Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sunday Slams: At the Half

While we’re not quite at the All-Star break, we have reached the official midway point of the NBA season. Let’s review the first half:



As I’ve written before, I missed on this one. Sure, Utah looked talented on paper coming into the season, but their roster is chronically injury-prone, and there was no reason to foresee Deron Williams having a breakout year.

But, alas, Carlos Boozer has had an All-Star caliber first half and has completely avoided injury while his teammate Williams has played more like John Stockton than Howard Eisley.

Jerry Sloan is doing his typical great job and may actually be in position to finally take home Coach of the Year honors.

However, Utah is still a very young team with a long way to go before the postseason. We’ll see if they can maintain their early season play for a full 82 games, but the team appears to be in good shape for a top seed in the Western Conference in April.


I’ve written that the Lakers would win 50 games this year, so a 26-15 record at the halfway point doesn’t come as a huge surprise.

What is surprising is how they’ve gotten to 26 wins. So far, it’s been a collective team effort, with Kobe Bryant often deferring to a better than advertised supporting cast. Bryant is having an MVP caliber first half and for the first time in his career is embracing a role as leader and playmaker.

It should also be noted that the Lakers have earned their record without Lamar Odom’s services for two months. Injuries to Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown have also left them shorthanded in the big man department for much of the season.

For the Lakers to truly be considered legitimate contenders in the West they’re going to have to play much better on the road, stop losing to inferior teams and pick up their defense considerably.

If all of those things come together, and Odom and Bryant stay healthy the rest of the way, this will be a team no one wants to play in the postseason.


The Washington Wizards sit atop the Eastern Conference at the halfway mark of the season.

They’re still a horrible team defensively, but quietly, they’ve developed one of the best offensive trios in the game with Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.

Arenas has carried the Wizards to this point, developing into a lethal late-game assassin who relishes having the ball in his hands at the end of a game. He deserves to be mentioned among the typical MVP candidates like Nash, Bryant and Nowitski. Frankly, he’s been the best player in the East, which is surprising considering Dwayne Wade and LeBron James play in the same time zone.

I would have a much easier time taking Washington seriously if they had more of a defensive identity. However, the East is anyone’s for the taking. With Arenas, Butler and Jamison delivering night in and night out, this could be the year they get past the first round of the playoffs.



How have the champs played so far? Pretty lackadaisically.

Is this surprising? This was a team that waited until the middle of a first round playoff series with the Bulls to kick things into gear last season.

To the shock of no one, Shaquille O’Neal has missed the majority of the season with a knee injury, and Pat Riley bailed on is coaching duties for an undetermined amount of time.

But fear not, South Beachers. There’s still plenty of time left. Shaq is coming back soon. The Heat seemed to briefly wake up on a recent West coast road trip, and Dwayne Wade is still doing his thing nightly.

They’ll make the playoffs, they’ll win at least one series, and everyone will continue to point to this group as evidence that you CAN flip a switch during the NBA season.


They both started surprisingly slowly, but to say the Mavericks and Suns have been rolling since then would be the understatement of the century.

Dallas is 34-4 since losing their first four games. Phoenix is 31-3 since their 1-5 start.

Dallas seems to be playing like a team on a mission to make amends for failing to capture a championship last season. You can tell it still eats at them. Meanwhile, Phoenix is perfecting a system that no one in the league can stop, and with Amare Stoudemire playing like it’s 2004, the Suns may be the favorites right now.

I will be very surprised if the Suns and Mavs don’t meet in a Western Conference Finals re-match. In the first half, no other teams have played close to the level of Phoenix and Dallas, and since it appears they’re going to be linked all season anyway, it seems only fitting that it will come down to the two best at the end. I dare you to figure out who wins that series.


I’m not going to waste a lot of time on this division, but let’s just say it has been nothing short of pathetic so far.

Just as New Jersey seems to have figured out they play in the Atlantic and should be running away with things, they now face a second half that includes playing without Richard Jefferson for a while, not having Nenad Krstic for the rest of the year, and having to deal with Jason Kidd’s nasty divorce. Plus, as the trade deadline approaches, I’m sure we’ll get to hear our fair share of Vince Carter rumors.

Meanwhile, everyone else has been awful. The Knicks are still a mess. The Celtics have been understandably terrible since Paul Pierce went down. The Sixers dealt Allen Iverson away and are completely rebuilding. The Raptors are the Raptors.

Someone is headed to the playoffs. I think we can all hope together that it ends up being the Knicks. There’s so much fun to be had if that becomes reality.


Before I get into my second half predictions, let’s revisit my playoff predictions from October.

Eastern Conference Top 8

1. Miami
2. Cleveland
3. Chicago
4. New Jersey
5. Detroit
6. Washington
7. Indiana
8. Orlando

Western Conference Top 8

1. Dallas
2. Phoenix
3. San Antonio
4. Denver
5. Los Angeles Lakers
6. Sacramento
7. Houston
8. Los Angeles Clippers

Well, all things considered, I don’t think I’m doing too badly. Here’s the actual playoff picture:

Eastern Conference Top 8

1. Washington
2. Cleveland
3. Detroit
4. New Jersey
5. Chicago
6. Orlando
7. Indiana
8. Toronto

Western Conference Top 8

1. Dallas
2. Phoenix
3. San Antonio
4. Utah
5. Los Angeles Lakers
6. Houston
7. Denver
8. Minnesota

Obviously, I missed badly on Utah and Miami, but so far, these predictions are way better than I expected them to be. I would truly be flabbergasted if Miami didn’t overtake Toronto for the final playoff spot before the year is over.

As stated above, I think the West is going to come down to Phoenix and Dallas. I’m going to stand by my opinion that the East will come down to Chicago, Detroit and Miami.

I picked Phoenix and Miami for the Finals in the preseason, so I’m stubbornly going to stick with it. It still feels right to me even though Miami has been horrible. If they don’t pull it together, I think the Bulls could be the front runners.

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