We're all well aware that the NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint.
Like any marathon however, certain legs in the race are infinitely more important. For example, if a team hits the ground running in the first three weeks of the season, they run the risk of running out of steam for the rest of the year. I'm definitely not looking at you, New Orleans.
Similarly, the halfway mark represents a rather pivotal point in the season. It is now where hot starts and cold slumps have basically negated themselves, allowing teams to fall in their rightful places. Barring major trades and injuries, teams are more or less set in stone for the remainder of the season.
Despite this relative cementing of NBA rosters, it is highly unlikely that the second half of the year will be a mirror image to the first. As demonstrated by the Boston Celtics (before they decided to try in the playoffs) wins in November and December don't necessarily translate into victories in February, March, and April.
With that, let's take a look at the ten most dangerous teams heading into the All-Star break. A mix of the usual suspects combined with some rising squads, none of these teams will be embraced with open arms when they appear on their opponent's schedules.
After years of obscurity in both Vancouver and Memphis, it seems like the Griz have finally found some sort of stability.
Yes, they are still under .500. However, they are breathing heavily down the necks of an injury-riddled Blazers team, not to mention a Nuggets squad which may look significantly different in a matter of days. Memphis, meanwhile, seems to have their basic foundation intact, a foundation led by a man that easily could have gone the way of Eddy Curry.
Zach Randolph has simply been a beast this season. His 20.1 ppg and 13.1 rpg is as good as any big man out there, demonstrating that he can battle with the best of them. Rudy Gay seems to be at least somewhat worth the endless stacks of cash the front office threw at him over the summer, leading the team in scoring at 21.0 ppg. Mike Conley appears to be coming into his own at point guard, thus giving the Griz a solid foundation to build around.
Don't be surprised to see Memphis in the playoffs.
Wait...this can't be serious, can it?
Believe it or not, the Clip Show has enjoyed some solid success as of late. If Donald Sterling doesn't engage in his perennial "let's see what we can do to make us as unsuccessful as possible" antics, expect the combo of Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin to send bigger shockwaves throughout America than Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. And that's saying something.
The Clippers' potential second-half pillaging of the Western Conference could be encapsulated by their recent surprise win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Griffin, who appears on the verge of sprouting body armor with razor-sharp metal spikes at any moment, finished the contest with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Believe it or not, the game was a statistical letdown for Griffin, who failed to post a 20-point, 10-rebound outing for the first time in 14 games.
Gordon, meanwhile, wore the captains badge in the scoring department, finishing with 30 points.
Not saying that the Clippers will come close to making the playoffs, but a significant second-half surge is definitely not out of the question. Having more upside than NASA certainly doesn't hurt their cause.
The Hawks appear to be right where they usually are at this point of the season, a solid team flirting with being a serious contender.
Atlanta will need to put together an impressive string of victories against the Bostons, San Antonios, and Heats of the league to be considered one of the big boys in the playground. Such a feat, however, is certainly not out of the question.
Atlanta looks to be to be gelling rather nicely under new coach Larry Drew, which arguably wasn't the case under former head honcho Mike Woodson. If you remember last season, the Hawks more or less quit in their second round disaster against the Magic.
As long as the Hawks maintain focus, there's no telling as to how much noise they could make heading into the playoffs.
The past few games have shown us that without Dirk, this team is not exactly a title contender.
WITH the MVP candidate, the Mavs are undoubtedly one of the best teams in the league. Sure, they may engage in their usual "I'm a championship contender. Oh wait, no I'm not!" act, but they may also surprise us.
To clarify, the Mavs aren't one of the most dangerous teams heading into the second half. Dirk Nowitzki however, is.
Here's to basketball being a team sport.
They should be higher. Really. However, if history is any indication, this team will regress in the second half of the year to conserve energy for the postseason.
Aging veterans and 82-game seasons are not exactly the best of friends. Just ask Kevin Garnett, Shaq, and Jermaine O'Neal. Not to mention, where in the world is Kendrick Perkins?
Other than Rajon "let's see how many assist records we can break in a season" Rondo, this team does not have a starter under 30. Additionally, Rondo isn't really the most durable player out there.
Regardless, this team is dangerously talented. Playing Boston is never fun.
