10 Questions To Consider as We Head into the Stretch Run of the NBA Season
With the season winding down and less than 30 games remaining for each team, we are beginning to get a clearer picture of how the NBA season is shaping up.
We're getting an idea of who the contenders and pretenders are, and the final portion of the season will give us a chance to see which teams will have home-court advantage and which ones will potentially have to win a Game 7 on the road in the playoffs to advance.
We will find out whether or not Derrick Rose or LeBron James, or someone else for that matter, is going to be this year's Most Valuable Player.
We will see if teams like Orlando and the L.A. Lakers can regain their footing and make another run to the NBA Finals.
The tension is building and the climax is slowly approaching.
Before long, the playoffs will be here.
No. 10: Will the Utah Jazz Return To Old Form Under New Coach Tyrone Corbin?
Under Jerry Sloan, the Utah Jazz were known for playing good, hard defense, taking care of the ball and giving a maximum effort.
That's why, regardless of just how talented they've been, the Jazz have always been a tough out in the playoffs.
But, for the first time in 23 years, Sloan is no longer the team's head coach.
Since defeating Cleveland, 121-99, on January 14 and improving to 27-13, the Jazz have struggled mightily, going 4-13 since then to fall to 31-26.
Under new head coach Tyrone Corbin, the Jazz have struggled, going 0-3 since he took over for Sloan on February 10.
Despite their struggles, the Jazz are still the same team.
They still have one of the best players in the league in Deron Williams as well as a potent frontcourt with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
If Utah can regain their footing and return to their old form, they have a chance to make some noise in the playoffs.
No. 9: Will the Oklahoma City Thunder Take the Next Step?
They are an up-and-coming team laden with talented young players in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green.
They took the L.A. Lakers to six games last season in the playoffs before losing on a last-second bucket by Pau Gasol.
They currently stand at 35-19, good for first in the Northwest Division and fourth overall in the Western Conference.
They appear to be ready to take the next step, but the question remains: Are the Oklahoma City Thunder ready to join the league's elite?
No. 8: How Will Joakim Noah's Return To the Bulls Help Shape The Team's Roster?
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With Joakim Noah, the Chicago Bulls were 16-8 before losing him to a torn ligament in his thumb on December 15 against the Toronto Raptors. Without him, the Bulls have gone 22-8, improving to 38-16, good for first in the Central Division and third in the Eastern Conference, just two games back of both Boston and Miami, which are tied for first.
During Noah's absence, Carlos Boozer has been a force at power forward with Kurt Thomas filling in at center for Noah and Taj Gibson helping to complement them up front.
With Noah returning to a team that already includes Boozer, MVP-candidate Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, there is a legitimate chance that the Bulls could challenge Boston and Miami for Eastern Conference supremacy as we head into the stretch run of the season.
No. 7: Will the Real New York Knicks Please Stand Up?
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Who are the New York Knicks?
Are they the team that struggled out of the gate to a 3-8 start or the one that responded with a 13-1 run to bring their record to 16-9.
Or are they somewhere in between?
Currently, they stand at 28-26, good for second in the Atlantic Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference.
With a roster made up of Amar'e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chander and Danilo Gallinari, there is reason to believe the Knicks, should they make a firm commitment to getting better defensively, can give the top teams in the East a run for their money.
Whether or not the team acquires Carmelo Anthony before the trade deadline may determine just how far they are capable of going this season.
No. 6: Will the Orlando Magic Grow Up?
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Two years ago, the Orlando Magic advanced to the NBA Finals.
Last season, they won their first eight playoff games before falling to the Boston Celtics in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
This year, however, has been different.
After starting the season 16-9, Orlando President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith made two blockbuster trades, acquiring Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark from Phoenix in exchange for Marcin Gortat, Mikael Pietrus, Vince Carter, a 2011 first-round pick and $3 million in cash and trading Rashard Lewis to Washington for Gilbert Arenas.
Following the trade, they played one game shorthanded and lost, then lost their first two games with a full team before reeling off nine consecutive wins, which included victories over San Antonio, Boston and Dallas, to move to 25-12.
Since then, however, the Magic have returned to their mediocre ways, going 11-9 to bring them to 36-21, good for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
With a starting lineup of Jameer Nelson, Richardson, Turkoglu, Ryan Anderson and Dwight Howard and a bench that features Arenas, J.J. Redick and Brandon Bass, there is enough talent for the Magic to make another run to the NBA Finals.
