I can't tell if this NBA season has had an abnormally high quantity of captivating stories this season, or if I'm seeing everything basketball-related through rose-colored glasses because my beloved team is sitting at 26-3, and I'm personally happier than I can remember being in a long time as a basketball fan. All that said, there is plenty going on across the league, and with two-thirds of the season remaining and 2008 upon us, the time is ripe to highlight some of the stories most worthy special attention as the new year progresses:
Honorable mentions go to the traditional biggies: catastrophe in the Big Apple, LeBron in general, the Spurs' quiet dominance, Amare Stoudemire's 'D' or lack thereof making or breaking the Suns, organized insanity in Oakland, the Bulls' efforts at a mid-season turnaround, Dwight Howard becoming an utterly terrifying force of nature.
5. Two unheralded Southeast Division upstarts: The Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks. The Wiz have been battling without Gilbert Arenas for more than a month now, and they are as banged up as any team in the league, routinely dressing only ten healthy players. Leaning on the All-Star-caliber work of small forward (and dead ringer for Malakai from "Save the Last Dance") Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, the Wiz have been a pleasant surprise with their ability to stay above water in the absence of the Hibachi. Down in Atlanta, the immensely talented Hawks finally seem to be getting their young talent in order, with Josh Smith, Josh Childress, Marvin Williams and Al Horford (among others) all doing their part to finally complement the work of leading scorer Joe Johnson. Somehow, both of these teams are above .500 and in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It would be refreshing to see that still be the case come April.
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4. Andrew Bynum not becoming Dwight Howard but developing into a force in his own right in Los Angeles: Every once in a while, even I get something right, which in this case was my contention last spring that the Lakers would pose no serious threat until Bynum picked up the slack in the pivot. Finally, he has, and the Lakers are once again making noise out West, off to a 19-11 start out of the gate. Bynum is going for 12.3 points, 9.8 boards and, perhaps most impressively, 2.0 blocks per game. He is showing true signs of becoming the inside presence the Lakers dreamed of when they drafted him after a certain other big man left town, and if he can continue to improve, there is no telling what the ceiling will be for a Lakers team with Kobe Bryant still in his prime over the next couple of seasons.
3. The league's best young point guard leading a team that nobody sees: So the move back to the Big Easy hasn't gone so well financially for the Hornets thus far, as they are ranked last in basketball in attendance this season. This is really too bad, given that Chris Paul is leading the stingers back into contention in the West. In just his third season out of Wake Forest, CP3 is averaging 21.4 points and 10.0 assists on 48.3 percent shooting from the field, and his team is certainly benefiting from his work. Don't look now, but the Hornets have won five of six and sit just two games behind the Spurs for first place in the Southwest Division. The decade of Paul sitting on the Association's point guard throne isn't so far from starting as some might think.
2. The ping pong ball deficit in Portland: They may have ended 2007 on a losing note (a 111-101 defeat in Utah), but the Portland Trail Blazers are here to stay. They have just completed a 13-game winning streak and sit at 18-13, a half-game behind the Nuggets in the Northwest. From general manager Kevin Pritchard to coach Nate McMillan to Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge to every man down the bench and the assistant coaches, everyone in this organization deserves a ton of credit for the resurgence going on in Oregon. And while normally, I would say that I couldn't imagine what it would feel like to be a fan getting to witness such a quick turnaround...
1. ...except that maybe now I can, thanks to the greatest organization in basketball history -- and, of course, Kevin McHale: Because after 24 wins in all of the 2006-07 campaign, the Boston Celtics head into 2008 with 26 wins on the new season and appear on a mission to capture the franchise's league-leading 17th championship banner.
But on this particular website, I can't imagine I need to do too much explaining about that last storyline. So here's to two old Boston teammates conspiring this summer to give us all a dream come true.
And here's to enjoying the chase for number 17 like nothing else we have seen in decades.