NBA Eastern Conference Contenders: First Half Review

Updated: January 28, 2013

Greetings and welcome to my debut article for Pings Hoops.  As you get to know me through this medium you will come to expect a lot of lists, countdowns, predictions, and an overall unbiased sports perspective. To be transparent, I have to admit that I am a die-hard Nets fan and have been for a the better part of two decades and will be until the day I die.

Initially I was going to write an NBA Second Half Preview but I figured before I make my soon to be infamous bold predictions I thought I would give you my two cents on the past three months of professional hoops in the Eastern Conference.

NBA First Half Storylines

1. The first time in over a decade the Knicks are relevant

Not only can you New York Knicks fans brag but you can watch your team proudly again. As November started and the Knickerbockers were rallying off win and after win it was hard to put a finger on the real point of convergence of this revival.

Was it the mixture of veterans like Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, Rasheed “Ball Don’t Lie” Wallace, slapping these young, undisciplined shot-chuckers into shape? To some degree yes, these veterans, especially J-Kidd, have had an astounding effect on this young team, teaching them to make the extra pass, get back on defense and overall idea of just having fun again.

But for me the two clear cut differences from this years team to last years.

1. Mike Woodson, who aside from P.J. Carlesmo’s quick fix for the Brooklyn Nets and Mark Jackson’s rise in Golden State, has done the best coaching  job while preaching defense on a team that was filled with offensive talent.  For a guy who was holding a clipboard for his polar opposite, Mike D’Antoni, this time last year he has gone above and beyond. Woodson is truly deserving of Coach of the Year consideration.

2.  The maturity of Carmelo Anthony. You can chalk this change up to one of several things.  First, Anthony has the perfect coach, veteran leaders and great chemistry with the “#Knickstape” crew, and just right place right time.  Second, seeing a career rival and contemporary LeBron James win his first title may have lit a fire under Anthony.  Third, Anthony’s dominance on the Olympic Stage this year, where he was clearly the best player on the team performance wise, carried over to this NBA season.

Whatever the reason may be, the Knicks are back and are legit contenders with a great perimeter defense from Ronnie Brewer and returning Iman Schumpert (love the hair). Great interior defense from the best of his craft, Tyson “have you seen my jumper, cause we haven’t” Chandler while JR Smith and Anthony are having their best seasons to date. It will be interesting to see how this team plays out the season and if they can continue to shoot this well from deep and stay healthy.

2. Where Brooklyn At?

This season started like gangbusters, with two wins against the cross borough rival Knicks and the northern evil the Boston Celtics. Then Brook Lopez, by far our most important player, goes down. Then the 3-13 debacle ensues, which many started to point fingers at stars Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, who by all accounts were having slightly sub-par years.  When you have 7″0 center averaging 18 points you don’t need Wiliams to score the 21 points per game he averaged with the New Jersey version of the Nets.  The best players were a out for the season and Lopez in particular. The rest of the roster had limited talent with a slightly blooming Kris Humphries and an intriguing player in MarShon Brooks but that wasn’t going to get it done.

Then Avery Johnson got fired, who I never truly endorsed and not because he sounds like Katt Williams on Helium, but he worked wonders in Dallas and got fired there too. He was a defensive coach when this team needed Williams to penetrate and dish to Lopez who has completely taken the next step and has become one of the best center in the league. Write it down. He can dribble all of a sudden, has a gaggle of post moves, has improved his defensive immensely and his team is just not the same without him. If the term “soft” is attached to his name again, it better the type of served ice cream he’s eating. I wont even get into the blasphemous All Star snub, how Kevin Garnett gets in averaging 4 points less than Lopez, astonishes me.

The Nets seem to be back on the right track but need Lopez to stay healthy, Williams to continue to progress and Joe Johnson to keep improving. This team is deep, they have defensive stoppers, a great bench, and the ultimate role-player/star in Gerald Wallace, whose done everything asked of him and more. Wallace plays Superb defense, has great leadership, rebounds and scores in more ways than anyone on the team. He is completely unselfish, not too many former all-stars would settle for 4th billing and focus on defense and leadership like he has.  I’ll get to Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans later because they get me too hyped and in three months I might consider them first cousins.

3. Chicago stays on course without its Rose

We always knew Tom Thibodeau could teach defense, but that only goes so far in today’s NBA.  If you were to tell me last summer that the Chicago Bulls would be tied for third in the Eastern conference, without hometown hero and superstar Derrick Rose, I would never speak sports with you again.  Its mum to think that this team would be so good with out its “MVP” from 2011, which seems insufficient now that his team has rallied around the loss of the face of the franchise and continued winning. God Bless them.

