In between slogging through the usual holiday scrum at work (the holiday season is legalized torture for everybody over the age of 18) and playing "Assassin's Creed II" on my Xbox 360 (beautiful on my new 40" LCD TV), I've been keeping an eye on the NBA.
There are some things that make my eyes bug out, some that make my eyes scrunch in sympathy or derision, and some things that just make my eyes roll as I yawn.
As we start the second quarter of the Association's season, I'd like to point out what I like so far, what I don't like so far, and what just bores me.
Where the Cool Kids Hang Out: The Good
Sacramento Kings: If anyone's followed the NBA over the last few years, you either know the Kings have been really bad, or you just don't remember that the Kings still existed...and that was because they were really bad.
However, these are most definitely not those Kings. These Kings are dynamic, led by a dynamic player in Tyreke Evans, and they've revived basketball in Sacramento, which has had only governmental gridlock to boast of lately.
At 13-14, Sacramento is playing about .500 ball, and that alone gets them on the Good side.
Dallas Mavericks: We all knew that the Mavericks would make the playoffs, and we all knew they would be a threat. But at a stellar 20-8, Dallas has gotten the early start they needed to open up a decent three-and-a-half game lead on the aging San Antonio Spurs and the scrappy yet under-talented Houston Rockets.
With the ever-dangerous Dirk Nowitzki, a solid backcourt with Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea, and a bench that practically burns the nets—Jason Terry and Josh Howard lead a second unit that produces 37.8 PPG, fourth in the league—I don't see Dallas relinquishing that lead in the Southwest Division anytime soon.
Boston Celtics: Yeah, a gimme pick here, but hey, you have to recognize greatness when you see it, and when I look at the Celtics, I see the Eastern Conference champions for 2009-10.
Some will say that the Cleveland Cavaliers—with the 1B player in the game, LeBron James, to Kobe Bryant's 1A—would be a legit contender to ascend to the Finals.
Others would point out that the Orlando Magic, with the best big man in the game, Dwight Howard, and a slew of accurate perimeter shooters are capable of again defeating Boston when it matters most.
Both would be valid points, but the Celtics, provided they stay healthy, seem like they are a leg up on both Cleveland and Orlando...and it doesn't hurt that they play in the most pathetic division in the NBA.
Where the Naughty Kids Get Sent: The Bad
Chicago Bulls: I don't know about anyone else, but I for one had high hopes for these Bulls at the start of the season. The same group of guys that gave the Celtics all they wanted in what many consider to be the best playoff series in 2009 returned...sans Ben Gordon, that is.
While I consider Gordon to be a me-first, me-always showboating blowhard, he did have one thing that Chicago lacks in a big way—the ability to close out games.
Just take a look at last night's meltdown of nuclear proportions against the Kings last night, where the Bulls barfed up a 35-point (yeah, THIRTY-FIVE) advantage during the last 15 minutes, and you'll see what I mean.
Philadelphia 76ers: Staying out East, this is another of last year's young playoff teams that has severely disappointed in '09-'10. This is another case of a franchise returning basically the same bunch of guys that had some success last year, yet for some reason, have fallen short. Way short.
The Sixers were mired in an 11-game losing streak that will go a long way towards killing their season this month. Even though they did bring back the so-called prodigal son in Allen Iverson, there's very little chance of 7-20 Philly seeing postseason play.
Shaquille O'Neal: I know the Cavaliers are having their usual great start (21-8). But, I also know that if this franchise didn't have LeBron James, they'd be lucky to have five wins at this point in the season.
Even immediately after the move to bring in O'Neal was made by GM Danny Ferry, I had my secret doubts; the deal had the pungent reek of a man desperate to squeeze a title out of James before James bolted, and he and coach Mike Brown lost their jobs for being what they were: dingleberries hanging on LeBron's coattails.
Making the old and slow Cavs older and slower was the kind of dingleberry move that will cost the franchise both in the short term (unproductive Shaq failing to provide adequate help for LBJ) and in the long term (LBJ goes to another team). I will be shocked if both Ferry and Brown still had their jobs when 2012 rolls around.
Where the High Kids Roam...The Meh
Portland Trail Blazers: Disregarding my article about how hopeful Portland's prospects are, the fact remains that this is a team that hasn't been bitten by so much as it had its ass (pardon me) kicked by the injury bug.
While the Blazers have done well to remain a few games above .500 so far, they will have their work cut out for them, with a good number of their rotation players out until after the All-Star break.
Los Angeles Lakers: I can hear the whining from L.A. from here about this. I refute the charges against everything from my intelligence to my sexuality by saying this: After the Lakers play Oklahoma City tonight, they will have played twice as many home games (18) as road games (nine).
If you're an elite team like the Lakers and you start off your season with that many home games, you better be 22-4. In fact, I'd argue that Los Angeles should have won another game or two.
It's for that reason that they are "meh." If they produce a road record as stellar as their home record, then I'll be amazed. You could say I'm bored by their "expected excellence."
That'll do it for this week. If you liked what you read, want to give a critique, or just want to tell me how much you (insert bad thing for me here) me, either comment down below or E-mail me @ firstname.lastname@example.org.