NBA 2012/13 season: Six-months of "are-you-serious"-ing!
The cards have been dealt, the money is on the table, the gathering is waiting with bated-breath for the slightest falter in the inscrutable poker face almost every participant has been able to so flawlessly maintain until now. The gathering – the basketball world. The participants – the NBA.
At the fag end of a basketball season that was about as unpredictable as the events at a Las Vegas poker table, we cannot help but snigger a little at all the analysis and speculation we poured over during the 2012 off-season. But we must all be content with shaking our heads, and must live with the consolation that we tried.
Blitzing ahead with what seems like absolutely no regard for who they’re up against, the cast at Miami seem to have made it their goal to show the world why they’re called the Heat. Two seasons ago, it was essentially the same core that got lambasted for being too shallow, for not being able to close out games, and for generally not being the team everyone thought they would. A lot has changed since then. If there were any doubters of the fact that Pat Riley played the game right and built the Heat into a team for the ages, they have, with all due respect, been silenced. With a championship under its belt, the Heat still weren’t given enough credit for who they were, even as recently as the 2012 off-season. Nobody expected them to explode into the force they currently are, owners of the second-longest win streak in NBA history, and overwhelming favourites to have their numbers etched into Championship Rings, again. They’ve gone from being a team that featured LeBron James to a team run by LeBron James. Dwayne Wade has been able to make as smooth a transition as possible to playing as a wingman to arguably the best player on the planet right now, and Miami now has an identity. They’ve gone from a team that seemed to run alternate half-court offence possessions off Wade and LeBron to a team that walks out of the dressing room every game with a game plan that involves 3 other players, and an unrelenting drive to get to the paint every time down the floor.
As unexpected as it might seem, the only team that has been able to give the Heat a run for their money, as far as regular season standings are concerned, are a team out west that were essentially brushed aside when their playoff campaign was cut-short last year as a team that was too old to challenge. Yes, the Spurs did reach the Conference Finals last year, which in itself is a respectable playoff run, but nobody could deny the fact that they were getting too old to be the perennial challenge everyone simply associated the Spurs with being. But then again, nobody can deny the fact that in Greg Popovich, you’ve got yourself one of the most adaptable, yet unwavering minds in basketball. Implementing his remarkable, fundamentally sound style of play with Tony Parker leading the way, the Big Fundamental being his usual consistent self showing minimal signs of his age, and a quiet Spurs team that just knows how to get the job done and attract as little attention to itself as possible, the Spurs are showing us they’ve still got enough gas to be the Spurs. In Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and DeJuan Blair they’ve got more than just a few young legs to keep them going even on days when Greg Popovich strategically decides to rest his older players. So it’s going to take more than what most of us thought to throw Pop, Duncan, and the rest of the gang at San Antonio out of the fray.
The talk of young legs sparking their teams is far from complete without the heroics taking place in what used to be the “other side” of Los Angeles, and in the Mile-High City, Denver. In LA, Chris Paul and the gang have manifested themselves into a touring Harlem Globetrotters of sorts, what with their pre-game dunk contest and the high flying antiques that have more or less become a fixture at every Clippers game. But ignoring the wild dunks and alley-oops, the Clippers have seemingly evolved into a team capable of playing more real basketball than they led people to believe. Although plagued by inconsistency and injuries to several important players, the Clippers have shown signs of being a strong contender this post season, provided they remain healthy. A testament to this was the 17-game win streak they had earlier this season, during which the Clippers seemed to carry themselves with a little more swagger than even the Heat, albeit that was a result of the spectacle they put on almost every night they took the court. The fast-improving DeAndre Jordan, sixth man Jamal Crawford and defensive specialist Matt Barnes are essentially what brought this sudden turnaround for the Clippers. This is one team that’s high on confidence, and just might add a little more to what has been an already interesting year of surprises in the League.
