The NBA and sports world lost a legend in Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Buss, 34-year owner of the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday. 33 (full) seasons, 16 Finals appearances, 10 NBA titles, and the Lakers only failed to qualify for the postseason twice over the span. The resume, much like his life, establishes him as arguably the greatest owner in sports franchise history. It will be interesting to see how they Lakers respond over the course of the second “half” of the season.
With most teams having somewhere between 28-32 games remaining on the schedule, both the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have each established themselves as the top-seeded team of their respective conferences. Boston is 8-1 since losing Rajon Rondo for the year (ACL), but with trade rumors swirling around Kevin Garnett’s head, it will be interesting to see how they close fare over the last stretch. Out West, the Rockets/Blazers/Lakers are each battling for the 8th seed.
MVP Race: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Tony Parker, Chris Paul
Rookie Watch: Damian Lillard (Blazers), Anthony Davis (Hornets), Bradley Beal (Wizards)
#1 San Antonio Spurs 42-12: Tim Duncan, like several others, has been in and out of the lineup in recent weeks. The one relative constant, beyond their consistent success, has been the stellar play of Tony Parker. Although Duncan is having a “turn-back-the-clock” season, Parker continues to play at a level worthy of being in the MVP discussion.
#2 Miami Heat 36-14: Just when the Heat look somewhat vulnerable, the defending champs rattle off 8 of 9 by an average of double-digits. LeBron James ended the first half on a historic pace. James has never looked better, and his Heat look every bit as formidable as they did last season.
#3 Oklahoma City Thunder 39-14: The Thunder went into All Star weekend in a bit of a tailspin, as they were man-handled in a Finals rematch with the Heat just before the break. Up Next? They get to pay a visit to a familiar foe in James Harden and the Houston Rockets. They’re 2 1/2 games behind the Spurs, but 1 1/2 games ahead of the Clippers. Expect the three of those teams to compete for the top spot.
#4 Los Angeles Clippers 39-17: The Clippers are one of the few teams that was clicking on all cylinders heading into the break. We’re going to place the “Battle of LA” talks aside for the rest of this season, as they’ve proven to simply be the better team, currently. Lob City, and its fans, have goals well beyond the Pacific Division, as they remain one of the league’s contenders.
#5 Denver Nuggets 33-21: After a 15-2 stretch, the Nuggets sputtered into the break by dropping their last three games. With the league’s second best home record (22-3), the Nuggets look to start the second half with a bang as they host the surging Celtics. At 11-18 on the road, the Nuggets had better continue protecting their home court if they want to have a shot at catching the Grizzlies in the standings so they can host a playoff series.
#6 Memphis Grizzlies 33-18: The Grizzlies are 4-3 since trading Rudy Gay, so the jury is still out in terms of how that deal will impact the team’s immediate future. The move may have made sense financially, but there are many that consider it something that likely removed them as the team most likely to surprise a couple teams once the playoffs started.
#7 New York Knicks 32-18: Count the Knicks as one of the squads that sputtered their way out of the first half. Relatively healthy for the first time all year, the Knicks remain within striking distance of Miami (4 games), but are only a couple games ahead of several teams that seem poised to make a second half push.
#8 Indiana Pacers 32-21: Paul George’s continued emergence will be key, but how they organization deals with a returning Danny Granger may ultimately determine their success. With the trade deadline coming this Thursday (3pm EST), it will be interesting to see if they are buyers or sellers, as (President of Basketball Operations) Donnie Walsh recently told Sheridan Hoops Radio he expected an above average trade deadline in terms of deals.
#9 Brooklyn Nets 31-22: After an up and down first half, the Nets find themselves sitting in a top-4 seed and projected to actually host a playoff series if they are able to hold off teams like the Hawks and Bulls. Deron Williams has been nursing an ankle sprain, but should be available to return to action tonight against the Bucks.
#10 Golden State 30-22: Once Andrew Bogut returned to action, most analysts wondered if the boost in the middle might propel the Warriors into the role of potential spoiler once the postseason rolled around. Golden State ended up dropping their last five games of the first half, and (let’s just say) I no longer hear that type of speculation.