The darling of the league, the Oklahoma City Thunder were supposed to enter the season on some kind of warpath, which was supposed to lead to an MVP for Kevin Durant, which was supposed to lead to a top seed in the Western Conference, which was supposed to lead to a solid playoff run, which was supposed to lead to an NBA championship.
Scott Brooks' squad hasn't exactly instilled paralyzing fear into their opponents, but the Thunder are among the Western Conference's best.
Durant is still leading the league in scoring at 28.5 ppg, but he hasn't wowed the rest of the league as expected. It's funny. Whenever you could still manage to underperform while leading the league in scoring, chances are you're pretty good.
Russell Westbrook has had arguably the best season out of any point guard out there. A triple threat in every sense of the concept, Westbrook is averaging 22.1 ppg, 8.3 apg, and 5.1 ppg. One of the best 1-2 punches in the game, these two should propel the Thunder to the elite levels out West.
Tim Duncan's done.
Tony Parker has off the court distractions.
DeJuan Blair is overrated.
Manu Ginobili is slowing down.
Their style of basketball is dated.
The Lakers are too good.
Thus far, the Spurs have proved their doubters wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong.
The Spurs have had the best record in the league for the majority of the season. One of the most underrated aspects of this team is without a doubt their bench, which has allowed Duncan and company to rest a considerable amount game in and game out. Often overlooked, this depth is something that could allow this team to keep the train rolling all the way to the promised land.
With George Hill, Gary Neal, and Matt Bonner providing reliable services to compliment the Spurs' stars, Greg Popovich has all the tools to keep the Spurs scorching for the rest of the season.
For pretty much the entire year, the Bulls have not been at full strength. Still, they've managed to hijack the Central Division lead.
Derrick Rose is playing like he's been giving a lifetime supply of Felix Felicis, and doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Carlos Boozer is averaging a double-double, which is code for very good offseason signing.
Once Joakim Noah returns from injury, the frontcourt of this team will likely singlehandedly raise the United States' terror threat level.
When has a Phil Jackson team not been dangerous in the second half?
There may actually be a correct answer to this 11 million dollar question, but for dramatic effect we'll just have to say never.
Losing to the Clippers is never fun, but one game doesn't decide a team's destiny. Unless of course, that game happens to be a Game 7. Being that the Lakers have a guy named Kobe Bryant on their team, such contests shouldn't really be too much of a problem.
Again, this team is built for a championship. The additions of Matt Barnes and Steve Blake have added considerable depth, and Shannon Brown is having as impressive of a year as ever. If Andrew Bynum could stay healthy for the next six months, watch out.
Earlier this season, the Magic looked to be going the route of unexpected disappointment. Otis Smith however, decided to change that with one, earth-shattering move which has paid off tremendously thus far.
The Magic are now without Vince Carter, Hedo Turkoglu, and Marcin Gortat, but have added Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas, and Earl Clark. The move appeared to be a terrible one early on, but after playing some good old fashioned "getting to know you," Orlando has been racking up the wins in bunches.
The Magic have won 10 of their last 12 heading into their showdown against Boston tonight. Their last meeting against the Celtics, which resulted in a dramatic comeback victory, demonstrated how lethal this team could be down the stretch.
Dwight Howard, who had a 39-point, 18-rebound performance last week, has demonstrated he could kinda sorta put the ball in the basket. Hedo Turkoglu is on the Magic again (which means he's good again), and it seems like J.J. Redick improves every single game.
Don't expect the Stan Van to break down any time soon.
Without LeBron, the Heat look suddenly mortal.
Needless to say, this team is among the NBA's best. After their "maybe Coach Spoelstra should just...disappear" start, it appears that the Heat have shaken off their losing ways.
Playing this team is just about as difficult as finding $500,000 to sponsor a birthday party. Usually they've already won before tipoff, but league rules mandate that games must be played. Sorry, opposition.
Regardless of whether this team plays at home or takes their talents to opposing arenas, this is arguably the most dangerous team in the league.
Joking aside, LeBron could easily win his third MVP, Wade is still as good as ever and Bosh seems to be filling into his role nicely. Adding Mike Miller won't hurt, and James Jones isn't half bad, either.
Overall, scary good.