NBA at the halfway mark

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By: Adam Hutchinson
Head Men’s Basketball Coach

Over the last several months I have caught bits and pieces of several NBA games.  Once the regular season ends, I literally clear my calendar, and watch the ENTIRE NBA playoffs, but during the regular season I rarely see an entire game.  Many people that watch professional basketball probably agree that you only need to see small parts of regular season games in order to develop a reasonably informed opinion about the postseason.

At this point in time it seems pretty clear that there are five teams that have a legitimate shot at representing their respective conference in the NBA Finals: San Antonio and the LA Lakers in the West, and Miami, Orlando and Boston in the East.  After watching the final eight minutes of last weekend’s Celtic-Laker game (more on that later), it occurred to me that these contenders could be grouped in a way other than conference they play in.  There are two teams that embrace the “star driven” system in the Lakers and the Miami Heat, and three teams that are more “team” oriented in Miami, Orlando and Boston.

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant of the LA Lakers and LeBron James and Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat are three of the biggest stars in the game today.  Don’t ask me why that is, or even what it means, because this statement is not measurable, provable, or may not even be definable, but it is nonetheless almost universally accepted.  While watching the Lakers on Sunday, I was not surprised to see the team revolve around Bryant.  He has long dominated the ball in LA, and shows no signs of relinquishing his grip.

In Miami, James and Wade seem to take a co-star approach.  They seem to get along well, but watching them play, there is little evidence of cohesion between the two.  They don’t feed off of each other defensively as much as I thought they would, they rarely pass to each other unless it is for a layup, and they NEVER cut off of one another.  In fact, they rarely occupy the same side of the floor.  Instead they seem to take turns asserting themselves while the other defers until it is his time.

In contrast, the Spurs, Magic and Celtics all demonstrate a much more team oriented style of play.  Which is not to say they lack stars, because they don’t.  Tim Duncan of the Spurs, and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen are all future Hall of Famers (and the Celtics have All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, and the fossilized remains of the Artist Formerly Known as Shaq).  The Orlando Magic have Dwight Howard, a player that many GM’s might pick first if they were starting a team today.  So all three teams have star power in plenty, but they differ from the Lakers and Heat in style of play.

The Boston Three Party

The Celtic-Laker game from Sunday offers a perfect example (or at least the eight minutes that I saw did).  Boston was up two when I turned the game on and Bryant had 37 points for the Lakers.  He finished with 41 points, missed several contested shots and committed costly turnovers down the stretch, and the Lakers deficit ballooned to 12 at one point.  It was disconcerting to watch Bryant repeatedly break plays out of timeouts, demand the ball only to settle for a difficult shot, while on the court with Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and Ron Artest (all players that have been All-Stars at some point, and all far closer to their athletic prime than Bryant).  Meanwhile the Celtics moved the ball, having several possessions in which every player touched the ball, most resulting in scores.  It was striking to watch how much the ball movement contributed to more energetic effort on the boards and on defense for the C’s, two areas in which they outperformed the Lakers down the stretch.

Early in the season, it seems that many prognosticators assumed that star driven teams are stronger, and picked the Lakers and the Heat to meet in the Finals.  As the NBA season approaches the halfway mark, I am not sure that either team will advance that far.  I am not sure the Heat can beat Orlando, and definitely don’t think they will fare well against Boston in a seven game series.  I look for the Celtics to represent the east in June.

The Lakers have a much better chance of winning the West, but experts have been overlooking the Spurs for the past decade, despite several championships won.  The western conference championship series between these two will be an interesting study in contrast, and I can’t predict a winner.  It really does not matter though, because the Celtics will be hoisting the hardware in June.

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