While headlines in major media circles such as ESPN, FoxSports and CNNSI tend to gravitate towards the Heat, Lakers and Knicks of the world there are actually equal and/or better teams in the NBA.
No I am not revealing anything earth-shattering but watching SportsCenter may lead you to believe that the NBA only has 4-5 teams playing on a given night. But there are a host of bigger storylines, better teams and more awe-inspiring performances to divert your attention to. Luckily, we have a good grasp on the reality of the NBA landscape and not what the mass sports media wants to shove in your face.
So as the NBA pushes towards the stretch-run of it’s segmented NBA season here are my powerhouse teams you may or may not be fully aware of. I’ve decided to make this a bit more fun as well, so with each team I mention I will also suggest the news headlines they should be replacing.
No longer the laughing-stock of the NBA, the 76ers have done tremendous things with head coach Doug Collins. Mostly with the same young talent that he inherited when he took the helm at the Sixers sidelines.
The Sixers have a sort of up-tempo style that works with their halfcourt game. But most impressive is the Sixers defense, which is ranked 1st in the league in points allowed (87.08) led by defensive stalwart Andre Iguodala.
The Sixers have a talented guard-combo in Louis Williams who is registering career-highs in points per game and three-point shooting percentage and Jrue Holliday who is only 22 years old. Evan Turner has developed into a solid role player that provides Philly with a balanced stat-stuffer that can provide energy and efficiency while being perfectly capable of directing traffic.
Thaddeus Young has also continued to round out his offensive game as well but also has improved his work on the defensive side of the ball as well with career highs in blocked shots.
The skinny is the Sixers are my pick for upset team in the East. For some reason I keep seeing a Heat/Sixers series in the NBA Playoffs and I see the Heat having a ton of issues dealing with the Sixers. While Philly is stout on defense the only downfall is their rebounding and late-game closing abilities. They’re a young team, so closing out tough games late int he 4th is at “Lebron James Level” currently, when they need to grow to the “Kobe Level” of closing.
This Story Should Replace: Dwight Howard trade rumors (we’re all sick of it and Philly grasp the concept of “team” and not “me”)
The Pacers have made great strides since obtaining David West in free agency. West has brought low-post scoring and rebounding to Indiana and has also created more scoring opportunities for Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert. It’s worked perfectly thus far.
The Pacers, much like the Sixers, are also a vastly improved defensive unit that is currently ranked 9th in points allowed per game (92.14).
Danny Granger is still the scoring option for the Pacers, but he has been able to contribute more with his defense and rebounding with less of the scoring load placed on his shoulders.
Roy Hibbert is considered one of the NBA’s rising young centers but the Georgetown-alum still needs to register double-digit rebounding averages. Still, he is improved and more polished with career highs in points (13.1) rebounding (9.5) and drastically improving his field-goal percentage from 46% last season to 50% this season.
Indiana has also enjoyed the progression of swingman Paul George who has tallied career-highs in almost every statistical category except his field-goal percentage which took a slight drop. Despite the drop I think Indiana loves having George on the roster. His intensity, high energy and hustle make him quite valuable.
The skinny is the Pacers have a good team and some great depth but the production of Darren Collison who I think is better suited in a 6th man type of role may hinder them in a 7 game series against teams like Chicago, Boston and Atlanta who can pose perimeter matchup problems. Nonetheless I think they can make noise if they can get a series against Chicago. I don’t see them stealing it from the Bulls but it could be a series that puts Indiana on the map.
This Story Should Replace: New York Knicks (Linsanity is looking more like a mirage and an 18-21 record shouldn’t steal headlines)
This team gets the biggest snub amongst the media outlets. Leave it to ESPN to make a bigger deal out of Kobe ‘s mask than the incredible season Kevin Love is having. Sure, Lebron James is making a hell of a case for MBP honors and you have to include Kobe in that conversation as well, but Kevin Love is posting numbers unlike anything I remember seeing.
Love is playing like a created player in NBA 2K12 with a career-high in points at 25.5 ppg and an impressive (yet again) performance in rebounding at 13.8. It can be argued that Love is a more viable building block than Dwight Howard in Orlando (despite the blocks). But what’s more impressive is the Wolves are winning.
Ricky Rubio has been living up to the hype and his rookie season has been impressive with 10.5 ppg and 8.2 assists per game, Steve Nash 2.0?
While many can point to the drop-off of Michael Beasley they can’t avoid the promise shown by rookie Derrick Williams who is sure to upstage Beasley if his digression continues.
The artist formally known as “JJ”, Jose Barea, has been a great addition to the Wolves as well with championship experience and rim-to-rim speed that can push the tempo.
The skinny is the Wolves may be locked into the 8th spot which is unfortunate for them because I see the ousting teams like the Lakers and having an incredible series with the Grizzlies but I think they will face either the Thunder or Spurs. I they meet the Thunder, expect them to impressively steal one in Oklahoma City but pose no real threat to steal the series. The Spurs may give them more of a chance, but not much. Nonetheless, the Wolves have a bright, promising future. Just stay far away from Pau Gasol.
This Story Should Replace: Los Angeles Lakers (another day, another annoying trade rumor, go away!!)
Despite making some noise in last years playoffs, the Grizz can’t get any love from the media. Certainly it takes being a 4th or 5th seed in the West (Lakers, Clippers) or a 7th or 8th seed in the East (Knicks, Celtics) to get any spin. Who would of thought that being a 3rd seed in the West would be so boring. Hardly.
The Grizzlies are playing solid basketball and have been all year, despite playing under the radar. In fact Minnesota, Indiana and Philly get more (if not much more) recognition than the team in Memphis.
Marc Gasol is proving to be worth every penny of the contract he received in the offseason, Rudy Gay is healthy and playing like Rudy Gay again, Zach Randolph was keeping up his production until his recent injury and Oj Mayo has avoided the trade block by improving from last season both on and off the court.
Experienced, just as hungry and underestimated, expect the Grizz to enter the playoffs with the 3rd. If the Playoffs were to start today, they would be matched up against the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.
The skinny If I am Memphis I am crossing my fingers because not only is that series winnable it’s also a great series to make a statement to the NBA and media. Something along the lines like “We have a basketball team in Memphis and we’re actually good!”
This Story Should Replace: Boston Celtics (young & talented > old & broken-down)
It’s easy to see why the media folks cover the teams they do so heavily. The biggest markets are in New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Florida, but it doesn’t give reign to ignore the other teams that are doing impressive things. With that being said, here are my picks for the award winners.
Most Valuable Player – Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
Reason: Yes, Lebron and Kobe have turned in impressive seasons. But Lebron has Bosh and Dwayne while Kobe has Bynum and Gasol. Time to give the MVP to the Most Valubale Player to a team and that is clearly Kevin Love.
Coach of the Year – Doug Collins, Philadelphia 76ers
Reason: Sure this may go to Spolstra down in South Beach or even Scotty Brooks in Oklahoma City but it should go to Doug Collins. Collins literally took a dismal Sixers team, kept most of the pieces in place and has them elevated to the top of the pack in the East. In case you missed it, the Sixers will be making the playoffs for the second consecutive year.