They are playing there tails off and Carlos Boozer has awoken from his every two-year sabbatical to play some efficient ball again. Joakim Noah is playing his best ball of his career, selected to his first All-Star game, and Luol Deng is playing great. I don’t see this team making it past the second round, unless D-Rose makes one of the all time great comebacks pre-playoffs and dominates like he has in the past.  This will be a long shot but the Bulls are opening eyes with their consistent and tenacious play.

4. Miami Heat continue solid play

The Heat are one of the few teams that can play average ball most of the season, and still be atop their conference. Despite having the worst production of his career, since his rookie campaign, Dwayne Wade is posting career highs from the field and beyond the arc. Similar things can be said for Chris Bosh , as his numbers are slightly down, but he’s shooting .542% from the field (career .492). Often the burden of the Heats faults or downfalls, Bosh in my opinion is the tipping point and what makes them what they are, as he is as consistent as they come.

Now onto LeBron James, love or hate him, he’s simply the best this league has. Durant is a more natural scorer, but just doesn’t have the court vision, physical ability or defensive prowess that “King James” does.

This team looks poised for another title run, unless the Nets or Knicks truly meet their potential, and even then it will be a tough task to dethrone the King and his knights.

5. Indiana Pacers are making noise 

Frank Vogel is someone I should have mentioned earlier as a Coach of the Year candidate as well. Vogel has done a great job with a team that lost its best player in Danny Granger before the season even started. Then his lone remaining All Star Roy Hibbert decided to mail in this season after he got his big contract so he can continue his cameos on NBC’s Indiana based comedy Parks and Recreation.

For most teams, this would end a season and you’d start looking at Coach Calipari’s crop of lottery talent this season. But no, it has been a blessing in disguise, as Paul George has taken the next step to super stardom and he will be a superstar. Whether it will be next year or the year after, George will be a star in this league for a long time.

One of the most underrated players in the league is David West who continues to go unnoticed and does everything well but nothing spectacular. West is a perfect third player on a contender ala Bosh or Gerald Green, who has continued his revival and is hands down the best dunker in the league, while Lance Stephenson has shown flashes of the player everyone expected him to be out of high school.

If  Hibbert comes back from whatever satellite he’s fixing for NASA and Granger comes back to play second fiddle to George’s blooming stardom then this team is deep enough to surprise a few teams come April. And I think there is a player on their team whose name rhymes with TJ Shaugustine..or something like that?…I don’t know I forget his name too.

Mixed Feelings

…I really like what Larry Sanders brings to the Milwaukee Bucks as he is a young slasher who is a defensive monster at the young age of 24.
…I feel like I have seen Kyle Lowry hit about 15,000 3-pointers this year so watch for a contender like Boston or Utah to make a move for him around the deadline.
Al Horford and Josh Smith are both All-Star caliber talents but its abundantly obvious they are not enough to get a team over the top.  I would move Smith because you can get more for him right now.
…How about J.J. Reddickk and his 17 points per game? You have to love the work ethic and the player he has become in the NBA.  Most experts would have bet the farm on him flaking out three seasons before Adam Morrison did and not the other way around.
Evan Turner is a very solid player but not a star and his entire game remains to be seen.

My Eastern Conference All Star Team

PG – Kyrie Irving – Cleveland Cavaliers
SG – Dwayne Wade –
Miami Heat
SF – Carmelo Anthony –
New York Knicks
PF – LeBron James –
Miami Heat
C – Brook Lopez –
Brooklyn Nets

G – Jrue Holiday – Philadelphia 76ers
G – JR Smith –
New York Knicks
G/F- Paul George –
Indiana Pacers
F – Paul Pierce –
Boston Celtics
F – Luol Deng –
Chicago Bulls
C – Tyson Chandler-
New York Knicks
C – Anderson Varejao –
Cleveland Cavaliers

Maybe Next Year Crew

Dion Waiters– Cleveland Cavaliers
Kemba Walker – Charlotte Bobcats
Jeff Green – Boston Celtics
Demar Derozan – Toronto Raptors
Greg Monroe – Detriot Pistons
Larry Sanders – Milwaukee Bucks

Who I want to see in the Dunk Contest

Gerald Green -Pacers
Jan Vesley – Wizards (hopefully his girlfriend will get some screen time as well)
Alonzo Gee – Cavaliers
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – Bobcats

That is my Eastern Conference review so let me know what you all think and check back before the All Star break for my take on the Western Conference first half.

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