Now that the farce that the NBA calls the All Star Game is over( 88 points in a half, seriously?), basketball teams can look forward to the games finally counting as they push for division championships and playoff positions.
We’ll go ahead and get this one out of the way: there will be no mention of that phrase which has gone from quaint to cliché so fast, it made Tim Tebow’s head spin.
The New York Knicks were the talk of the NBA heading into the All Star break thanks to their resurgence at the hands of Jeremy Lin. Having lost two three point games in a row to the Bulls and Celtics, the Knicks turned to Lin and the rest was history. Seven straight wins later, and the Knicks were back in the playoff hunt.
New York Still has its flaws though. Lin can’t stop giving the ball to the other team with eight games with at least six turnovers. He was also held to eight points on one for 11 shooting against the athletic Heat. Five of the Knicks wins in the last 12 came against teams in the bottom quarter of the league, and played the Nets twice. Now the Knicks have an 11 game stretch starting on Sunday that features five roads games against teams with 20+ wins. If the Knicks really are a new team under Lin, the three weeks will prove it.
There are three teams sharing the title of top team in the league. Miami, Chicago and Oklahoma City all sit even with each other at the summit which shouldn’t surprise anyone. The next few teams in the standings might though. San Antonio, which is frequently written off as old have quietly made their way to the top spot in the division, and second in the west. Philadelphia and Indiana have also come out of nowhere to be in the top eight in the league, with the 76ers leading Atlantic division in the East. And Orlando, amid all the talk of Howard shopping his services elsewhere, is second only to Miami in the Southeast division.
With the exception of San Antonio, who is uncharacteristically offensive this season, each of those teams is a top ten defensive team. Philadelphia leads the NBA in defense, holding teams to 87 points per game.
Meanwhile, traditional powerhouses like Los Angeles(Lakers), Dallas, and Boston have been unable to find the same fountain of youth that San Antonio has. Through 35 games last year, Dallas was 24-9, five games over its record this season. The Lakers were three games better last season through 24 games. Boston has suffered the biggest drop off, going from 28-7, to being a game under .500 this season. If the season ended today, the Celtics would be the eighth seed in the East, going to Miami for their first round matchup.
More intriguing matchups exist in the west though. Houston would play host to Dallas in the 4-5 matchup right now. The Lakers would have to make the long trek to the Staples Center against the Clippers, where little brother would try to unseat big brother for supremacy in Las Angeles. And San Antonio would get the revenge series against Memphis, who bounced San Antonio from the playoffs in the first round last season.
Only two months remain of the regular season, with the playoffs looming in May. Teams such as Philadelphia, Indiana, Houston, and Las Angeles(Clippers) are taking advantage of the shortened season, and are letting their youth carry them to the top of the standings. And having finally had a break, the older teams now have a chance to turn the seasons around and make the necessary moves that veteran teams make. This NBA season is shorter than usual, but should make up for that with an exciting, and unpredictable finish.