NBA Teams That Figure to Benefit Most from All-Star Break
Basketball is not easy on knees, ankles or really bodies in general. And 82 48-minute games is an awful lot of basketball.
So the NBA's annual All-Star break comes as a welcome respite for a lot of teams. It gives them a chance to recharge both physically and emotionally.
And this season, there are six teams in particular that looked to be in need of the break, and which should be able to emerge from it looking better than when they entered.
Whether it was injuries, a slump or some combination of the two, these teams and their players needed some time to collect themselves.
After reaching the Western Conference Finals last season, it looked like the Memphis Grizzlies could be on their way to legitimate "contendership."
Unfortunately, they've dealt with a bunch of injuries to key players, and it's taken them a while to gain traction in the Western Conference.
And just when it started to look like they were going to make their move, the bug bit again.
Memphis finds itself a game-and-a-half behind the Golden State Warriors for the No. 8 seed but lost two starters just this month.
Mike Conley went down with an ankle injury on Feb. 1, and then expressed his hopes that it was nothing serious that night:
Fortunately, that looks to be the case, as he's already been upgraded to questionable (according to CBS) for the team's next game against the New York Knicks.
Less than two weeks after Conley's injury, center Marc Gasol aggravated an MCL injury in his knee. According to CBS' Royce Young, "The Grizzlies, who struggled without Gasol, went 13-3 in January since he returned to the lineup."
Losing the defensive anchor could set Memphis back again. Fortunately, he too is listed as questionable rather than out.
One more starter who could be back after the break is perimeter defender Tony Allen. He's been out since early January with a hand injury:
Tony Allen does not have a fractured hand, by the way. Ligament injury. He’s probably out two weeks.— Kevin Lipe (@FlyerGrizBlog) January 8, 2014
Because of all the injuries, we haven't really had the chance to see all the Grizzlies play together. At full strength, they should be a terrifying defensive unit with Gasol, Conley, Allen and newcomer James Johnson.
Portland Trail Blazers
After getting off the line about as fast as anyone this season, the Portland Trail Blazers have cooled off significantly.
Prior to the new year, Portland was 25-7 and tied with the San Antonio Spurs for the third-best record in the league.
In the 2014 calendar year, the Blazers are 11-10 and have slid all the way down to the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference.
So what's the problem?
Well, the Blazers are basketball-playing proof of a couple of things. First, there's some truth to the old saying, "You live by the three. You die by the three." And second, NBA teams can adjust if they have time to.
Between the start of the season and New Year's Eve, the Blazers shot 39.6 percent from three-point range. Only the Spurs were better at 39.7. They were also second in attempts at 25.9.
Once teams realized that was such a critical part of Portland's offense, they adjusted accordingly. Defenses are now more cognizant of the shooters and less likely to leave the perimeter and dive down into the paint.
That's led to a drop-off in shooting for the Blazers. Since Jan. 1, Portland is shooting 35.4 percent from three-point range, good for 21st in the league.
Coming out of the break, they need to make their own adjustments: Don't abandon the three completely, but take advantage of interior strength as well.
LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the best power forwards in the world and more touches around the rim will force opposing defenses to collapse in the paint more often. That will in turn open up some breathing room along the three-point line.
Golden State Warriors
Like the Grizzlies, the Golden State Warriors looked poised to take the next step this season.
They showed the potential to do so early in the year, but they're reeling lately. In the new year, the Warriors are 11-9. And in February alone, they're 2-3.
According to hoopsstats.com, the Warriors are 29th in the league in bench scoring at 24.1 points per game.
That problem is exacerbated when someone from that first five goes down and one of the bench guys has to fill in. And this season, Golden State has been without Iguodala, Lee and Bogut at various times.
The latest victim is Bogut, who's been out with a shoulder injury. According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Rusty Simmons, Warriors coach Mark Jackson speculated that Bogut hurt his shoulder sleeping, to which Bogut responded:
I just wanted to address that the sleeping comment is absolutely ridiculous. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know if I should read between the lines with it. The frustrating thing is: I don’t know when I hurt it against Utah (on Jan. 31). I just know after that game, it was a little sore. It hasn’t gotten better.
So in addition to getting healthy, it looks like some of the Warriors need to get on the same page. Losing can often lead to backbiting, gossip, what-have-you. But the team has to know that will only make things worse.
New focus out of the break will be critical, because Memphis' rise is making Golden State missing the playoffs look like a very real possibility.
San Antonio Spurs
It's not exactly breaking news to say that the San Antonio Spurs are old.
With an average age of 28.4, the Spurs are the sixth-oldest team in the league. The average age of their top three scorers (Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili) is 34.7.
So while the Spurs haven't been terrible lately (they're 13-8 in the new year and 5-2 in February), a little rest is always a good thing for 30-something knees.
The time off should help a few banged-up Spurs miss fewer games. According to CBS, three starters (Parker, Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard) and sixth man Ginobili are all banged up.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant is proving this season he may have supernatural powers suited for carrying a basketball team, but if he doesn't, a little help probably wouldn't hurt:
Just the eighth game of KD's career he's taken 30 or more shots. Four have come this season, all in games without Russell Westbrook.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) February 14, 2014
Russell Westbrook's return should take a lot of pressure off Durant, and it could be right around the corner. OKC may be getting him back Thursday against the Miami Heat:
OKC is hopeful Russell Westbrook can return to the starting lineup by Thursday when the Thunder play Miami.— Brett Poirier NBA (@BrettNBA) February 16, 2014
Durant sounds as excited as anyone to be getting his partner in buckets back:
Durant on @russwest44 return: "He’s a dog, you got to let him off the leash. We want him to go out there and be himself."— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) February 14, 2014
The sooner those two can get their chemistry flowing again out of the break, the better. It's hard to imagine OKC winning a title without that duo in good health.
The Brooklyn Nets are like the NBA version of The Expendables.
The obvious parallel is simply their age. But allow me to take it a little deeper. If you've seen the cinematic masterpiece Expendables 2, you'll know where I'm going.
Brook Lopez, like Billy the Kid, was really the only youngster in his team's core. And in both cases, the elder statesmen didn't really get going until after the wunderkind went down.
The Nets were 9-17 when Lopez went down with a broken foot on Dec. 20. Since then, they're 15-10. In January alone, Brooklyn went 10-3.
But the old (and in Deron Williams' case battered) legs of these Nets were looking pretty heavy in a 92-76 loss to the Chicago Bulls that led into the All-Star break.
If it does, the Nets might be that first-round matchup no Eastern Conference team wants.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.