As we move into the second half of the NBA season, some unexpected teams are surging to the top of the ranks. Of course, nobody is surprised by the Miami Heat’s position at the top of the Eastern conference, but the wrong team from Los Angeles seems to be at the top, the Clippers. Many expected the Lakers to be the dominate team in the Western Conference, but they are not even in the picture right now. Here’s a quick look at where we stand as of right now:
1. Miami Heat
2. New York Knicks
3. Indiana Pacers
4. Atlanta Hawks
5. Chicago Bulls
6. Brooklyn Nets
7. Milwaukee Bucks
8. Boston Celtics
Biggest Surprises in the East
Probably the biggest surprise is the rivalry matchup sitting in the 2 and 3 seeds currently. Both Indiana and New York were expected to be in the playoff hunt, but not sitting right behind Miami with a legitimate chance to win the East. The Atlanta Hawks can also be thrown into this surprise group, as they are right behind the Pacers and not far behind the east leading Heat.
It’s going to be an exciting run to finish the season and snagging Indiana Pacers tickets for one of the final games, as they renew their historic rivalry with the Knicks, can lead to an exciting and memorable experience. All eight teams have winning records and the top four teams all have a real chance to win the conference.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
3. San Antonio Spurs
4. Memphis Grizzlies
5. Golden State Warriors
6. Houston Rockets
7. Denver Nuggets
8. Portland Trailblazers
Biggest Surprises in the West
The biggest surprise found in the western conference has to do with the team not in the playoff picture, as of right now. The 15-20 Los Angeles Lakers were picked to possibly win more games than any other NBA team in history, at the beginning of the season, but they currently sit 10 games back from the 8th and final playoff seed. Another huge surprise lurking even further back than the Lakers is the Dallas Mavericks.
Both of these teams have recently experienced quite a bit of success, but neither is even close to the playoff hunt right now. Without a long winning streak in the second half of the season, we may see the Lakers miss the playoffs for only the 6th time in franchise history and the first time since 2004-2005. We will most likely also see the playoffs played without Dallas for the first time since the 1999-2000 seasons.
With the two biggest surprises coming from the west, predicting the NBA finals teams isn’t all that easy. At the beginning of the year, many experts picked Miami and Los Angeles Lakers to make the finals. However, it’s necessary to re-evaluate the picture now and it’s very likely a team, such as the Indiana Pacers or the New York Knicks could build enough momentum to overtake Miami in the playoffs.
The west is all up for grabs and the most likely team to go to the finals is the San Antonio Spurs, simply because they know how to get there. Another team to look out for is the Oklahoma City Thunder, as they are young and capable of making a playoff run.
Whichever teams end up in the playoffs and the finals, this season has created quite a bit of excitement. The top teams in both conferences are only a few games apart from each other and nobody is running away with the conference titles. It will be exciting to watch and fun to see how it all shakes out.
It took Danny Ferry a week to turn a franchise going nowhere into one with room again to grow. It took him a week to reach an agreement to send Joe Johnson to the Nets for a bunch of guys whose principal value rests in the expiration dates on their contracts. It took this general manager a week to ship Marvin Williams, enduring symbol of opportunity squandered, to Utah.
To follow the Hawks is to expect the worst, which means the initial response to this watershed Johnson deal was to figure it would be overturned on some technicality. Maybe we shouldn’t be fatalistic. At the rate Ferry is moving, he might be able to convince the NBA to replay the final seconds of Game 6 against Boston from 1988, and make it so that Dominique Wilkins (and not Cliff Levingston) takes the last shot this time.
A week ago we wondered if/when Ferry would dare to tamper with the Core Four. On Day 1 of Week 2, we got our answer. Ferry gored the Core without having to deal either Josh Smith or Al Horford, and by offloading Johnson he turned this capped-out club into one with a hangar’s worth of financial headroom.
Shedding Johnson’s contract was the only way the Hawks could get better. He makes $20 million per season, which is roughly one-third of what the NBA allows to fund an entire roster. It’s one thing if your $20-million-man is Kobe Bryant, but Johnson, over the two years since he re-upped, has sunk to being third-best among Hawks.
This looks like a great move by Ferry, but then he needs to show that he can build a team back up. Ferry did a decent job in Cleveland, and it’s hard to blame him for Lebron’s emotional breakdowns that did in the Cavs in the playoffs after they won 66 and then 60 games in the regular season.
