With the basketball season moving towards the NBA All-Star break, the league is looking through the windshield at the trade deadline and playoff runs. Many teams are vying for position in the their respected conferences. Injuries, trade rumors, team identity and records against winning teams show which franchises will look to make a long run in June.
The Boston Celtics have shown that a collection of veterans playing together for multiple seasons is a blueprint for success in the spring. With the emergence of Rajon Rondo in the past few seasons, players like Kevin Garnett have had a lighter load, which is needed for the long stretches of a grueling NBA season.
Doc Rivers recently let the entire first team refrain from practice. This will help keeping the players' batteries charged in a hard-fought seven-game series. Boston looks like the team to beat right now, but injuries could occur to veterans any night.
The Miami Heat are still trying to establish an identity. LeBron James has and always was the lead dog, but where does that leave the rest of the team?
As recently as Sunday, Mike Miller was taking the last-second shot in Boston. When a team with three superstars is giving the ball to basically a sixth man in the clutch, what does that say about the culture of the team?
The Heat need to prove to the league that they can win against the elite teams. Maybe a true test in the playoffs will wake something up in them. Chemistry and depth will be a question until proven otherwise.
The Chicago Bulls have had injuries that have been hampering them all year. Derrick Rose has carried the team with his stellar play, but that alone will not put the Bulls in the driver’s seat.
Defense was supposed to be a focal point more this season. With the injury to Joakim Noah, the spark plug of the defense was gone. Carlos Boozer can do many things, but defense is low on the totem pole.
The Bulls need to get everybody healthy and have time to gel in March and April if they plan to be effective. If Rose has to be the MVP, the Bulls will be wondering what happened to a promising year.
The San Antonio Spurs are the Patriots of the NBA. They might not be very pretty to watch sometimes, but they always seem to be in the hunt come playoff time. Greg Popovich has altered his offense for his personnel, which has led to Manu Ginobili having had one of the best seasons of his career.
They have a great home record and are looking at the top seed if the playoffs started this week. The rodeo trip has brought the team even more confidence before the break this weekend. Facing the Bulls on Thursday night will be another test of how well the team is doing before the festivities in L.A.
The Dallas Mavericks are going into the break with a healthy Dirk Nowitzki and are on a roll as of late. While the teams they have faced have not been the top-tier talent, they haven’t faltered against them like other teams that lack the killer instinct.
Their schedule after the break looks to keep the Mavericks at a high seed if they keep up the momentum of the last few weeks. Marc Cuban is the Jerry Jones of the NBA, so look for him to sit and wait for a trade to better his team for a run at the title.
The Mavericks seem to always be playing with their roster so it won’t be surprising if the team has a different look before the trade deadline on Feb. 24.
The Lakers have hogged the national headlines as of late. With the recent trade rumors of Carmelo Anthony for Andrew Bynum, it created a whirlwind around the team that none of the players are willing to admit was affecting them. This team needs to stay together and use their length to run the triangle like Phil Jackson has done year after year.
With recent losses to the Celtics, Spurs and Magic, questions will arise whether the team is still the favorite in the West. Honestly, the Lakers will get back on the horse and ride into the playoffs due to their schedule being so much easier than before the break. Kobe will show the NBA that he is older, but wiser.
The current records of these teams might not show how they will fare in the playoffs. Teams tend to float until springtime comes and then the men separate themselves for the boys...
Staying healthy and gelling in March and April are big priorities every NBA team looks towards.