NBA AM: Teams Receive New Year’s Lineup Boost
The 82 game NBA regular season is a marathon, not a sprint. Some teams who were expected to compete at a high level this season have struggled out of the gate waiting for key rotation players to return from the injured list. Other teams have had early success but were still left waiting to evaluate their respective rosters at full strength.
Boston and New York are positioned to be amongst the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt and both units have welcomed pivotal players back to the lineup as we kick off 2013.
Amar’e Stoudemire, New York Knicks
While Stoudemire sat out the Knicks’ first 30 games recovering from October knee surgery, New York still managed to race out to a 21-9 start and have played like a top five team all season long. Stoudemire’s absence and the Knicks’ subsequent success did little to stop the growing sentiment that the team plays better without him.
The team maintains the duo of Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony will eventually gain the necessary cohesion. We’ll get a good chance to analyze Stoudemire’s impact over the coming months as the forward returned to the Knicks’ lineup versus the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night. The Knicks lost the game, but Stoudemire’s returned did spark optimism. The forward scored six points and grabbed one rebound in 16 minutes of action in his debut.
“I almost shed a tear when I got out on the court,’’ Stoudemire said according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. “I’m glad to see the fans were patient with me. The game felt like it was going 100 miles an hour. But the second half was better than my first. I’m hoping my second game will be better than my first.
“It felt phenomenal. After a high-intensity game, it still felt strong.’’
There has been some trade chatter surrounding Stoudemire in recent weeks as concerns grew on whether he’d be able to adjust to a new role in the team’s lineup as a reserve, but the veteran maintains he’s more than willing to handle that role provided the teams continues winning at a high clip.
“Those guys have been playing phenomenal all season long,” Stoudemire said. “I just want to get out there and help them as much as I can, any way I can.”
Stoudemire is owed $65 million through 2015, which would make moving the All-Star and receiving quality assets in return a difficult task.
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Bradley emerged as a key contributor to the Celtics’ lineup late last season, averaging 15.1 points and 2.6 rebounds during the month of April. But as stellar as Bradley looked on the offensive end at times, it was the guard’s pressure defense which powered Boston’s late season run and solidified his spot in the nightly rotation.
Bradley hasn’t played a single minute this season while recovering from a shoulder injury, but the team expects him to be a go for Wednesday night’s game versus the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Celtics are in the midst of a three-game losing streak with each defeat coming by more than 18 points. Celtics guard Rajon Rondo believes Bradley’s return will spark Boston on the defensive side of the ball, an area hurting the club this season.
“He’s the best defender in the league, hands down, at the guard position,” Rondo said according to Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald. “I’ll be allowed to play off the ball without Avery. He’s a better pick-and-roll defender than me. That takes a lot of pressure off me, getting through so many pick-and-rolls, and then coming down the court and creating plays. He knows his role, he plays with a lot of energy. A lot of guys don’t like to face a guy like Avery.
“Hopefully we’re all trying to step our level of play up when he comes on the court. His intensity is contagious, and hopefully we all do the same.”
If the playoffs were to start today, the Celtics would be on the outside looking in which is a far cry from the squads of recent memory who were legitimate title contenders. Still, head coach Doc Rivers isn’t ready to anoint Bradley’s return as the moment which saves the Celtics’ season.
“We’re not doing that. That’s you guys,” Rivers said. “No is the answer. I haven’t said to our team one time, ‘Guys, when Avery comes back . . .’ That’s from outside the team, not within the team.”
HOOPSWORLD TV: Amar’e Stoudemire, Sixth Man?
In case you missed it, the HOOPSWORLD team recently discussed Amar’e Stoudemire’s return as a reserve. Can it work? What are your thoughts?
Jrue Holiday, All-Star Bound?
It is no secret Philadelphia 76ers guard Jrue Holiday believes he’s an All-Star caliber player as recently reported by HOOPSWORLD’s Joel Brigham, but in the following weeks the campaign to get the former UCLA product in the game has intensified.
Holiday is averaging 18.9 points and 8.9 assists per game for the Sixers this season in 28 appearances.
“People ask me if I would like to make the All-Star team,” Holiday said according to Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia News. “I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t? I guess I really don’t think about it. Going into games, it’s not like I’m thinking about scoring or doing other things for me individually. I really just try to go out and win every game, and if that means me scoring two points and Nick [Young] scoring 30 or Dorell [Wright] scoring 15, as long as we get the win I’m happy.”
The latest All-Star ballot returns place Holiday in eighth in regards to backcourt voting, meaning the guard will likely need to be selected by the coaches to earn his first All-Star appearance.
“I don’t keep an eye on the voting,” Holiday added. “I can’t, because I’d be mad, because I’m a competitor and there’s probably people ahead of me I feel I’m better than, but I know they have more votes than I do. It could be popularity, whatever it is. I can’t look at it.”
The Sixers have started the season 15-17 and are currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The team has lost seven out of their last ten contests.
Los Angeles Lakers’ (Old) Age Causing Problems
After acquiring All-Stars Steve Nash and Dwight Howard last summer many believed the Los Angeles Lakers would be one of the few true title contenders this season. However, the optimism was always hedged by two concerns – age and health.
The Lakers have been impacted by injuries to Nash and forward Pau Gasol to start the season. Jordan Hill, Chris Duhon and Steve Blake have also missed time battling ailments.
After Tuesday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, the subject of (old) age arose. Lakers All-Star guard Kobe Bryant, in his 17th season, said the team’s older legs have been an issue all season and one the unit must eventually overcome.
“‘Cause we’re old as s—,” Bryant said according to ESPN LA. “What do you want? We just got to figure out how to play when we don’t have that energy. We got to change things up a little bit defensively. We got to figure out what we want to do offensively, figure out what we want to do on nights when we don’t have those legs or have that energy.
“You just saw an old damn team. I don’t know how else to put it to you. We’re just slow. You saw a team over there that was just younger and just had fresher legs and just played with more energy, and we were just stuck in the mud. I think individually we all have to figure out how to get ourselves ready each and every game to have high level of energy. That’s all that is.”
After a 9-14 start, the Lakers have won six of their past eight games but still sit 9.5 games behind their intra-city rival Los Angeles Clippers in the Pacific Division standings.
NBA Chats: One chat on the schedule today. I will be hosting my weekly chat tonight at 8:00pm EST. Send in a question here.