We’re fast approaching the quarter mark of the season with Christmas around the corner. 20-25 games is just about the amount of time to shake off any early season jitters, integrate new players and coaches into the system, and enough of a sample size to really start judging teams and players as they stand. The “I know it’s early in the season, but” excuses are meaningless now. Let’s not waste any time like our man Rasheed Wallace and get right to it …. Ball Don’t Lie!!!!
NY State of Mind: The Knicks’ hot start
An MVP caliber player who continuously falls short in the playoffs with his “greatness” always in question, two crafty/savvy vets at PG, a lock defender who can’t shoot on the wing, spark plugs and three’s off the bench, and last but not least – Tyson Chandler.
That description can double up as a 2012 Knicks roster summary, or the 2011 champion Dallas Mavericks. Both teams had Jason Kidd and Chandler, Felton is an upgrade from Barea, Ronnie Brewer does his best Shaun Marion imitation, JR Smith and Steve Novak are the sparks off the bench like Jason Terry and Peja, and Carmelo Anthony is the MVP in question who will need to take his game into the clutch. EXECUTION IN THE 4TH QUARTER IS EVERYTHING like how Dirk destroyed LA/OKC/MIA a short two years ago.
The Mavs started 16-4 in their first 20 (NY 14-4 now), beat an upstart team in Portland the first round (probably Mil/BK this year), the Lakers, a former champ in the second round (Boston), and the favorites in conference finals against OKC (Miami). Everything lines up! Completely followed the blueprint of that 2011 Mavs team whether it was intended or not. Of course, all of this still actually has to play out, Felton has to keep setting the pace (been stellar so far), the ball movement has been incredible, the defense has to be consistent, and Carmelo will have to prove to everyone in the world that he’s still second best from that draft class. I’ll admit I wasn’t a believer at the tipoff of this year, but after this start and especially after Thursday night in Miami, it’s hard not to enjoy the type of ball they’re playing. If this team is playing this well without Iman Shumpert, whom I am very high on, it’s scary to think how much better they’ll be. ‘Nuff said.
Man Up!: The tough n’ rugged Grizzlies don’t give a S#!t about “small ball”
Memphis’ three losses:
1. Opening night against the Clipps when nobody knew Jamal Crawford still had juice in his legs
2. A stinker against the Nuggets at home
3. OT loss at San Antonio after leading by double digits in the 4th
Not bad through their first sixteen games, all the while beating the Knicks/Lakers at home and OKC on the road, each of which were a bigger win than the score would indicate. Let’s not forget about their convincing win over MIA, exposing every flaw in Miami’s journey to a repeat. While the whole league is trying to figure out how to put Lebron, Melo, Durant at the four spot, Memphis is still stuck in the 90’s rolling out four big men, Z-Bo, Gasol, Darrell Arthur, Marreese Speights and garbage time for the 7’2 Hamed Haddadi. It’s been the same story for the Grizz, “IF” they are healthy, they will contend for a title. And I really hope the basketball gods give them a chance, because I guarantee there isn’t one team in the league that would be sitting there in late April wanting to play Memphis. Randolph has been outstanding and I find myself rooting for him more after this interesting read from Grantland.com. But my X-Factor for the Grizz is Mike Conley, he has maestro’d the offense perfectly so far, content with his ten-twelve shots a game and facilitating for everyone else. It’s obviously easier when your bigs are beasts down low, but he’s mastered the entry pass, even when the bigs are being fronted. Something of a lost art in the league. I can’t wait to see them tear it up in the playoffs IF … they are healthy. The biggest compliment thus far, Coach Popovich sent his players home against the Heat, to prep for the Grizz.
Days of our Lives: The LA soap opera continues in Lakerland
Excuse me while I take a couple shots at the Goliath organization and their fans, whom along with the Maple Leafs, Red Sox, and Cowboys faithful, are so blinded by their fandom that when given any type of critique or criticism they throw a fit like these kids. With Steve Nash out of the line-up it is difficult to analyze this team’s situation completely. Kobe’s been playing great, trying to play more like Pippen than Jordan at this point, and he’ll consistently be there. However, with a squad like this on paper, Metta World Peace should not be your next best performer 20 games into the season. Steve Blake is still out at least another month. Jamison is playing like his age. Jodie Meeks … well he’s roaming around Nick Young area in terms of shot selection. I would pin Dwight at about 70% physically, and we don’t need to touch on his FT shooting since we have to watch him shoot them fifteen times per game.
Kobe always defends his “brother” Pau Gasol, but until Mike D’Antoni decides to bail on Dwight entirely on offense, and have Pau and Kobe be their “primary” options, the heat Gasol is taking won’t stop. I mentioned in our pre-season piece that Pau would best be suited with Nash +subs, and Dwight with Kobe +subs in the middle of the second/third quarters. It’s all about the spacing with them, it’s too clogged up in the paint, and more times than not, they overload one side of the court.
Sidenote: Which side doesn’t agree with Bargnani/Calderon for Pau Gasol?
Bargnani fills in as the Rashard Lewis/Ryan Anderson role which obviously works with Dwight and solve their backup/insurance for Nash with Calderon. Meanwhile, Toronto has its center for at least two solid years, grooming Valenciunas under his wing. Win-win for everyone, no?
Waaaarriors! – GSW makes their case for the playoffs
I’ve watched more Warriors games this year already than the last two combined. Steph Curry is a wizard with the ball. Center Festus Ezeli is a bulkier Kenneth Farried with his size, athleticism, and effort. Klay Thompson doesn’t have the best percentages, but all you can ask in a pure shooter is to never lose confidence. OH and I’ve always had a soft spot for Harrison Barnes (Tar Heels!), who already had the dunk of the year. (view below)
That brings us to David Lee, who without Andrew Bogut has been playing lights out, shooting 50% from the field, 77% from the line, almost 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal and 17 points a game. To put that into perspective, Blake Griffin is putting up 51% FG, 62% FT, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 17 points a game – and most from an untrained eye would place Blake Griffin way above David Lee.
I’m sure most down by the bay are hoping for a Cinderella year like 2007 that gave the Oracle Arena moments like this (View below and check out homie at the 30 sec mark, priceless).
The 12th Man:
1. Love the new Thunder jerseys.
2. Excited Ricky Rubio is coming back.
3. The human Pogo stick, Larry Sanders is ballin’. He prefers coming off the bench – which shows that the player has accepted his supporting role on the team (take note Amare).
4. The Bulls had to decide between keeping Taj Gibson or Omer Asik … not looking good so far.
5. It’s upsetting to watch the Raptors in the last five minutes of any game.
6. Jamal Crawford.
7. The Bobcats. Good for them, but watching them roll out Gordon/Sessions/Walker has to be one of the weirdest lineups in the L.
8. Andrew Bynum. Remember when he seemed so innocent?
9. The BK court looks so good in HD.
10. Who knew the Pacers would be so lost without Danny Granger?
11. I hope the NBA doesn’t cheat out Lebron the way they did Mike and give the MVP to this year’s Malone or Barkley “just because”. He does e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g! And so effortlessly.
12. Derrick Rose. Derrick Rose. Derrick Rose. I really miss Derrick Rose.