As David Stern and the rest of the sports world breathe a collective sigh of relief after the NBA’s incident-free All-Star weekend in Sin City, the league is now ready to look back on the first half of the season.
p. Off-court distractions have been plentiful over the past four months, encompassing everything from Stern’s failed experiment with a new composite ball to Pat Riley’s mid-season vacation. Carmelo Anthony’s inspired play put him in position to become the new face of the NBA, but that all changed with one ill-advised sucker punch to the head of New York Knick Mardy Collins at Madison Square Gardens back in December.
p. Allen Iverson is in Denver, Kevin Garnett is still a Timberwolf and Scottie Pippen, incredibly enough, is waiting by the phone for potential offers to play again, because apparently six rings just aren’t enough.
p. The distractions of every side story were not enough to make fans to forget the downright disappointing level of play this season. Besides the Mavericks and Suns, the entire NBA seems to have forgotten how to play the game.
p. Memo to all those who thought the East couldn’t get any worse: you were wrong. The quality of basketball in the Eastern Conference is plain awful. The concept of team play has pretty much gone out the window. The only highlights the East can boast from the first half are clips of Gilbert Arena, a.k.a. Agent Zero, superciliously draining three-pointers at the buzzer, along with … wait, that’s pretty much it.
p. The Boston Celtics endured perhaps the roughest first half of a season in professional sports’ recent memory. Fourteen wins, the NBA’s worst losing streak since 2003, and the deaths of both Red Auerbach and Dennis Johnson have left the city’s sports fans desperately counting the days until Fenway Park opens with a new season of Red Sox baseball.
p. The Nets toyed with the possibility of trading away Jason Kidd, the Knicks (Knicks?) are thinking playoffs and Detroit is getting the last laugh at all those (myself included) who thought their reign atop the Central left town with Ben Wallace.
p. That being said, one would imagine that trades might have been made to help out a few teams, but the East’s general managers only prolonged their conference’s struggles by failing to swing any deals before the trade deadline.
p. The West, on the other hand, lays claim to five of the league’s top six records and its three best teams. Overshadowed by the horrific display in the East is the incredible performance of the Dallas Mavericks. After dropping four straight games to open the season, owner Mark Cuban’s crew wheeled off three double-digit winning streaks en route to an amazing 48-9 record one week into the season’s second half. Not only are the Mavericks poised to demolish their franchise single-season win total of 60, but they may actually finish the season with only 15 losses, something accomplished by only four other franchises in the history of the NBA. If this keeps up, don’t put it past Cuban to actually sign David Hasselhoff to sing “Hooked on a Feeling” during all Dirk Nowitzki free throws.
p. I didn’t think this was possible, but the short-haired Steve Nash is actually better than the long-haired version. While we are no longer blessed with the sight of Kid Canada’s beautiful locks flowing behind him as he dashes up the court, the combination of a healthy Nash and a healthy Amare Stoudamire has propelled the Suns to the second-best record in basketball at the break.
p. Phoenix is the only team out there that poses a legitimate threat to the Mavs. The rest of the West is struggling to keep up. Utah and Houston have played well but have overachieved all season, the Clippers have done a complete 180 from a year ago and, despite having Iverson and Anthony, Denver still ranks in the bottom half of the league in attendance and sits one game below .500.
p. Sadly, it appears that time is catching up with the San Antonio Spurs. Tim Duncan has lost a step, Manu Ginobili is busy signing Argentinean soccer jerseys during timeouts and the entire team is too distracted by the sight of Eva Longoria behind the bench to actually catch a pass.
p. From off-the-court issues to dismal play, the first half can be summed up by one word: sloppy. Attendance is already down and if things don’t pick up, there is a legitimate chance this will go down as one of the worst seasons in NBA history. With the aforementioned passing of Red Auerbach, it’s high time for the league to take a step back and examine what made it popular in the first place.
p. __Miles Hilder is a columnist for The Flat Hat.__