November 27, 2012

LIAO | Interesting Start to NBA Season

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A month after the NBA season started, we know … barely anything. The teams we expect to be good – the Thunder, Spurs and Heat – are good, while most surprises – the Bobcats being above .500 and the Lakers having just a .500 record – have no chance of sustaining their pace. However, the things we have learned are certainly interesting.

Firstly, Andrew Bynum’s off-the-court project: his hair. It’s a shame for the 76ers that he is now out indefinitely and he may not play a single game for Philadelphia – he’s a free agent at the end of this year – but his hair…wow. He has let it grow from his typical short haircut and the early returns are great. Google ‘Is Andrew Bynum in costume or not?’ and be amazed and confused. I’ve pondered this question for hours staring at my ceiling in bed and I just can’t decide. This story should be leading Sportscenter every day with Rachel Nichols providing hourly updates.

Another fun under-the-radar story has been the great numbers Anderson Varejao is putting up this year. Although he admits, “All I’m doing is the same thing – screens and rolling to the basket and going after every rebound,” he is having a spectacular statistical season. He’s averaging 14 points and 14.1 rebounds a game, which leads the league. Although God still hasn’t given up his vendetta against Cleveland (Kyrie Irving is injured for a month and the Cavs are 3-11), it’s nice to see an unsung hero be recognized for his statistical accomplishments.

An under-the-radar gut-wrenching story is the manner in which the Raptors and Wizards have lost games this year. Let’s first get it straight that both teams are bad; the Raptors deserve to be 3-11 and the Wizards deserve to be 0-12. But still, if you are a fan of either of these teams, it’s a surprise you haven’t been sent to the hospital for heart failure; they keep finding new ways to lose. Against the Bobcats, Washington forward Chris Singleton had three free throws, down 97-99, with 0.4 seconds left. Of course he hits two and they lose in overtime. Head coach Randy Wittman gave us a great quote after the loss: “It’s hard to win a game.” Evidently, it’s not that hard for the other 29 teams, Randy. For the Raptors, they had a stretch of three games where they lost to the Bobcats and Pistons by 1, then in overtime to the Spurs, when Andrea Bargnani went 3-18. It’s not fun to be a fan of a bad team, but when they tease you like this, it’s just plain mean.

Everyone’s favorite bandwagon team of the first half has been the Knicks, who began the season playing some inspired offense and defense. However, there’s no chance they can continue their hot start; their defense has already begun falling off, allowing 131 points to the Rockets in the Jeremy Lin Bowl, and there’s no reason to believe it’s coming back. First of all, the Knicks are the oldest team in the history of the NBA with four players over the age of 38 and every single player except Iman Shumpert, who is injured, is above the age of 27. The wear and tear of the NBA season affects the freshest of legs so you can imagine what it will do to the Knicks. Additionally, what’s going to happen once Amare Stoudemire comes back? History has shown that he instantly makes a team worse on defense and with their offense already rolling, what will he really add? I foresee a lot of drama about whom to bench and trade rumors swirling when he returns from injury.

As for the contenders, the Grizzlies look like the best team in the West this year, eerily feeling like the Spurs of old. Defensively, Tony Allen gives them an edginess and incredible defensive intensity that feels distinctly like the Spurs of old. On the other end, Marc Gasol leads the offense – in a manner similar to the way Duncan ran the Spurs’ offense in the past – and it is a beautiful thing to behold. Gasol is averaging 4.8 assists a game and just 1.3 turnovers a game; to put that into perspective, he is fifth in the NBA in assists-to-turnover ratio and the only non-point guard in the top 20. Although contenders have to show their mettle in the playoffs, with the combined scrappiness and offensive talent of the Grizzlies, I believe they will be just as big a threat out West as the Thunder, Lakers and Spurs come playoff time.

Back in the East, honestly, the only real contender is the Heat; seriously who can beat these guys? No matter what they do in the regular season or in any game, we know they can just instantly turn it on. They could finish 40-42 and sneak in as an eighth-seed, yet who would actually bet against them? Take for example, their last game against the Cavs. The Heat was down 108-101 with 1:58 remaining, being behind literally the entire game. Then in the huddle, the Heat untied their right hands from their backs and actually decided to use both their hands in the game. They promptly unleashed a 9-0 run to win, behind a LeBron lay-up and a clutch Ray Allen three off of a nice dish from LeBron. Unless some terrible injury occurs it’s hard to see them lose the NBA Championship, a proclamation I’m unafraid to say even this early into the season.

Original Author: Albert Liao