That said, he made some big blunders in Cleveland as well (Larry Hughes). So here he has to show he can do more than wield a sledgehammer to a bloated roster.
Griffin is the most meaningful in-the-air player since Shawn Kemp. Throw in his competitive streak and he did the impossible — he made Baron Davis care about basketball again. As my friend Tollin said last week, “It’s amazing; it’s like Baron has a purpose again.” He’s Blake’s dunk muse. Now the Clips have the foundation of something special: Griffin, Davis, Eric Gordon (a future All-Star) and enough left to make a legitimate offer for Denver: lottery pick Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman, expiring contracts and the rights to Minnesota’s unprotected 2012 pick (nearly as valuable a trade chip as Favors) for Carmelo and Al Harrington’s horrendous contract that’s the Carmelo Trade Tax. Mrs. Anthony could live in Hollywood and make her next unwatchable reality show. And her husband could play with Griffin, Gordon, Davis, Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan … a situation that’s between five and 20 times more appealing than New Jersey. Even when you include Donald Sterling.
From a basketball/quality of living standpoint, you couldn’t do much better than the situation with the Clippers. Anthony-Griffin-Gordon would make an excellent trio to build around and I’ll agree that the building blocks the Clippers could offer (Aminu, Kaman and Minnesota’s unprotected 2012 pick) are almost as good as what the Nets can offer.
But there’s one thing that stands in the way: Donald Sterling. The Nets’ owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, a.k.a. the Russian Mark Cuban, is infinitely more impressive and Simmons notes that LeBron thought that the Nets meeting was right up there with the Heat’s last summer.
It will be nice for Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton land in New Jersey with Melo, but only for a year or two, as both players are past their respective primes. It’s really about Brook Lopez and Mikhail Prokhorov versus Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and Donald Sterling.
As of late Sunday night, sources said, New Jersey was poised to receive [Carmelo] Anthony, [Chauncey] Billups and [Rip] Hamilton, with Denver landing two future first-round picks and six players. The Nuggets’ haul would feature Nets rookie Derrick Favors, former All-Star guard Devin Harris and Nets sharpshooter Anthony Morrow. In addition, the Nuggets would bring in the New Jersey threesome of Quinton Ross, Ben Uzoh and Stephen Graham included for salary-cap purposes.
Detroit, meanwhile, was to receive Nets big man Johan Petro and the expiring contract of Nets forward Troy Murphy, with the Pistons motivated to join in by the $17-plus million in long-term savings they’d earn by shedding Hamilton’s contract.
Denver threw a wrench into the works by choosing to play Anthony and Billups in Sunday night’s game against New Orleans. Generally, if a player is about to be traded, the team sits him down until the deal is consummated to avoid a deal-killing injury. The Nuggets’ move indicates that the trade is not as close to the finish line as some would like to believe.
If this deal does go through, it looks fairly equitable from all sides. The Nets get their man, and they also upgrade (in the short term) at point guard. Billups is getting on in years so one wonders if the inclusion of Harris was at the Nuggets’ request. Denver would get a young prospect at power forward (Favors) and a proven guard (Harris) whom they can plug in at the point or move to another team for another piece to the rebuilding puzzle. I suspect that Ty Lawson is the future at point guard in Denver, and Harris could potentially bring in more talent later. After what happened to the Raptors and Cavs this summer, getting Favors and Harris for Anthony and Billups isn’t a bad haul. I’m sure there will be a first round draft pick or two included as well.
If anyone is wondering why Carmelo has apparently become agreeable to signing an extension with the Nets, it’s probably due to the Knicks’ inability to offer the Nuggets something equitable. If Melo finishes the season as a Nugget, the uncertainty of the next collective bargaining agreement could mean that Anthony would leave a lot of money on the table by passing on the Nuggets’ extension offer. In other words, he’d like to lock up his contract now, and since the Nets and Nuggets have worked out a deal in principle, Carmelo can start counting his money. Certainly the prospect of continuing his career with Billups in New Jersey/Brooklyn also has to help.
If this deal does go through as described, the Nets could have a starting lineup of Billups, Hamilton, Anthony, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez. That might be enough to turn the Nets into a playoff team despite the 10-27 start. After all, they’re only five games out of the 8th and final playoff spot in the East.