What an Odd State of Affairs

Leaving out all natural biases for anyone involved and my own proclivities towards the purple and gold, did you ever think you’d see a season quite like this? Seriously, Knicks fans, I know you thought the Knicks were going to be a little more solid this year, but in your wildest dreams did you ever think they would be riding second place? Tell that to the Clippers, a franchise with such a dismal past that its current second-place standing in the Western Conference would suggest somebody keeps on punching numbers into the wins column by mistake. And did you ever think an NBA playoff discussion would largely ignore the Lakers AND the Celtics in the same year, except to say that the odds don’t look yellow or green in Vegas? Well, neither did I, but there you go. Folks, the world didn’t end in 2012…but the Mayans never said it wouldn’t get just a little bit weirder than it already was.

Oh how the West has been won, with some old faces and one quite startling new one. Last year saw the addition of Chris Paul to the Clippers, a franchise which used to bring almost as many laughs to our ears as Charlotte. That campaign resulted in a second round exit after finishing second in the division and fourth overall in the West. This year, the Clippers follow OKC closely…very closely. The two are tied for the top spot. Earlier this month the Clippers held first place for a few games after going 17-0 in December, a feat few teams have ever accomplished before. Denver sits in sixth, and as I noted earlier this year, their season has been very interesting to watch: they acquired All-Star Andre Iguodala in the offseason to compliment a deep, young roster. Well, that deep, young roster upset OKC in Denver Sunday night in a close overtime win, with Durant and Westbrook both missing three-point attempts that would have tied the game at the buzzer.

Oh how the West was lost in rather cataclysmic fashion, with the Lakers sitting at (can you believe it!?) 17-23, two-and-a-half games out of playoff contention with a tough schedule ahead and 10 of the next 13 games on the road. Kobe tweeted on Sunday that he takes full responsibility for the loss in Toronto, using “#brickcity” to describe his poor shooting performance (10/32), despite catching fire in the fourth quarter. Dwight Howard was ejected before the end of the first half after drawing two technical fouls. As usual, the Lakers came from behind to make the score close, only losing 108-103. I have said this to many people over recent weeks: the Lakers are not a bad team; they just lose most of their games. Can they really be that bad if they lose to almost every team, regardless of standings, by less than ten points? Clearly they can, and have, run with the best in the league, they just can’t beat them.

The Beast of the East? In this cold, cold winter the East is led by a hot, hot team, in ability and name: the defending NBA Champions, the Miami Heat. This one is no surprise. LeBron has picked up where he left off from last season, averaging MVP numbers as usual. The Heat are a little bit different this year, perhaps a little…colder? Pardon the pun, it’s just that the defending champs don’t exactly look like themselves. After all they have lost to Charlotte and Washington, and have lost to the Knicks twice by about 20 points each time (in one game the Knicks were even without Carmelo Anthony, who is among the league leaders in scoring). The Heat still dominate the league, but they go through stretches where their defense breaks down, where LeBron himself seems to embody the entire Big-3 and where they just can’t score. This happens to everyone sooner or later; and my only major concern for them is that they need to tighten up their defense.  That smothering, impenetrable Fort Knox of a defense was what won them their championship last year. Not many teams have a problem scoring; it’s the ones that can contain the Durants and Westbrooks of the league that are going to be right there in June.

Speaking of right there in June, how ‘bout them Knicks? They stand only a game behind Miami, not bad. Melo’s been playing great, Iman Shumpert has returned from his ACL injury and the Knicks seem to be firing pretty much on all cylinders. My big surprise for the East? The Chicago Bulls. It seems to be about right to hear about the Bulls doing well, but something feels funny here. Oh, yes, that’s right; they’re just 3.5 games behind Miami without the services of Derek Rose, who will return soon from an ACL injury sustained in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. I wasn’t quite sure how that was possible, so I took a gander at the second half of a Bulls-Celtics game the other day and saw outstanding play from Kirk Hinrich, Rose’s 2013 replacement (for now). Marco Belinelli hit the game winning shot in overtime to lift the Bulls past the Celtics, a turning, falling shot in the closing seconds. They looked to have a good flow and shot extremely well. Perhaps we’re returning to an era dominated by talk of the Bulls? Hopefully…it feels right.