MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 21: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat drive to the basket during a game against the Sacramento Kings at American Airlines Arena on February 21, 2012 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
With the All-Star Game officially upon us after a grand total of 33 games, I have a league-wide power rankings post up over at RealGM.
For the brave few who have stayed on top of the absurdity that has been the NBA's "season" in the aftermath of the lockout, click on the jump for more ...
I get paid to watch the NBA and even I have had trouble watching a good deal of what's occurred this year.
The bottom 6-7 teams in the league are borderline unwatchable and I've seen more than a few games where a refund would probably be appropriate considering the product being put on the floor.
** One exception: the Washington Wizards. One of the guys who hoops at my gym is a 21-year old college dropout with an absurd Jew-fro who lives in a 24/7 marijuana-induced stupor. He doesn't really care what's going and he generally tries to make a 10/10 difficulty play when a 1/10 would suffice. If he was 7'0 240 with a 7'6 wingspan and a vertical north of 30 inches, he'd be Javale McGee. **
That being said, the All-Star Game is traditionally the beginning of the NBA's stretch run and there should be a lot of drama over the next two months as playoff teams jockey for positioning. Fans of teams in the bottom 1/3 should probably just watch March Madness, as this is easily the best draft pool since 2008 (Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook) if not 2003.
Here's where I see the local teams stacking up right now:
3. Oklahoma City Thunder-- The Thunder have taken another step forward this season, improving their point differential from +3.4 to +6.2. They were undone by a lack of frontcourt shooting last year; Scott Brooks will need to figure out whether Oklahoma City is better closing out games with Kevin Durant at the 3 or at the 4.
4. Dallas Mavericks -- Thanks to some smart offseason pickups (Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, Delonte West and Brandan Wright) and a coaching stuff capable of adjusting their rotation on the fly, the Mavericks have been able to bounce back from an ugly 1-4 start. However, Tyson Chandler had Brendan Haywood's ability to defend the low post, Ian Mahinmi's athleticism and lateral quickness and Wright's offensive efficiency in one package. When he left in free agency, he took any realistic chance of repeating with him.
7. San Antonio Spurs-- Before Gregg Poppovich's annual waive the white flag game in Portland, San Antonio was on a 10-game winning streak. But like the Mavericks of the early 2000's, another offensive-minded team with an unathletic front-court, the Spurs regular season success is a mirage. San Antonio hasn't won a second-round playoff game since 2008, and with Tim Duncan in the twilight of his career, they aren't a title contender unless they improve their interior defense at the trade deadline.
16. Houston Rockets-- Kyle Lowry's emergence has made up for slippage from Kevin Martin and Luis Scola while Sam Dalembert has been one of the NBA's best free agent pickups. The Rockets still don't have the necessary pieces to contend long-term, but injuries in Denver and Memphis could let Houston slip into the top-8 this year.
And while "Linsanity" has justifiably overshadowed everything going on in the Association, the real story is what's going on in South Beach.
Miami's supporting cast is significantly better with the additions of Shane Battier and Norris Cole and the return to health of Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem. More importantly, LeBron is playing the best basketball of his career.
At 6'9 270+, he's the third-best defensive player in the NBA, behind only Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler, and he's averaging 27.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists while shooting 55% from the floor and 40% from three. For comparison's sake, Jordan never shot higher than 54% in any one season.
PER doesn't mean everything, but do you know how many players have had a higher single-season PER than LeBron's 32.5 this year? No one. Ever. Not Jordan, not Wilt, not Shaq.
Let's put it this way: if your life depended on an NBA player making a shot, what would you want him to do? You would want him to dribble up the floor and dunk the ball. There's never been anyone better at than LeBron James. He's Chris Paul in Blake Griffin's body.
Even if you think LeBron is some type of flower who will wilt in crunch-time, which I don't, 46 minutes of what he's doing is better than 48 minutes of anyone else.
Unless the Magic send Howard to a good team at the deadline, I don't see anyone stopping Miami this year.