot out of the gate with Amar’e Stoudemire sidelined. Because of injuries, Stoudemire missed the first 30 games of the year, and with a record of 21-9, they were proving that they could win despite a flurry of offseason moves.
It’s no secret that this team got older during the offseason. New York opted to let Jeremy Lin walk, replacing him with Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd, and the acquisition of Marcus Camby looked like a desperate attempt to simply stay talented.
But despite the criticism, the team jelled quickly, and it did so around its No. 1 option, Carmelo Anthony.
Carmelo Anthony is averaging 40 points a game at the Barclays Center and is making an early case for @NBA MVP -> http://t.co/thOMJ6ht2012-12-12 14:30:11
Anthony began the season looking like a new player. He was scoring with efficiency, dominating the post and playing defense like we’d never seen before.
The Knicks have since come down to Earth, going 16-12 after their first 30 games, but they’re still the No. 2 team out East, and they still have a championship on their minds at this point.
Damian Lillard Establishes Himself as ROY Front-Runner
Damian Lillard began his NBA career in historic fashion. He was the third player in league history to post at least 20 points and 10 assists in his debut, and he was the first player since LeBron James to record at least 21 and nine.
After three contests, he had recorded at least 20 points and seven assists in each showing, and he became the first player since Oscar Robertson to do just that.
We all knew Lillard was off to a hot start, but when he won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for October/November, he appeared set as the clear Rookie of the Year favorite.
Four months into the season, Lillard has won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month award every month. He’s become a go-to option early in his career, and it’s painfully clear that how well he plays has a direct impact on the Portland Trail Blazers’ success.
InsideHoops.com NBA @InsideHoops
Long way to go, but #NBA Rookie of the Year so far is Damian Lillard2012-11-26 20:26:14
Overall, the 2012 draft class has been a bit disappointing. Anthony Davis has played well when healthy, Andre Drummond has excelled when he can find minutes, and Bradley Beal and Harrison Barnes have started to come into their own.
But for a class that was touted for its depth and talent, Lillard has stolen the show and become the favorite for the Rookie of the Year award.
Los Angeles Clippers Catch Fire
The Los Angeles Clippers have what it takes to compete in a tough Western Conference. They have leadership in their backcourt, athleticism in their frontcourt and talent spread around one of the deepest rosters in the entire NBA.
It’s no surprise that they’re one of the top teams in their conference, but a 17-game winning streak forced the league to take them seriously two months into the season.
After beating the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 28, the Clippers didn’t lose another game until Jan. 1, 2013. For those keeping track at home, that means they went undefeated in the month of December—a month where they averaged nearly 105 points per contest.
All good things must come to an end, and the Clips dropped two straight games to begin 2013. All the same, their run was as impressive as it was unexpected, and it was a stretch where they made sure they weren't just looked at as entertainers for the league’s most dunk-happy fans.
Kobe Bryant Reaches Milestone
Hate him or love him, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players to ever lace up in the NBA. His illustrious career has been filled with milestones, and he reached another one when scored his 30,000th point on Dec. 5, 2012.
In a 16-point win over the New Orleans Hornets, Bryant made headlines with a simple floater. He became just the fifth player to record 30,000 points in a career, and he surpassed Wilt Chamberlain as the youngest player to ever do just that.
According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN, NBA commissioner David Stern was in attendance for the game. Stern said, "I want to shake his hand. I think Kobe is ... up there on the pedestal with Michael Jordan as one of the greatest.”
Bryant's place in the history books has yet to be determined, but he took yet another step toward greatness in his age-34 season.
There are very few times in an NBA season that compare to Christmas Day. The stars are out, the jerseys are flashing, and the competition is at its highest.
Not every game winds up as advertised, but it’s a good day for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the NBA.
In the first game, the Boston Celtics would take on the Brooklyn Nets—although it wouldn’t end up being much of a contest. The Celtics won 93-76, and it proved to be one of the least entertaining games of the day.
Following the battle in Brooklyn, fans got their money’s worth with the Lakers hosting the Knicks and the Oklahoma City Thunder traveling to Miami to take on the Heat. Both games were star-studded and entertaining, and both featured massive performances from the league’s best players.
