Mid-Season Assessment: NBA Season Still Worth Watching?

I can’t remember an NBA season with so many high profile players landing on the injured list. The most devastating ones to me are the season ending injuries to Boston’s Rondo and Sullinger. As the Celtics are my favorite team to watch (all be it while playing in a very unwatchable way), those injuries were very demoralizing. It means that whatever good the Celtics do in the playoffs will be by virtue of overachieving. When Sullinger went down it was particularly disappointing as his development – now put on hold – was a bright spot for the Celtics, even while the team was playing some horrible basketball.

Boston’s story going forward will be about how much grit they can show without their best player. They have enough pride to beat any team on any given night, as they have already shown by beating Miami, the Clippers and New York convincingly. Nobody expects them to go very deep into the playoffs and that might spur them on. How they play as a team and individually will determine their future with the Celtics. The pieces that don’t perform are likely to be headed out. And depending on how this season goes, Garnett might even decide to call it a day.

Meanwhile, the Lakers, who had similar preseason title hopes, have all but lost their chance to even reach the playoffs. Even though that have the wrong coach for their personnel and while taking in account the time it requires to find chemistry with a new team, or even the skimpy bench, none of these are the real reason the Lakers find themselves under .500. Injuries to Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol have prevented them from getting anywhere close to the team they could be on paper.

Nevertheless, they still are a fascinating story line to watch. Kobe’s play has been stellar. Having lead the league in scoring for a while, he’s now looking to compliment in different ways by play making, rebounding and defending more than usual. But I’m glad I’m not a Laker fan because the outlook is pretty grim. You have two centers who can’t thrive together in Gasol and Howard, Kobe’s only got another year left after this, Gasol is only getting older and has a hard-to-move contract, Howard is likely gone after the summer. Why? He wants to build his own legacy, outside of the shadow of those who have walked before him (Shaq, Kareem and Wilt). So far, nothing has told me he really likes to be in LA. He reportedly wouldn’t even listen to Steve Nash’s advice on improving his free throw shooting.

Another team who’s season is turning into a train wreck is the Dallas Mavericks. You have a Hall of Fame quality player in Nowitzki, but are unable to surround him with the same level of talent that lead to a championship only 2 years ago. They are not even close to making the playoffs and even if they make a heroic run in the 2nd half of the season, they have to battle the likes of Portland, Houston, Utah and the Lakers for a lowly 8th seed. They don’t have much look forward to in the summer as the most interesting players on the market are likely to sign with their current teams or somewhere else.

Minnesota. You have to like this team on paper. The ultra-productive Kevin Love teamed with the fancy playmaking abilities of Rubio, flanked by the all-around and rejuvenated play of Kirilenko, supported by a rising star big (Pekovic) and complimented with feisty players like Barea. But finding any continuity with so many injuries on your roster is close to impossible and since the West is outrageously competitive, there’s no glimmer of hope in making the playoffs even though this should be a playoff team.

There are also some feel good stories that may unfold in the aftermath of injuries. Derrick Rose is set to return and his team is playing at a very high level. They have probably got the best coached team in the league, with Thibs getting increased production out of Noah and Boozer following up a disappointing campaign in the lockout season. Even Nate Robinson is thriving within the Bull’s team concepts. With Rose back, they are viable threats out in the East. Against Miami, they have a clear advantage down low and their defensive schemes will give Miami a run for their money.

John Wall is at a pivotal point in his career and since his return he hasn’t put up spectacular numbers, but it can’t be a coincidence that the Wizards are now playing respectable basketball. That’s encouraging because his talent level is high, you can’t help but want to see him succeed.

The Knicks are a fascinating team loaded with 3 point shooters and veteran savvy, while Carmelo is putting in a MVP-like season. This roster is pretty unique and they had a phenomenal start to the season. If they regain that form in the post season and shoot the lights out they can knock out any team, including the Heat.

Lebron is playing historic basketball. After winning a title his confidence is sky high and he’s excelling in every facet of the game. The only pedestrian aspect of his game is his free throw shooting. The Heat are also rounding into prime form as a unit as the playoffs approach. Nevertheless, the stakes are high for this Miami team. For Lebron to really get into the ‘best ever’ equation he needs to collect titles. If he misses the title this year, it would be disastrous. Wade and company will be one year older and Durant is knocking at the door to get a ring.

It will be fascinating to watch what happens if the Heat don’t win a title this year. It could be disastrous in the long run. When Jordan won his first, he went on two win 2 more, with another three-peat following his 1st retirement. If Lebron is unable to win titles back to back, it will hurt any argument that can be made for him in the Jordan vs Lebron debate.

All in all, despite the amount of injuries the season still has all the makings of a terrific playoffs. Let’s hope it lives up to expectations.

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