The Los Angeles Clippers are in first place, the Los Angeles Lakers are a tad discombobulated, the Houston Rockets have been up and down, and the New Orleans Hornets are the worst team in the Western Conference. Why? ¶ Basketball reasons. ¶ When the NBA voided a trade that would’ve made Chris Paul a Laker and instead redirected him to the Clippers, at least five teams — and perhaps six — felt the ramifications. Paul turned the Clippers into “Lob City” and helped Blake Griffin become a winner in addition to being a highlight dunker. The Lakers still have unresolved point guard problems, shipped disenchanted Lamar Odom to Dallas and Pau Gasol has struggled to play while knowing he is expendable. The Hornets have been awful, with Eric Gordon
out with a knee injury and Chris Kaman wishing he were elsewhere. Luis Scola and Kevin Martin have overcome feelings of rejection, but in failing to get Gasol, the Rockets also missed out on Nene and their efforts to sign Samuel Dalembert resulted in them waiving some obscure, undrafted point guard from Harvard.
It usually takes a movement to create a phenomenon; several weeks, months or years of build-up, anticipation and hype for a following to take hold. But for New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin, all that it took was one act of a desperate coach, followed by a surprising breakout performance and suddenly, Linsanity became the latest Broadway sensation. In just three weeks, Lin has gone from being an unknown, borderline NBA player, barely holding on to his career — and living on his brother’s couch — to one of the biggest celebrities in professional sports. He has helped the NBA maintain a foothold in China after the retirement of Yao Ming, won a scoring duel with Kobe Bryant, has the top selling NBA jersey, made the cover of Sports Illustrated twice, and has helped Time Warner Cable end a nearly two-month feud with Madison Square Garden to televise Knicks games. All of this from a player who has been cut twice this season — and was close to being waived.
LeBron James is quietly posting one of the best statistical seasons of his already brilliant career and is poised to dispel the myth that he couldn’t win a third most valuable player award while playing with elite supporting talent. Chris Bosh is quietly becoming more assertive and emerging as the best power forward in the Eastern Conference. And Dwyane Wade is maintaining his all-star caliber play despite recently turning 30 and dealing with injuries for much of this season. Miami no longer has its every step — or misstep — scrutinized ad nauseam, and that has helped it become the dominant force many expected when James, Wade and Bosh arrived in a cloud of smoke and lasers. The Heat is deeper, more athletic and more entertaining, and they appear to have figured out how to make it work: The all-star trio has fewer losses in 34 games than it did in its first 17 together.
New dynamic duo
Ever since Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant split up, the one-two punch gave way to the Big Three movement. But Oklahoma City has brought back the dynamic duo with its all-star pair, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The two players have become the most lethal offensive combination, with Durant and Westbrook the only set of teammates to rank in the top five in scoring. Durant is a candidate for most valuable player but, with Westbrook taking more shots some nights, Durant may not be able to catch Bryant to win his third consecutive scoring title. But the Thunder also isn’t in title contention without Westbrook’s ability to break down defenses and exploit mismatches. And with one innocuous question last month, Durant attempted to dismiss and diffuse any possible Kobe-Shaq-like controversy between the two: “Who cares whether he’s better than me or I’m better than him?”
The Orlando Magic has two weeks to decide if it is going to hold on to Dwight Howard or call his bluff about wanting to go elsewhere, possibly to New Jersey to form a superstar alliance with Deron Williams. Howard has put up solid numbers but hasn’t always played with the same vibrancy that came to define his first few years in Orlando. The Magic has sputtered at times, flourished at others, but doesn’t appear to be any closer to winning a title. Howard doesn’t want to be seen as a bad guy for bailing the way Shaquille O’Neal did when he bolted for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996, and Orlando seems prepared to gamble. Magic Owner Richard DeVos Sr. recently said he doesn’t want to trade Howard and warned him that he could leave — and possibly win elsewhere — but will never be as beloved as he is in Orlando.
— Michael Lee