I know I am. All-Star Weekend is in the books, and you know what that means, right? Well, it means that All-Star Weekend is over, and that the second half of the season is now in full effect.
Every year, the second half of the season offers the answers to so many questions NBA fans have during the first half of the year. If you’re wondering what those questions are for 2008, ponder the following:
- Are the New Orleans Hornets for real? They have the best record in the Western Conference so far, and they don’t seem to be slowing down with injuries not being a huge factor, with Chris Paul leading the way.
- Will the Spurs be able to return to championship mode by playoff time? With all the injuries and the downtime, and oh yeah, the tough Western Conference, they look wore down and out of shape.
- What are the Los Angeles Lakers’ identity? To many people, they’re just a young team that’s only pretenders, and not contenders in the Western Conference.
- Are the Boston Celtics truly returned to their form of the 80s? Skepticism raises an eyebrow here, since Pierce, Allen and Garnett have been played several minutes a game during the first half of the season. Plus, they’re banged around and aren’t 100% healthy.
- The trades: Gasol to LA, Shaq to Phoenix, and the imminent Kidd to Dallas? How will they work out in the long run?
And, as the man that I am, I’m going to attempt to answer these questions with my own opinion.
Concerning the Hornets, they’re a lot like the Lakers. Not in terms of playing styles, but their age. They’re a bunch of youngsters running around having the time of their lives. They’re playing rough and getting the job done this season, en route to appease the city of “Nawlins'”. It’s a fairy tale story now and all, but by the time the playoffs begin, they’ll have to contend with teams like a refined San Antonio Spurs, a vengeful Dallas Mavericks and a Phoenix team that’s downright tired of losing every year in the playoffs (well, I think they’re tired of losing; I’m pretty sure they are).
The Spurs being able to return to championship mode is inevitable. People write them off every January and February. And every year they say, “but Troy, there’s something different about them this year.” Yeah, there’s something different, they aren’t winning! The same thing that’s wrong with them almost every January and February. It’s just a swift kick in the behind for them when this happens, and they need it — they deserve it — because there has to be a kink in their game, right? Obviously so. They’ll be ready for the playoffs, unless Duncan decides to suddenly retire to pull the uber Ricky Williams of the NBA move. Then that will just be the apocalypse of pro basketball.
I don’t think the LA Lakers are pretenders at all. They’re contenders; there’s no question about it, I think. But others will differ. I don’t think they can contend with a Spurs team or Dallas team in a 7-game series, hell, I don’t think they can beat Phoenix in a 7-game series (largely because the past two years the Suns have been the Lakers’ daddies in the playoffs). I can’t give you a spot on prediction about what’s going to be the fall of the Lakeshow in the playoffs, but I think it’s going to be perverse.
The Celtics definitely have not returned to their 1980s form, and you won’t be seeing that kind of basketball in a while (they were special). I do have a problem with Rivers overplaying the stars way too much during the first half of the year, which has rendered injuries to run amok on the team. The Celtics are 41-9. It’s great. But now’s the time to solidy and refine the team — let’s see who the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics really are. Let’s see them get down and dirty. I want to see these guys play at this same high level in April, May and — c’mon, let’s see it — June. I want to see them handle a 7-game series with the Detroit Pistons. I want to see them tango with the Spurs in the NBA Finals. It’s going to be a long road.
“So far” (that phrase is said all too much) I like Gasol in Los Angeles. (It has worked out, and Gasol looks to be the perfect complement to Kobe Bryant in the post.) While he may not be the ’97-03 version of Shaquille O’Neal, he’s a player that can score at will when he’s in a perfect position to do so. Nobody has seen Shaq or Kidd in their new jerseys — and the Kidd deal may not even fall through, oddly enough — but my thoughts on Shaq in Phoenix is well documented, and it’s documented that I dislike the deal as much as the next discontent Shaq talker, from what I wrote in previous posts about it. As for the Kidd-to-Dallas deal, it would put the Mavs over the top and put them in a situation to win now — and if they don’t, it’s off to NBA Oblivion because they’re as close as can be to knocking off their future by trading away Devin Harris to the Nets.