The 2012-13 football season has been over for more than a week and I’m already depressed by the thought of waiting over six months for football to start back up again. There will be no more disoriented Sunday mornings where I wake up at 10 a.m. and watch football with my roommate while most of I.V. is still sound asleep. The talks of fantasy football have been long over since December and the sound of helmets crashing has turned into that of gym shoes squeaking. While football may be over, it is now the time of the year when basketball takes center stage in the eyes of American sports.
With March Madness fast approaching, college basketball is crazier than ever this season and the NBA is having a successful and entertaining year as well. First off, let me just say LeBron James is killing it. I’m a Lakers fan and have never been a huge fan of King James, but I appreciate his greatness and his status as king among current NBA stars.
The only player who can even rival him at this point is Kevin Durant, but until Durant wins a title, LeBron has the upper hand. He is the most versatile and dominant athlete the sport has seen in some time.
You may disagree with me, but if LeBron had been an NBA player at the same time as Michael Jordan, he’d be a more dominant and physically imposing presence on the court. He might not have that same competitive drive as MJ, but his athleticism is unparalleled and he would have dominated the sport even more so in the ’90s.
Physically, no one in the NBA can stop LeBron. Can you imagine trying to stop him from dunking? I’d get the hell out of the way if I saw a lineman-sized player with the speed of a running back barreling towards me.
Despite LeBron’s dominance, Kevin Durant might win the MVP this season. LeBron is the best player this season no doubt, but voters tend to spread MVPs around as often as possible. If Durant can lead the Thunder to the top seed in the West and secure another scoring title, he might just beat out King James, which would be a shame considering the season LeBron has had thus far. I don’t care if he won it last year; he is the best player in the NBA and deserves another MVP. He is one of the greatest all-time.
Another interesting storyline this season has been the emergence of the Indiana Pacers as a dangerous yet young team in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers are without star player Danny Granger, but have still managed to put forth the third best record in the East right now at 31-20 on the season. With Granger expected to come back within the next week, the Pacers may emerge as a premiere threat to take on the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Another reason to root for them is the fact that former Gaucho Orlando Johnson is playing for the Pacers this season and is having a very good rookie season. OJ was used to dominating opponents for three years in the Thunderdome, but has made a smooth transition into the NBA on the way to becoming a contributing role player for the Pacers. After receiving sparse playing time at the beginning of the season, Johnson has played in 16 straight games for Indiana and scored in his last eight appearances. While he may not be competing for Rookie of the Year, it is amazing to watch and root for a fellow Gaucho playing in the NBA and excelling against the best players in the world.
The main opposition to Indiana is Central Division rival Chicago. The Bulls currently sit a half-game behind the Pacers for the division lead but have been without star point guard Derrick Rose for the entire season. It remains to be seen when Rose will return, but already practicing at full contact, you can expect the former MVP to return to the lineup well before the playoffs. He might not return to the same form as before his injury, but you can be sure his presence on the court alone will have an impact.
If Rose can condition himself quickly and reintegrate himself into the Bulls’ starting lineup, Chicago could challenge Miami once again as the premiere team in the East. If the Bulls can be this good without D-Rose, imagine how they can perform with their unquestioned leader.
The most surprising team in the Eastern conference this season has been the Knicks. New York entered this season with what looked like an old and slow roster. While Amar’e Stoudemire hasn’t looked his usual self, he has put together a decent string of games in his return from injury. The Knicks rely heavily on the three-point ball, but when they hit, they are as dangerous offensively as any team in the league.
Carmelo Anthony is having a great season and has looked like an MVP-caliber player at times. Veteran point guard Jason Kidd has also provided invaluable leadership this season and has the Knicks currently at second in the conference with a 32-17 record, a mere 2.5 games behind the Heat for the top spot. I don’t think the Knicks will be able to beat the Heat in the playoffs, but it’s fun to see them do well and their style of high-scoring basketball is certainly entertaining. At least Spike Lee finally has a reason to smile courtside.
While all these teams are tearing it up in the Eastern Conference, the Lakers continue to struggle this season, hampered by poor team chemistry and injuries. Every time the Lakers look like they will turn a corner, someone gets hurt or they put forth a terribly humiliating performance. The Lakers are fundamentally flawed and that starts with the coach. Los Angeles hired Mike D’Antoni to bring in a more up-tempo offensive system than Mike Brown’s Princeton offense that was run at the beginning of the season.
The problem with D’Antoni’s system is that it relies heavily on outside shooters, an asset the Lakers lack. What L.A. does have is two talented seven-footers who have shown they can be All-Pro caliber players. With four players with legitimate shots at making the Hall of Fame, the Lakers should honestly be at or near the top of the Western Conference.
But that’s why the Lakers are the most watched and highly scrutinized team in the NBA. People love to see giants fall, especially when that giant reboots year after year by spending more money than opposing teams. It’s the same with the Yankees in the MLB and Manchester United in the EPL. So while L.A. might not even qualify for the playoffs this season, you can be sure the talking heads on ESPN and the rest of the sports media will clamor over and discuss the Lakers in high volume just as I am now. They are relevant and interesting. You either want to see them win or want to see them play horribly. Either way, a large group will be happy this season.
At the beginning of the season, I predicted the Lakers would finish in the top four in the Western Conference before catching fire in the playoffs and capturing their 17th NBA title. Boy, does that prediction look like crap now. I’ll admit I didn’t see any way the Lakers would have turned out this bad. But I am a fan through thick and thin and still have hope that my Lakers will sneak into the playoffs with the seventh seed. Whether they actually advance from there is up in the air due to injury and chemistry issues. We have seen what this team can do at times and if they can put forth a solid month of well-played basketball, they have the weapons to be a dangerous team come playoff time.
Come on Lakers, give L.A. fans something; the Bay is killing us right now with the 49ers, Giants and Warriors all having great seasons.