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The NBA’s biggest surprises, halfway through the season–Part 1

There are only three teams over .500 in the Eastern Conference. Lance Stephenson is somehow not just a rotation player, but a…great one? I still barely know who Lance Stephenson is. The casualty list of serious injury to franchise cornerstones is higher than usual: Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Russell Wesetbrook, Chris Paul, Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez and Al Horford, amongst others. Derek Fisher is still getting major minutes for one of the best teams in the league.

It’s been a weird NBA season. Very weird.

Somehow, we’re almost at the halfway mark of the year and I’ve been astounded at every turn. Just to round up how we’ve gotten to where we are, here are some thoughts on some of the biggest surprises of the year:

The Brooklyn Nets are getting better, but have generally been pretty horrible

Pretty easy to summarize: a ton of injuries + a bad coach = a bad team.

However, what’s most surprising is how none of us saw this coming. Even this prestigious blog predicted the Nets would finish third in the Eastern Conference. I would have locked that in knowing just how completely barren they are of competent teams east of the Mississippi. Most of us figured that adding the defensive monstrosity of Kevin Garnett, the late game shot making of Paul Pierce and adding pieces like Jason Terry and Andre Kirilenko to the bench would make this one of the toughest, most physical teams in the league.… Read more...

The Final Countdown: Brooklyn Nets Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Deron Williams, SG Paul Pierce, SF Joe Johnson, PF Kevin Garnett, C Brook Lopez
 
Key Bench Players: SG Jason Terry, SF Andrei Kirilenko, PF Reggie Evans, C Andray Blatche
 
Notable offseason additions: C/PF Kevin Garnett, SG Paul Pierce, SG Jason Terry, SF Andrei Kirilenko, Head Coach Jason Kidd
 
Notable offseason subtractions:  SF Gerald Wallace, SG Keith Bogans, SG MarShon Brooks, PF Kris Humphries
 
FACT OR FICTION: The Nets will be legitimate title contenders to challenge the Miami Heat
 
FACT. Their starting five and sixth man are All-Stars. ‘Nuff said.
 
Last year, the Brooklyn Nets were the new, cool kid on the block. They moved into the neighborhood, took your lunch money, stole your girlfriend, beat you up, and did it all while Empire State of Mind blasts forth from the hulking Barclays Center in the heart of Brooklyn. Coming off the closeout year at the Prudential Center and New Jersey Nets as we knew them, riddled with injuries and trade rumors, the Nets staked their claim in New York and even saw a playoff berth. They were fresh, fun and exciting to watch, but underneath all of the glitz and the glamour the true nature of the Nets reared its ugly mug causing even the most diehard Brooklynette’s fan to look away.… Read more...

YOUR…6-0 New York Knicks. Are They For Real?

(With the Knicks up by five in San Antonio with mere minutes remaining on the clock, I texted MAMBINO’s two resident Knicks masochists fanatics, asking if they could handle what was happening to their beloved ‘Bockers. I got a number of responses, but mostly in the vein of “AAAHHHHHHHH”. Very verbose. 

The New York Knicks have the best record in the league, standing at a very respectable 6-0 record, with quality wins against Miami, Dallas and at San Antonio. Gotham is, to the surprise of no one, reacting with hyperbolic headlines and unbridled excitement at the extraordinary start that Carmelo, Kidd and company have raced out to. As a mere Knicks sympathizer, I had many questions for two rabid fans, who, by their own admittance, have their emotions on the team vacillate on a minute-by-minute basis. This is the e-mail string that followed.)
KOBEsh: El Miz–BockerKnocker, brace yourselves. YOUR…New York Knickerbockers are, I daresay, a juggernaut. At 6-0, this is the best start for the franchise since their Ewing-led heyday in the 90s. Let’s start with the most basic question: what’s the number one reason they’re doing this?
El Miz: Mike Woodson.  Coach Woody has gotten a group that features Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith to buy into things like holding the opposing team under 25 points per quarter, under 40 points in the second half, and caring about what the other team shot from the field percentage-wise. Carmelo has bought in, and it is pivotal to have the alpha dog buy in–last year, Carmelo wasn’t buying anything that Mike D’Antoni was selling…and that was it for the Gentleman Thief.  
The absence of Amare Stoudemire has helped as well — it has allowed Melo to get into a groove at the 4, a position where he excelled last year and won Player of the Month in April, a month where he averaged 30 points and 7 rebounds per game on 50% shooting from the field (including 46% from downtown).  It is clear now that Melo is better suited in this post-Seven Seconds or Less NBA to be a stretch 4, and without Stoudemire, there is no controversy in getting the best player in his most optimal position.  But this team is not undefeated without the emphasis on defense, and that has started with Woodson.
KOBEsh: I completely agree. I’ve been absolutely taken aback not by NYK’s ability to defend; they’ve always had the requisite athleticism and strength to lock down any team in the league. I’ve been astonished by their willingness and more importantly enthusiasm to do so. It’s been a breath of fresh air considering how apathetic they’ve been under D’Antoni. Lakers fans have gotta feel great right now.

You mentioned Stoudemire in your last response–but I’m not going to delve into the negative. It’s too hard to predict how he’ll affect the team on his return, and I don’t want to sully the positive vibes that you only get to experience once…a decade.

Besides the defense, what’s been the most surprising part of this unreal start? 

El Miz: The most surprising thing has definitely been the ball movement.  With “ball stoppers” like Carmelo, J.R., and Tyson Chandler, it has been remarkable to see the ball moving so well.  The arrival of the ageless Jason Kidd is the primary reason, as he has been drilling into Anthony’s head that moving the ball is harder to defend than one guy just taking it to the hoop.  Again, it is one of those things where once Read more...