NBA PM: Balance of Power Shifting in the West
For most of the 2012-13 NBA season, the Western Conference playoff picture has been a foregone conclusion. Simply put, there have only been eight teams that looked good enough to make the playoffs, and maybe two of those looked like they had a shot at a title. As we come down the stretch of the season, however, we’re starting to see some movement in the ranks.
First and foremost, the Los Angeles Lakers are starting to figure things out. It helps that Kobe Bryant is back in MVP form, but the rest of the team is playing better around him and the Lakers are looking to claw their way above .500 for the first time since early in the season. Tonight, the Lakers host the Toronto Raptors, who have won just four of their last 10 games, then get a visit from the struggling Chicago Bulls before hitting the road for three games starting in Orlando with the lottery-bound Magic. If the Lakers pull off three wins in a row, they could very well be in the playoff picture when they land in Atlanta next Wednesday.
While the Lakers have been playing better, the reality is that the only reason they are poised to get at least a share of the West’s eighth seed is because the Utah Jazz are completely falling apart. It’s not unexpected, either. The Jazz needed to make a deal at last month’s trade deadline that would clear up their front court logjam and add much-needed depth at other positions, but instead chose to stand pat. It also doesn’t help that head coach Ty Corbin is really taking his lumps late in games. Their last three losses have been by three points or fewer, including Wednesday night’s 107-110 loss to the 21-40 Cleveland Cavaliers. The Jazz enter tonight’s game in Chicago with a 10-21 road record, and a loss could very well leave them just a half-game ahead of the Lakers in the race for the eighth seed.
Meanwhile, at the top of the conference, the San Antonio Spurs were expected to at least stumble with Tony Parker sidelined by an ankle injury, but instead they have continued to push forward. The Spurs have won three straight in convincing fashion with Cory Joseph taking the reins from Parker and are still the NBA’s best team at 48-14 on the season. There’s a big test coming at the end of the month when the Spurs take on the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami HEAT and Memphis Grizzlies in consecutive games, but so far the Spurs have shrugged off all other challenges. Why not that one, too?
Finally, as we discuss the contenders from the West, a field that has really only included the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Spurs for the most part may be expanding a bit. The Memphis Grizzlies are one of the hottest teams in the league since the All-Star break, and seem to be greatly enhanced with consummate teammate Tayshaun Prince in place of Rudy Gay at small forward. Even more impressive, though, has been the squad from Denver. The Denver Nuggets have been overlooked for much of the season despite the fact that they survived a road schedule that was just brutal over the first three months of the season. Sooner or later the schedule evens out, and when the Nuggets finally got home in January they embarked on an impressive run of their own. Denver is currently tied with Miami for the best home record in the NBA at 27-3, and have knocked off the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers during their current seven-game winning streak. Ignore the Nuggets at your peril.
There may not have been much drama in the Western Conference standings to this point, but heading into a busy 12-game night in the NBA tonight things could get very interesting… very interesting, indeed.
Thomas Robinson Getting His Shot in Houston
After being taken with the fifth overall selection in last summer’s NBA draft, Thomas Robinson didn’t find much success in Sacramento. The Kings opted to trade him to the Houston Rockets at the trade deadline, and Robinson is hoping to make the most of his new opportunity. He talks with HOOPSWORLD about what went wrong in Sacramento, his thoughts on Rockets head coach Kevin McHale, what he hopes to accomplish in Houston and more in this exclusive interview:
Ty Lawson Coming Into His Own
When the Denver Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony two seasons ago, head coach George Karl made no secret of the fact that he believed the team was better off without a labeled superstar. That said, he also made it clear that he felt the next star of the team was already on the roster, that player just needed to step up. He wasn’t sure which of his young charges might rise to the top first, but he was confident one would.
This season Ty Lawson has shown signs of becoming that player, most recently with a last-second shot to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder. In a recent interview with KKFN Radio, Lawson admitted that it took him a while to stop looking to defer.
“Probably just my confidence,” Lawson said of the key to his growth this season. “When you come into the league and the people you look up to are starting in front of you, you really feel like inferior and don’t want to step on too many toes, so I just wanted to learn from Chauncey (Billups). Then ‘Melo is one of my favorite players, so whatever he said goes. I tried just giving him the ball as much as possible. Now I feel like I’m coming into my own and that I can take on the challenges and be a person to try to take over games. That was the two different things going from then until now.”
It also took longer for Lawson to emerge as a vocal leader because there were so many vocal veterans on the team when he first came on board.
“Yeah, definitely,” Lawson explained. “When I was a rookie you had Kenyon Martin, J.R (Smith), Carmelo and Chauncey .. you really didn’t want to say too much. I feel like if I would’ve said anything they would’ve been looking at me like ‘oh, that’s just Ty.’ Now I feel like I’m in a position where I can talk and be more vocal.”
One player who doesn’t get enough credit for the success the Nuggets have had this season is Andre Iguodala, who was acquired as part of the trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers. His impact on the team is not lost on Lawson, however.
“On the court he does all the little things,” Lawson said. “He might not score a lot and all that but he does the little things. Flare screens, getting steals, defensive stops, he does it all. When everybody says he does it all, they mean that. He has taught me a lot. Not taking plays off and he’s been where I want to be. He’s been an All-Star so he has been teaching me things to get to that level and I appreciate him for that.”
The Nuggets might not be getting much love from the national media, but internally they are starting to sense that a championship is very attainable for them this season.
“I was talking to Iguodala a couple of days ago and I was like ‘man we can really win a championship if everybody is mature and gets serious about the game plan,’” said Lawson. “Because sometimes you just do stuff that is out of the ordinary or just, we don’t pay attention or if we get up 15 points we just shoot regular shots or ‘see if I can make it shots’ and teams come back. If we just stay focused, I feel like we can beat and run with any team in the NBA. We would have a shot to win a championship but we just have to do that for a seven game series. That’s what I feel and I think a lot of people on our team feel the same way. We just have to get everything together down the stretch.”
Lawson doesn’t mind playing the dark horse role, however, and believes his team can prove everyone wrong come playoff time.
“I feel like we are the dark horse always and I don’t think we get a lot of shine in the NBA or from the announcers on ESPN or anything like that anyway,” said Lawson. “We went on a ten-game winning streak and didn’t hear too much about it. That’s how it’s been. We have to accept it and prove everybody wrong like we have been.”
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