And now, coming to the other team that one would put under the list of “teams too exciting to miss”. Since losing Anthony, the Nuggets have been relatively quiet. That was until sometime in the middle of this season when the guys at Denver sneaked away, hid behind a couple of those mountains Colorado is known for, injected themselves with some sort of magic potion, and came back as the best offensive team in the NBA. Since then, the Nuggets have been on a tear, coming off a 15-game streak of their own, and putting up an absolutely scintillating show of team chemistry at the offensive end! Opposing teams seem to be gasping for breath in their bid to match up with the Nuggets’ energy levels, and the Nuggets don’t seem to be on the verge of showing any empathy just yet. Right now, they’re playing like a team with a point to prove, as was very eloquently demonstrated by Nuggets fans and players on Melo’s return to Denver where they set out to ask the world “Melo who?!”. Another team that showed up from nowhere, if the mountain they hid behind counts as nowhere, but it remains to be seen just what they have in store for the playoffs. One might think they don’t stand a chance against the fabled playoff defence that every team pulls out of its bag come the playoffs, but by now you should know better than to make predictions and assumptions. This season has been beyond that, as the baffled faces in the Lakers locker room will testify.
What was supposed to be Steve Nash‘s last shot at a championship, Dwight Howard‘s first chance at being part of a real dynasty, and Kobe Bryant‘s one chance to catch up and possibly overtake his Airness, number 23, in the championship count, this season was poised to be the start of a new era in the already-illustrious history of the Purple-and-Gold franchise in LA. As we look back at how the season unfolded, we realise it could not have possibly been further from what everyone expected. Five games into the season, the Lakers found themselves with a 1-5 record, absolutely no game-plan, and no scheme to get their star-studded team in sync. A coaching change, and 71 games into the season, they still seem to be praying for a miracle, or a little time to figure themselves out. One must admit the Lakers have shown signs of playing the basketball that was envisioned of them when a roster of this caliber was assembled, but it has stopped at that alone, signs. Through the entirety of the season, the fans and analysts, the coaching staff and even the players themselves haven’t failed to notice the gaping lack of effort that the Lakers show when they sit on leads that they think are too big to blow.
Nobody has missed the obvious tension that’s raring its head within the team and its coaching staff, with the more vocal players on the team unabashedly taking pot-shots at the team, specific teammates and the coaching staff in the full glare of the media. It might be entertaining every once in a while to sit back and wonder just what could be going through that wise, old brain lodged in the uppers of the Zen Master, Phil Jackson, and speculate on just what we might have been witnessing if Mitch Kupchak had decided to make one last request of the Zen Master, instead of Mike D’Antoni, who clearly is just as clueless as the rest of us. But then again, it is all good to speculate, but the NBA is a funny place. You would be very wise to respect the Lakers as a legit threat, if they manage to stay on that 8th-spot thread they’re hanging onto, because a team that boasts of arguably the best centre in the league, one of the most ingenious point guards the league has ever seen, and one of the few players in the world who has had the right to be compared with Michael Jordan, is a team that knows its stuff. This team can play basketball, and if it manages to put its mind to it and play basketball together, it could shake the ground even under Miami, where it seems like the basketball overlords have settled.
The 2012-13 regular season has rolled out oodles of surprises, clearly more than we could handle. Will Miami hold its own, or will the Lakers show its worth in more than just the past glories of its celebrated roster? Will Melo and the Knicks rewind their clock a little bit and put on a repeat of the show of the brilliance they showed at the beginning of the season, or will the surprisingly good Rondo-less Boston reinstate the Celtic Pride? Will the class act of San Antonio put up a better fight against the consistency of the Thunder? This post season promises to be one of those basketball moments that will go down in the books as what shaped the super powers of the league in the years to come. There’s no shortage of newbies raring to go, but whether or not the game of basketball decides to stow itself away in the hands of the time-tested veterans, like it has done so often in the past, remains to be seen. Whatever the outcome, for the world of basketball fans who don’t make a living making what they think are well-calculated predictions, things are looking up!