Justin Whitner |Staff Writer
1. Patience is a virtue for the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James.
On Christmas Day, when LeBron James injured his groin, the Lakers looked like a team that had everything in control. After running up to the score against the Warriors to a 127-101 rout, everything went south. During his absence, the Lakers struggled and have gone an abysmal 6-11. They’ve now dropped from fourth in the Western Conference to ninth place.
When James returned against the Clippers on Jan. 31, the team earned a victory but finished just 2-4 in the six games prior to the All-Star break. The Lakers made many offers to the Pelicans before the trade deadline to acquire Anthony Davis, but none of the proposals were accepted. Now that many players on the team know they were almost traded away, the team chemistry will be in question for the Lakers to move forward and make a playoff run.
2. The Eastern Conference powerhouses stack the decks.
Jan. 23, when Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers went down with a ruptured quad tendon in his right leg, the team announced he would miss the remainder of the season. The All-Star shooting guard’s absence leaves the Eastern Conference race to the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. Three of these four teams made the extra push before the trade deadline to make moves. The Bucks traded for Nikola Mirotic, the Sixers picked up Tobias Harris and the Raptors grabbed Marc Gasol. The surprising team that didn’t make any moves is the Boston Celtics. Boston had players in trade talks, yet the team stuck with the main core. Kyrie Irving will have to lead the way as there are many speculations that he may leave this summer. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out for these groups.
3. Historic streaks are becoming the norm.
With All-Star weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina, Michael Jordan held a news conference and was asked the question: “Which is harder from a player’s perspective to achieve between Russell Westbrook’s streak of 10-plus triple doubles and James Harden’s 30-plus 30-point games in a row?” Jordan’s answer: “From a player’s perspective? Six championships, by all means.” The six championships in the expansion era ultimately led to him being named the greatest player of all time. Although the Rockets and Thunder are winning many games, other teams with top-seeded seasons such as the Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks are having highly successful seasons under the radar.
4. The Oklahoma City Thunder will not let up.
The Golden State Warriors are the first seed with DeMarcus Cousins now in the starting lineup. Although the Houston Rockets last season were a Game 7 win away from advancing to the NBA Finals last season, the majority of analysts believe there is no matchup to take down this juggernaut of a Warriors team.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have the top two steal leaders in Paul George and Russell Westbrook. George is averaging 28.7 points per game, and Westbrook is averaging a triple double for the third consecutive season. If the great defensive play can match up with scoring consistency from other players such as Steven Adams and Dennis Schröder, the Thunder looks like the team to give Warriors the best challenge.