Here are some key players, teams, and dates of interest to look for in the second half of the season…
1) Dirk Nowitzki- Based just on the way Dirk has played lately, you wouldn’t think he had a pedestrian month in January but for Nowitzki, 15.1 points a game IS pedestrian. In February however, that average has soared to a more Nowitzki-esque 23.9 points a game. Over his last 11 games he has scored 20 or more points in 10 of them. The Mavs will need him to continue his momentum if they are going to be a contending team as expected, come playoff time.
2) Kobe Bryant-This isn’t the same Kobe that we’re all used to seeing year in and year out. His 43.5% field goal average is his lowest in seven years! His 3-point percentage, 28.5%, is his worst in ten years. Throw in the fact that he’s averaging the second most turnovers in his career and you wonder how, at the break, he’s still averaging 28.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists a game, which are better numbers than his 25.3/5.1/4.7 at the end of last year. Just amazing! But he’ll need the support of some of the other Lakers to pick it up in the 2nd half if Kobe expects to go deep into the playoffs.
3) Jeremy Lin- What is there to say about this rising star that hasn’t already been written, re-written, and rehashed a dozen times? Just this; if he is going to take the Knicks up a notch in class over the 2nd half, and continue to build on his 9-2 record as the Knicks starting point guard, then he will need to protect the basketball more and bring down his turnovers. You don’t mind someone that plays for the kind of minutes Lin does and who handles the ball as frequently as he does to have 3-4 turnovers a game. In fact you almost expect that from a PG. But for Lin to make as many as 8-9 TO’s in some games, simply is not acceptable. Hopefully, that’s what his coaches are working with him on during this break because as Lin goes… so do the Knicks.
1) Boston Celtics- This is a team that struggled to get to the end of the first half of the season as ‘Father Time’ has predictably descended over their core players; Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce. They have lost 7 0f their last 10 games and the last five in a row coming into the break. They are 1/2 game behind the Knicks in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and will need to right their ship, ward off injuries, and get some help from their bench, if they intend to return to the playoffs again this year.
2) Minnesota Timberwolves- Who would have thought going into the season that the Timberwolves (17-17) would have a better record than the Celtics (15-17) going into the break? Thanks to the sterling play of the rookie Ricky Rubio (say that 3 times fast..), and the continued MVP-like numbers that Kevin Love has put up, and you have a team that’s on the rise. They’ll need to improve on their wins at home though if they want to make a push in the standings; (they’re currently 1 game out of the eighth slot in the Western Conference in 10th). A 10-10 home record won’t be good enough if they want to compete with a Portland (13-5 at home) or Memphis (13-5 at home).
DATES TO REMEMBER:
1) April 4, 2012- This is the day that the Clippers meet the Lakers in their second game of the season. The Clippers bested the Lakers 102-94 back on January 14th, and the Lakers are sure to want to seek revenge in this one. Currently, the (20-14) Lakers are just 1.5 games behind the (20-11) Clippers so the April 4th match up (technically a Clippers home game), will loom large for both teams as the season will be winding down by then.
2) April 15th, 2012- This is the date of the rematch of the February 10th Knicks loss at Miami 92-85. It was in that game that Jeremy Lin found himself ‘domLinated’ by a relentless Miami defense that exposed him and some of his flaws under pressure. Tied for the best record in the NBA with Oklahoma City at 27-7, Miami will travel to Madison Square Garden to face the (17-18) Knicks in what should be as exciting a game as their last meeting. The Knicks will have had six more weeks of playing together as a tandem by then, and with the team at full strength now, they’ll hope to even up the season series. With less than 2 weeks to go in the regular season at that point, the game could also have playoff implications for the Knicks.