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NBA AM: Biggest Questions Of The Final Stretch
Posted By Yannis Koutroupis On February 22, 2013 @ 9:59 am In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
The 2013 NBA Trade Deadline is in the review mirror, leaving us about 30 games or so in the regular season before the start of the playoffs. With that in mind, we take a look at what storylines will be the most important to keep an eye on as the regular season winds down and the second season gets ready to start.
Do the Spurs have another run in them?
The Spurs’ lack of activity on Thursday’s deadlines made the message clear: They think they have what it takes to compete for a championship. They currently sit atop the league’s standings with a 44-12 mark and have won nine of their last 10, including a thumping of the Los Angeles Clippers last night.
The Spurs were in a position where they had some options, featuring moving Stephen Jackson’s expiring contract or just sending DeJuan Blair to a situation where he could play going into free agency. They opted to do neither. They are banking on their chemistry and internal development being improved enough from last year to be enough to take them back to that championship level.
In order for them to have a chance they have to be healthy. They are undoubtedly going to be a tough out, but to beat the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies and Miami HEAT – some of their toughest potential match ups in the postseason – they’re going to need everyone at their absolute best.
Are the new-look Thunder better than last year?
This question has been asked time and time again since the Thunder made a preseason trade to send James Harden to Houston when they could not come to an agreement on a contract extension, but cannot be truly answered until the postseason. Since the deal, the Thunder have remained one of the league’s best, sitting in the second spot in the West at 39-15, but Harden has exploded. He was a first-time All-Star this season, playing every bit like a max player after receiving his first big contract.
The addition of Kevin Martin, who is averaging 15 points on 45 percent shooting from the field and 43 percent from distance, has helped ease the pain from the loss of Harden. However, it will be in the postseason, where Martin will be playing in for the first time.
Although his absence won’t be as noticeable, the Thunder also moved Eric Maynor yesterday. The backup point guard was set to become a free agent at the end of the season and the Thunder were not in a position where bringing him back was likely. This is an opportunity for Reggie Jackson to prove his worth.
Will the Lakers make the playoffs?
First things first, the Lakers just need to get to .500 before the end of this month so that they can have a viable chance to surpass the Houston Rockets in the top eight. After that, they need to all get on the same page, shut out the distractions and solely focus on what it is going to take to make this nightmarish season at least somewhat positive by not missing the playoffs.
These are obviously tough times for the Lakers off the court as well with the recent death of team owner Dr. Jerry Buss. There would be no better way to commemorate him, though, than turning this season around and making some noise in the playoffs. This team has been written off by most already, but you can’t help but look at their roster and feel like they could really be a tough out in a seven-game series if all the sudden the switch gets flipped and they figure out a way to play well together. The Lakers will be aided by the return of Pau Gasol, who should be back sometime in March after suffering a foot injury.
The Chicago Bulls are set to get their star point guard back sometime soon as he completes his recovery from a torn ACL in last year’s playoffs. The Bulls have been solid without him, going 31-23 while Joakim Noah and Luol Deng established themselves as All-Stars. Carlos Boozer has also had somewhat of a resurgence as he tries to pick up the slack in Rose’s absence. Will Rose seamlessly help them go to that next level as they enter the playoffs? That’s what the Bulls and their fans are certainly hoping for.
However, coming back from an ACL injury is always difficult. They say it can take years to get back where you once were, but Rose isn’t the average human being. He’s a special kind of athlete, the kind of guy who just makes plays on the basketball court no matter what the circumstances are. If anyone can come back and make a major impact on the Bulls with just 30 games left in the regular season, it’s Rose.
Can the HEAT be beaten?
In reality, this is the only question that really matters. The defending champion HEAT have been rolling as of late, getting wins in nine of their last 10. Starting forward LeBron James has been playing at the highest level of his career, doing things many of us thought we would never see before.
Nobody in the HEAT’s locker room, especially James, puts much stock into what has happened so far, though. Yes, they look great and have more firepower than last year. However, the game is not played on paper and they actually have to go out and do the job. They recognize that and are focused on peaking at the right time. If that happens and they’re at their best come playoff time, watch out because we could be seeing a repeat of last year’s postseason.
Redick Wanted to Stay: Most players would celebrate going from a team contending for the top spot in the NBA Draft to a team that is currently playoff bound. However, J.J. Redick had deep roots with the Orlando Magic, the only NBA team he’s known up until yesterday when he became a member of the Milwaukee Bucks. He was playing the best basketball of his career this season and wanted to stay with the team long-term. However, the Magic ruled that they’d be better off with the package of Beno Udrih, Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb and shipped Redick to Milwaukee along with Ish Smith and Gustavo Ayon.
“Getting on the plane yesterday, it was emotional,” Redick said in an interview with David Baumann on Sports Talk Florida.
Redick, who helped the Magic get to the NBA Finals in 2009, will now have to try and fit in with the guard-heavy Bucks as he gets set to enter free agency. He’s been one of the league’s most improved players this year, but needs to finish strong and help the Bucks earn a playoff spot in order to secure the type of payday he’s looking for this offseason.
The Magic meanwhile will move toward having a top pick in this year’s draft, where they will likely strong consider a shooting guard as many of the top prospects play at the two spot.
Blair Seems Surprised to Still be a Spur: San Antonio Spurs forward DeJuan Blair thought Thursday was going to be the day he was finally shipped off to a team where he could get some playing time. The last two years he’s been out of Gregg Popovich’s rotation during playoff time and this season he’s rarely been a part of it in the regular season. The Spurs were fielding calls on Blair all the way up to the deadline, but ultimately he ended up staying with the team.
“I’m happy to be here still,” Blair said to HOOPSWORLD. “Of course I want to play, but something will happen someday.
“I was keeping track of it of course. It was a big deal, but it ain’t happen so you know everything is everything.”
Blair can sign with whichever team he chooses this offseason. His stock has taken a hit from the lack of playing time and he almost certainly won’t be returning to the Spurs. But, he will be able to choose his situation and go somewhere he has a chance to play.
“I’ll be ready whenever it does,” Blair said when asked when his chance to play will come.
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