Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tom Jones' NBA midseason report

Technically, we are well past the halfway point of the NBA season. But because the All-Star Game is tonight in Phoenix, it's a good time to look back at what has happened and look ahead to what's left. Can the Celtics repeat as champs? Who has been the league's MVP? What were the biggest surprises and disappointments of the first half? Here's our Two Cents midseason NBA report.

Five biggest stories of the first half

1. The balance of power in the league was altered by huge injuries: Orlando's Jameer Nelson, the Lakers' Andrew Bynum, the Rockets' Tracy McGrady, the Wizards' Gilbert Arenas.

2. The return of Shaq-Daddy. The desert air must be doing the big man good because he is averaging 17 points and nine rebounds, and landed a spot in the All-Star Game at age 36.

3. The Celtics and Lakers continue to dominate. They are currently the top seeds in the Eastern and Western conferences.

4. Pink slips are being handed out like water. Seven teams — Memphis, Washington, Toronto, Sacramento, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City and Minnesota — have fired coaches. The record for one season is nine, set in 2004-05.

5. Stephon Marbury is being paid $20-million to not play for the Knicks.

Five questions and answers for the second half

1. Will the Knicks trade Stephon Marbury?

How can they not? Sooner or later, the Knicks have to get past this mess. New York needs a major contender to sustain an injury at guard and require Marbury to save its season.

2. Who will win the scoring title?

It's down to LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. Our pick is Wade because LeBron and Kobe will share the ball down the stretch as their teams need victories for playoff positioning. Wade's Heat will make the postseason, but it won't go deep into it. Wade won't be playing for much more than a scoring title.

3. Which eight teams will make the playoffs in the East?

Boston, Orlando and Cleveland are locks. Atlanta looks solid, and so does Miami now that it has acquired Jermaine O'Neal. Philadelphia and Detroit should make it. That leaves New Jersey, New York, Charlotte, Milwaukee and Chicago fighting for one spot. Any one of them would get crushed in the first round, but we'll go with Chicago.

4. Which eight teams will make the playoffs in the West?

The locks are Los Angeles, San Antonio, Denver and Portland. The other four should be Houston, Utah, New Orleans and Phoenix. Man, that's one tough conference, isn't it? Any one of those teams could take out another in a best-of-seven series.

5. Who will make the NBA Finals?

The NBA would love a rematch between the Celtics and Lakers. It would be the 12th time those teams met in the Finals. But the injury to Lakers big man Andrew Bynum could cost them homecourt advantage in a possible Western Conference showdown with the Spurs. And something says the Spurs, who have won four titles since 1999, are going to get back and play the Celtics in an epic seven-game series.

Houston Rockets

True, the Rockets are well above .500. But even with Yao Ming, Ron Artest and always-hurt Tracy McGrady, they are not only a couple of levels below the Lakers and Spurs, they're a notch below the Nuggets, Blazers and Mavs.

Detroit Pistons

We thought getting Allen Iverson would push the Pistons to within eyeshot of the Celtics and Cavs. But they are hovering just above .500, and their streak of six consecutive conference final appearances seems to be in serious trouble.

Toronto Raptors

Wasn't this team supposed to challenge in the Eastern Conference? Instead, it is last in the Atlantic Division, fired its coach (Sam Vincent) and traded its best player (Jermaine O'Neal). Yep, the Raptors are even worse than the Knicks.



Three biggest disappointments

Orlando Magic

We knew it would be good, but did anyone believe the Magic would be good enough to challenge for best record in the NBA at this point in the season?

Atlanta Hawks

Another team that is good but better than expected. The Hawks are headed for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference.

Denver Nuggets

The Allen Iverson-for-Chauncey Billups trade has turned the Nuggets into major players in the West.

Three biggest surprises

Dwight Howard leads the NBA averaging nearly three blocks a game. New Orleans' Chris Paul leads with three steals. Meantime, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are elite defenders. But Boston's Kevin Garnett, right, remains the most physically dominating and intimidating defensive presence. In addition, his attention to defense rubs off on his teammates.

The pick: Kevin Garnett, Celtics

The Celtics haven't become complacent, and part of the reason for maintaining their hunger is coach Doc Rivers. Phil Jackson continues to do a splendid job with the Lakers, and ageless Jerry Sloan (Jazz), George Karl (Nuggets) and Mike Brown (Cavs) are worthy candidates. Oh, and while we are at it, is there a better and more underappreciated coach than San Antonio's Gregg Popovich? But Stan Van Gundy has turned the Magic into a legitimate contender. Take that, Pat Riley.

The pick: Stan Van Gundy, Magic

Defensive player

Best coach

Most valuable player

It has become an annual argument: Who is the most valuable player, LeBron James or Kobe Bryant? This year again it's a debate about two men — but not LeBron and Kobe. Even with fewer pieces around him, LeBron (28.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, seven assists) has outplayed Kobe (27.7, 5.6, five). The debate is about LeBron and Orlando's Dwight Howard, who has been a monster with 20.5 points and 14.1 rebounds per game. And you know what? Miami's Dwyane Wade might be having the best season of his career, not that anyone is noticing with the Heat being 28-24. But still, if you were starting a team right now, how could you not take LeBron with the first pick?

The pick: LeBron James, Cavaliers

Two first-year players have become big-time stars. Chicago's Derrick Rose, last year's first overall draft pick, is second among rookies averaging 16.3 points per game, and he leads all rookies with 6.3 assists. Memphis' O.J. Mayo, the third pick, leads all rookies with 19.1 points. Flip a coin; you wouldn't go wrong with either.

The pick: Derrick Rose, Bulls

Dallas' Jason Terry has found his niche, averaging right around 20 points to complement Dirk Nowitzki. But San Antonio's Manu Ginobili continues to set the standard for sixth men. He knocks in an average of 16 points a game while dishing three assists and pulling down about five rebounds. And here's something that sets him apart from the rest: When the game is on the line, he will take the big shot.

The pick: Manu Ginobili, Spurs

Best rookie

Best sixth man

Tom Jones' NBA midseason report 02/14/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:40pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. College World Series: Gators, LSU face off in all-SEC finals

    College

    OMAHA, Neb. — The matchup for the College World Series finals bolsters the case for those who say the best baseball in the land is played in the SEC.

    Florida’s Brady Singer, delivering during a CWS win over Louisville last week, is scheduled to start tonight against LSU.
  2. Jones: Fox Sports Sun shows depth in Rays coverage

    TV and Radio

    tom jones' two cents

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) makes a run home for a score in the in the final game of a three-game series between the Tampa Bay Rays and AL East rival the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, June 25, 2017.
  3. Brian Boyle says returning to Lightning a 'huge option'

    Blogs

    As former Lightning forward Brian Boyle approaches free agency this week, he said he's trying to stay busy.

    Former Tampa Bay Lightning player center Brian Boyle (24), on the ice during first period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa on March 16, 2017.
  4. Rays journal: Blake Snell to rejoin rotation, Erasmo Ramirez heads to bullpen

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — LHP Blake Snell is rejoining the Rays' rotation, but the move has as much to do with helping the bullpen as it does with Snell's improvement during his time at Triple-A Durham.

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Erasmo Ramirez (30) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, June 21, 2017 in St. Petersburg.
  5. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.