In honor of Kobe Bryant's No. 24, here are my two-dozen observations, proclamations and predictions as the NBA season reaches the midway point. — Brian Schmitz Orlando Sentinel
1. It has been 13 seasons since Michael Jordan retired. Thanks, Kobe, for filling that vacuum so wonderfully as the closest thing we've seen since MJ.
2. The Golden State Warriors continued their fairy tale since winning the championship, going 24-0 to start the season. Steph Curry orchestrated some beautiful basketball, bringing back the art of shooting to a generation consumed with highlight dunking.
3. Don't look now, Warriors (38-4), but something is gaining on you. And that something is the San Antonio Spurs (36-6). For all the Warriors' terrific play and flirtation with NBA history, the Spurs are doing what the Spurs have done for two decades: boring us with a level of greatness. They added LaMarcus Aldridge to go with Kawhi Leonard, setting themselves up for future runs against the Warriors and all comers.
4. The Spurs will knock off the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. They'll win the title as LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are denied again.
5. Shouldn't Matt Barnes and Derek Fisher just take their spat over a woman to pay-per-view?
6. Oh, we haven't forgotten the Magic. Even with their latest slump, fans should be thrilled they are still above .500 at this point after the past three seasons of misery.
7. Remember Billy Donovan? You see, here's the thing coaches learn quickly in the NBA: Unlike college, it's not about you anymore. It's all about the players. Donovan, in his first season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, is 30-12. He'd still be the king of Gainesville if the Gators were winning at a 71-percent clip and comfortably leading a division. In the NBA, when you have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, you hear you're underachieving, especially compared to Golden State and San Antonio.
8. Or as Durant told ESPN, "Man, the (media and experts are) always trying to nitpick us. I mean, they don't like us."
9. The league's highest-paid player is Bryant, who is making about $25 million this season. Twenty-five to $30 million for superstars is going to be the norm with NBA salaries about to sky-rocket because of new TV money.
10. RIP, Flip Saunders.
11. I don't know what his vertical leap is these days, but hasn't Charles Barkley jumped the shark? There's nothing he can say anymore that shocks us. His latest thunderbolt was this tweet before the Lakers faced the Warriors: "Like the black girl on The Bachelor. Got no chance."
12. The 2009 Magic have been re-created in Detroit under Stan Van Gundy.
13. Who would have ever believed that there are more .500 teams in the East than the West?
14. All-Star Game fan voting always is suspect. But when celebrities like Justin Bieber and Mark Wahlberg can influence voting by throwing their support a player's way — Bieber for Chris Paul and Wahlberg for Jimmy Butler — it skews the process.
15. Bieber has 79 million Twitter followers and apparently got Paul 60,000 votes via retweets. Did those votes go to Chris Paul or Cliff Paul?
16. And can't Tony Bennett send out mailers on behalf of Tim Duncan?
17. Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens is a class act, missing a game to be at the deathbed of former Butler player Andrew Smith.
18. If the Knicks were smart, wouldn't they try to trade Carmelo Anthony now and start to seriously rebuild around rookie Kristaps Porzingis?
19. Speaking of Porzingis, he's yet another star the Magic just missed out on in the draft. Orlando's whole mission was to be bad enough to land Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns the past few years. Typical of their ping-pong ball bad luck, they drew No. 5 last May and Porzingis went No. 4.
20. I already suggested New York attempt to deal 'Melo while he has something left. I'd say Chicago should do the same with Derrick Rose, but Rose is like a battered running back. A shame.
21. If you put any stock in ESPN's all-time position-by-position player rankings, you can go see the greatest small forward and best power forward play in person today. That's quite extraordinary. ESPN's choices of LeBron James and Tim Duncan turn the NBA circuit into a mobile museum of sorts.
22. There's the Grand Canyon at dusk, sunrise at Malibu and fresh snow in New England. But is anything more picturesque than Steph Curry's jump-shot?
23. Dwight Howard can become a free agent again this offseason. Does the Dwightmare ever end?
24. Again, so long No. 24. I've taken some shots at Kobe, especially as he hogs the ball and the limelight on a young Lakers team. But I guess if Shaq had stayed and led the Magic to five titles, I'd probably be okay with the franchise overpaying him and allowing him to hang around until he got his AARP card, too.