To close out the evening, the Houston Rockets took care of the Chicago Bulls and the Clippers took down the Denver Nuggets.
Regardless of which team you root for, Christmas Day is entertaining for all fans. The 2012 showing proved to be no exception, and fans walked away feeling satisfied.
Injuries, Injuries, Injuries
Although there was no one moment where injuries took over the NBA, learning of Rajon Rondo’s torn ACL made us realize that this has not been a healthy season for the league’s best players.
Going back to the 2012 postseason, Derrick Rose became the player who would link an injury-riddled, lockout-shortened year to 2013. His torn ACL has forced him to miss most of the 2012-13 season, but he hasn't been the only one to miss major time.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have been hit by the injury bug big-time, and no one player epitomizes that more than Kevin Love. He’s played in just 18 games, and his absence has been the biggest factor in the Wolves’ obvious struggles.
Dwight Howard has been less than 100 percent following his back surgery, and his world-class athleticism has been lacking for much of the year.
Even Andrew Bynum, fresh off his trade to the Philadelphia 76ers, still hasn’t seen the floor due to a lingering knee injury. His hair has made more headlines than his on-court abilities.
The NBA is at its best when the stars can participate, and as soon as everyone is back on the floor, it’s going to be a great day for such a star-driven league.
All-Star Weekend is a time for fans of all levels to unite in the spirit of casual competition. The league’s best players come together, celebrities are more present than ever, and the theatrics of the events are on full display for all to witness.
But if we can be completely honest here for a second, the 2013 All-Star break was one of the least exciting in recent memory.
All-Star Saturday is meant to entertain, but the new format, pitting the East against the West in a charitable points competition, proved to be more confusing than anything else.
The events were fine for casual watching, but for those who remember legendary players competing in head-to-head competitions, the night was more disappointing than it was entertaining.
When it came to the game itself, the excitement ramped back up. Chris Paul took home the game’s MVP award, and the relaxing nature of the weekend set up a strong finish for the remainder of the regular season.
Trade Deadline Comes and Goes
The trade deadline is like Christmas for most NBA fans. You never know what your team is going to get, and you never know which big names are going to be moved unexpectedly.
But when it came to the 2013 deadline, not only were there no unexpected moves, but even the sure-fire assets ended up standing pat.
Alex Kennedy @AlexKennedyNBA
The 2013 trade deadline was boring. Let's hope that means this offseason's free agency period will be exciting: http://t.co/hCI5AromGv2013-2-21 22:21:04
The big name on the market was Josh Smith. With his looming contract situation, it seemed highly unlikely that he’d be with the Atlanta Hawks for the duration of the season.
However, when no deal worth taking came the Hawks’ way, they opted to hang onto their forward, taking away the big present for which some fanbase was desperately hoping.
Other than Smith, the names linked to other teams were Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. Even the entire Boston Celtics core was being talked about, and nobody quite knew what to expect.
The trade deadline usually makes headlines for its surprising moves, but this time around, it was the surprising non-moves that were noteworthy.
Miami Heat Flip The Switch
Much was made about the Miami Heat’s play early in the season. They weren’t living up to their championship reputation, and the biggest concern was on the defensive side of the floor.
It looked as if this team had dropped off over the course of the summer, but in true Heat fashion, they proved to the world that they can flip the switch and get back to their winning ways.
Following a 102-89 loss to the Indiana Pacers, the Heat reeled off 16 straight wins (and counting). They’ve given up just 94.9 points per game during their impressive stretch, and the NBA championship is once again considered theirs to lose.
If anybody wrote the Heat off early in the year because of their lackadaisical effort, they didn’t understand just what this team is capable of.
This is a group that plays for championships, and regular-season matchups against the league’s mediocre squads mean nothing to them in the big picture.
Miami may not have the best record, but it has officially gone into winning mode with the playoffs approaching. There’s no telling which group will finish on top when it’s all said and done, but if you’re looking for a safe bet, look at the team that hasn’t lost in more than a month’s time.