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Kunal talks the first half of the NBA Season

What’s crackin’ Grinnell? How’s your semester going? Pretty good so far? Yeah, I figured as much. The workload is still relatively light, the weather is improving, and Jeremy Lin is providing must-see entertainment every other night. I love watching Lin play – the energy, the court vision, the unbelievable ability to get to the rack against bigger players – his game is just so aesthetically pleasing. Obviously, there is room for improvement. He is turning the ball over at a pretty alarming rate and he’s an average (at best) defender, but the Knicks are winning basketball games and Lin has been the catalyst.

Believe it or not, though, there are 29 other teams and hundreds of other players in the NBA that have been playing basketball games during the last two weeks. Yes, the Knicks’ recent run has helped them rise up out of the Eastern Conference basement, which is never a desirable place to be, but there are a lot of teams on a roll right now, and they deserve media attention! If ESPN and other sports media outlets are not going to satisfy my desire to read about the state of the league in general, then I suppose I will just have to write one myself. Here are three salient points about the NBA as the season approaches the All-Star Break (Feb. 24-26th).

The hottest team in the NBA right now is, somehow, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have won nine in a row to date, not too shabby for a team whose best players are all 30 years of age or older. OK, that’s a lie, Tony Parker is technically 29 for three more months – maybe it is that youthful energy that is propelling the Frenchman to an under-the-radar MVP-type of season (19 points and 7.8 assists per game). Seriously, though, can we stop acting surprised when the Spurs kill it in the regular-season year after year? Why does there always seem to be a sense of impending doom surrounding a team that boasts Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Jefferson, and the oil that keeps it all functioning smoothly, Greg Popovich. Duncan and Ginobili have both been 30 since the summer of 2007 and the Spurs have won over 50 games every season since. Of course they drafted well again this offseason, adding Kawhi Leonard, a guy who was surrounded by questions coming out of San Diego State; Leonard is putting up 7 points, 5 boards and a steal a game coming off the bench. Time to face the facts:  when it comes to getting it done in the regular season, nobody is better than San Antonio. Obviously, the Spurs have a proud history of getting it done in the postseason as well, but I can’t say that I like this squad’s chances of hoisting the O’Brien Trophy in June. The Spurs lack fluidity on offense that is masked by Tony Parker’s brilliant play this season. However, Parker cannot be the only guy bringing some creativity to the table if the Spurs hope to avoid of last year’s first-round fiasco against Memphis. Although he had a less than stellar beginning to the season, Ginobili seems to have his legs underneath him again, and his play has really improved during the win streak. His play off the bench will determine how far the Spurs go this season.


After a dreadful 0-5 start to the season, the defending champion Dallas Mavericks reeled off 19 wins in their last 25 games. The Mavericks have basically turned into the new Spurs. They are a wily group of veterans that really hangs its hat on its ability to shut down opposing offenses. Denver Nuggets’ Head Coach George Karl stated the obvious after the Mavs shellacked the Nuggets 102-84 on Wednesday night. “Dallas has turned into an incredibly good defensive team,” Karl said, “I think we’re a pretty good offensive team and we couldn’t find many things.” Dallas is holding opponents to a mere 41.7% shooting from the field, tied with the Lakers for the league’s best mark and they allow only 91.3 points per game, tied with the Magic for fifth-best in the NBA. Everybody, including Bill Simmons, was ready to jump all over the Mavericks after they let Tyson Chandler walk in free agency and yet their team defense has actually improved this season. What is really scary about the Mavericks is that their offensive efficiency has really improved lately and they are starting to look like the team that dispatched the Lakers, Thunder, and the Heat last summer. Not only is Dirk finally rounding into shape after a pretty dreadful start to the seasons (although he is still shooting a weak 23.6% from beyond the arc), but also Shawn Marion and Vince Carter have played out of their minds so far this season. Marion, in particular, is having one of his best seasons averaging 12.2 points per game on 46% shooting while pulling down 6.4 boards. Combine stellar play from the starters with a luxury of scoring depth off the bench (Jason Terry and Lamar Odom) and a surprise amount of depth at the point guard position (Roddy Beaubois is doing Jose Barea better than Jose Barea) and you can see why I’m pretty high on the Mavericks’ chances of winning the West.

My last salient point about the NBA this season shall be an amalgamation of a few observations.

Remember how people thought that the Western Conference’s dominance over the Eastern Conference would kind of drop off after the Heat added the East’s second Big Three? Yeah, that never happened. Sure, Chicago and Miami are probably the best two teams in the league right now, but look past that. The three, four, and five seeds in the West right now are the Clippers, the Mavs, and the Lakers. Three, four, and five in the East? The Sixers, Hawks, and Magic; you tell me, which three teams are better? As if that disparity was not already enough, it gets worse as the teams get crappier. The six, seven, and eight seeds in the West are the Rockets, Nuggets, and the Blazers. Six, seven, and eight in the East? The Pacers, Celtics, and the Knicks? Hell, the Western Conference only has three really bad teams – the Suns, the Kings, and the Hornets. Seeds nine through fifteen in the East are all pretty much unwatchable.

Home cooking: A statistic that has really jumped out at me is that there are currently five teams in the NBA that have lost two or fewer games at home this season (Bulls, Heat, Thunder, Spurs, and Lakers).  The Clippers and the Rockets have only lost three home games. It makes sense that good teams are tough to beat on their home floor, but this kind of success is either indicative of great fan support or some bad road teams. Obviously the Bulls and the Heat get to play a lot of cupcakes, but the same cannot be said of the Thunder, Spurs, and Lakers. Hats off to those three teams and the fantastic environment they create at their respective arenas.

There are a lot of rumors going around about how the two best big men in the league right now, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, will not be in the same uniforms after the trade deadline. In fact, there is especially a lot of speculation that Howard will end up with the Lakers and Bynum will end up with the Magic! I’m going to call bologna. While it does make sense for the Magic to try and get something of value for Howard before he walks away in free-agency at the end of the season, the Magic are actually playing pretty damn good basketball lately and are the third best team in the East.  It is not out of the realm of possibility that they could find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals this postseason. The same situation applies to the Lakers. Bynum is not a free agent this season, but will be next season and he has been injury-plagued throughout his career. Why wait for Bynum to get injured again when you can possibly turn him into Dwight Howard now, when Andrew’s value is highest? Just like the Magic, though, the Lakers have been playing pretty well of late, no thanks to the KobeSystem Black-Hole Offense. The Lakers are winning because they are playing great defense and Bynum has been the best defender of all. Not only that, but he is scoring and grabbing boards at a better clip than at any point previously in his career. The Lakers know they will have to give up a king’s ransom (possibly Bynum and Pau Gasol) to get Dwight, and it just doesn’t seem to make sense when they are already getting pretty good production out of the guy they have. Who knows, though? Los Angeles is all about star power, and Gasol has not had the greatest year. Perhaps Dwight presents a chance for the Lakers to unload some fat contracts (Gasol is set to make about $19 million/yr for the next three years) and upstage their suddenly sexy Staples Center co-tenants.




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