The 2015-2016 NBA season is heating up. The groundwork has been set as team’s jostle for position in the push for the playoffs. This is where the talking ceases and the action commences, where the true stars stand up and the real questions are answered.
However, before looking forward to what lies ahead, lets look back at what we have learnt so far.
The East is not a one horse race
As of the All-Star break LeBron and his Cavaliers hold the best record in the East and after a rocky start, appear to be rolling under new coach Tyronn Lue. However, the race for top seeding in the East is far from over.
The Toronto Raptors enter the All-Star break with the fifth best record in the NBA and are nipping at the heels of the Cavs.
After falling meekly away last post-season the Raptors have bounced back in superb fashion. Their All-Star point guard, Kyle Lowry, lost several kilos over the off-season and is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, steals and three-point percentage.
Together with DeRozen, who himself is arguably having a career best year, they form an imposing backcourt.
Couple the dynamic duo with role players, Valanciunas, Joesph, Scola and Biyombo and Dwayne Casey has an impressive squad to work with.
The real test for the Raptors awaits in the playoffs, but their current form suggests they will embrace the challenge.
Cleveland, sleep with one eye open. The North is coming.
The Spurs are rolling, but can they beat Golden State?
The Spurs sit with a 45-8 record at the All-Star break, which would be receiving significantly more recognition if it wasn’t for the Warriors record.
While Golden State have been beating teams, the Spurs have been blowing them out. They hold an average winning margin of 13.26 points (Warriors are second at 12.50). They have handed out 20 plus point defeats to 18 of their 53 opponents so far.
However, when the pair met in the much anticipation January clash the Spurs were dismantled by the Warriors. Tony Parker had no answer for Curry, forcing Popovich to switch Kawhi onto him, which didn’t seem to bother him either.
Forgetting the Curry influence, the Warriors pace is the main issue the Spurs face. With their small-ball lineup checked in, the Warriors force teams out of their comfort zones and into Golden States with pure break-neck speed.
The Spurs offensive game is not built to operate at the Warriors speed and the shift saw the Spurs commit 25 turnovers for the game, while also restricting Popovich’s men to 41.9% shooting from the field.
The Spurs will meet the Warriors at least three more times this season, possibly ten if they clash in the playoffs. The first meeting failed to expose a chink in the Warriors armour, but if anyone can crack Golden State it will likely be Popovich and his Spurs.
Houston, we have a problem
The Rockets know how to play defense. They showed it last season when they ranked 8th in the NBA for defensive rating. At the All-Star break this season, their defensive rating has plummeted to 24th in the association.
They currently sit a hair below .500, with a 27-28 record. Howard wants out, Harden wants to shoot every possession (Harden leads the league in isolation plays with a frequency of 26.9%) and interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff called them a “broken team”.
In case you had forgotten, this is the same team that made the Western Conference Finals last season. The same team that came back from 1-3 down to crush the Clippers playoffs chances.
If the Rockets want any chance of salvaging their season they must find their defensive edge once again and learn to play as a team, not a one-man show.
Warriors are the team to beat
The new season started as the old ended. Golden State wiping the floor with everyone in their path.
With Curry firing on all cylinders the Warriors hit the ground running, smashing the 15-0 record start by the 1948-49 Washington Capitols and 1993-94 Houston Rockets. Their historic run would eventually be undone by the Bucks, breaking the streak at 24 straight wins.
The Warriors enter the All-Star break with a win percentage of .923, the best in NBA history. They have answered every question thrown at them, risen to every challenge. After years of mediocrity they are now the hunted, and the hunters will throw everything at the reigning champs.
Whether they can beat the 95-96 Bulls regular season record (72-10) is still to be seen, but it would mean little if they can’t defend their title come June. The only pass mark for this team is a championship and it would be a brave man to bet against Curry and the Warriors.
Paul George is back
August 1st, 2014. With just over nine minutes left in the Team USA scrimmage Paul George gives chase to Harden in a desperate bid to stop the fast-break. In a matter of seconds, Georges career and the Pacers season were turned upside down.
After his horrific leg injury, many believed that George would struggle to reach his All-Star level upon return. After finding his feet at the end of last season, George has proven his doubters wrong, enjoying an impressive season to date.
In November, George was named Player of the Month, averaged 29.5 points and 8 rebounds, along with shooting 49% from three and 48% from the field.
While George’s numbers have fallen slightly as the season progresses, he is still averaging 23 points, 7 rebounds and 42% shooting from the field. Couple that with an All-Star appearance and Paul George is officially back.
Porzingis has a bright future ahead
Kristaps Porzingis’ NBA career began to the sound of boos, however in a matter of months the 7’3” Latvian has turned them into cheers.
Porzingis was controversially selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 Draft. Many felt that he was a project player and not the savior the Knicks desperately wanted and needed.
Through his first fifty-four games Porzingis is averaging 13.9 points, 7.7 boards and 1.9 blocks (the most of any first-year player). He is shooting 43% from the field and 35% from deep, which is freakishly good for a first-year player standing at 7’3”.
While rumours continue to swirl around Carmelo’s uncertain future in New York, Knicks fans finally have an emerging talent to get excited about.
Durant called him a unicorn, the fans have coined him Porzingod. Whatever you call him, Porzingis has the potential to dominate for years to come and drag the Knicks back into title contention.
The MVP is Steph’s to lose
As of the All-Star break the only person who can stop Steph Curry defending his MVP crown is himself.
While many are hesitant to dethrone LeBron, Curry’s mind-blowing play is turning doubters into believers on a nightly basis.
He may not possess the defensive ability of a LeBron or Kawhi, but what he lacks on the defensive end he makes up for with an endless supply of crushing offensive displays.
The stats speak for themselves, through fifty games Curry averages 29.8 points, 6.6 assists, 2.1 steals, 51% shooting from the field and 45% shooting from beyond the arc.
He is on pace to shatter his record 286 threes he set last year, currently sitting on 245 made threes at the All-Star break.
All of that, while sitting out 14 fourth quarters and averaging only 33.8 minutes per game, which is the lowest minute’s average of the top ten scoring leaders.
Curry’s ridiculous stats are endless, but what truly makes him great are the intangibles he carries.
Nothing breaks an oppositions heart like a three-point barrage, which Curry delivers on a nightly basis. He rips games to shreds in the first half and has defenders on edge the second he crosses half-court.
Steph isn’t just taking over the league, he’s humiliating it. And for a 6’3”, lightly-framed point guard, that’s something to behold.