No. 5: Where Will Carmelo Anthony Land?
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Where will Carmelo Anthony be after the February 24 trade deadline passes?
Will he be in New York? Will it be Los Angeles? Now there's even talk that he may wind up in New Jersey.
Or will Denver decide there isn't a worthwhile deal to make and hope to convince him to sign the three-year, $65 million deal they've been offering him for months.
If Anthony lands in New York, his talent and ability could take the Knicks to the another level, and should he be dealt to L.A., he would instantly rejuvenate a Lakers team that is in desparate need of a spark.
Should he stay with Denver, he will allow the the Nuggets, a talented team that includes Chauncey Billups, Aaron Afflalo, Nene and Kenyon Martin, a chance to focus and make a run at the Northwest Divisional crown and position themselves for the Western Conference Playoffs.
No. 4: Will the L.A. Lakers Make a Trade That Energizes The Club?
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Despite being 38-19 and having one of the most talented teams in the league, the L.A. Lakers are, dare we say, struggling.
It's hard to believe that a team with such a good record and star players like Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol could be in trouble, but that appears to be the case with the Lakers.
For them, the All-Star Break couldn't have come at a better time. It will give the team a chance to recharge its batteries and come out stronger and more focused for the final 25 games of the season.
But the question remains: Other than Kobe Bryant, is there anyone on this team that can be counted on in crunch time? Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest? Despite all being talented players with a championship on their respective resumes, there is, because of their past, reason to question whether or not they will come through in the clutch this time around.
Until that question is answered, doubts will remain as to whether or not the Lakers can win their third consecutive championship.
No. 3: Will This Finally Be the Year For The Dallas Mavericks?
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The Dallas Mavericks have reasons to believe that this may be the year they finally win an NBA Championship.
They've got talented players like Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry, big men like Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi to man the post and a great coach in Rick Carlisle who has his team playing well defensively.
On the other hand, they've lost Caron Butler for the rest of the season, were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round last season and will likely have to get past the two-time defending champion L.A Lakers as well as their arch-nemisis, the San Antonio Spurs, if they want to advance to the NBA Finals.
Right now, Dallas, despite being 40-16 and having won 13 of its last 14 games, appears to be flying under the radar. And, should the attention remain focused on Miami, Boston, San Antonio and the Lakers, it might help take some of the pressure off of the Mavericks and set them up nicely heading into the playoffs.
No. 2: Will The Miami Heat Role Players Perform in Crunch Time?
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When Boston added Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett before the 2007-08 season, they had a triumvurate of future Hall-of-Famers with Allen, Garnett and star forward Paul Pierce.
It turned out to be enough to put the Celtics over the top and earn them an NBA Championship, but the Big Three weren't the only reason for Boston claiming the title that season. Had role players like P.J. Brown and James Posey not come through in the clutch for the Celtics during the playoffs, they would not have advanced to, nor have won, the NBA Finals.
LeBron James and Chris Bosh were brought to Miami in the hopes that they could team with Dwyane Wade to help the Miami Heat win its second NBA Championship.
The question is not so much whether or not Bosh, James or Wade can perform in the clutch. It is whether or not Eddie House, Mike Miller, Carlos Arroyo, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and the other Miami role players can make their open shots and help to compliment the Big Three as we head toward the playoffs.
As of now, the Heat are playing as well as anyone in the league, going 32-7 since their disappointing 9-8 start. They'll receive a boost when Udonis Haslem returns later in the season, helping to bolster their already-thin frontcourt.
No. 1: Will San Antonio And Boston's Veterans Stay Healthy?
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In 2009, both Kevin Garnett and Manu Ginobili sustained injuries that prematurely ended their seasons, dooming their respective teams come playoff time.
Later that season, Boston was ousted by Orlando in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and San Antonio was upset by Dallas in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs.
With Boston and San Antonio, the question is not whether they are talented enough to win the championship. It is whether or not they'll remain healthy throughout the postseason.
Three of Boston's best players—Kevin Garnett (34), Ray Allen (35) and Paul Pierce (33)—as well as Shaquille O'Neal (38) are getting older and appear to be on their last legs.
Two of San Antonio's best players, Ginobili (33) and Tim Duncan (34), are on the wrong side of 30, so questions will remain about their durability throughout the season.
However, should these teams remain healthy, they will likely be the odds-on-favorites to meet in the NBA Finals.