Of course, you have the Lakers, Celtics, and Spurs. You also have the Mavericks, Orlando, and Phoenix. Those are the teams you’re familiar with, and that’s all good, but don’t be surprised when those teams I listed catch all sorts of hell from teams who used to be cellar-dwellars, door mats, speed bumps, and pit stops on the way to their next destination. That’s because some of these teams are playing some damn good ball, well beyond what anyone expected this year, and the thing that may be the most striking: these teams are YOUNG.
I’m looking at the East right now, and see a team like the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks, in a way, remind me of the 2001-02 Sacramento Kings. They have the same floor general with Mike Bibby, a monster two-guard with Joe Johnson, a strong frontline with Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Marvin Williams, and then they have a bonafide sixth man in Jamal Crawford. With the exception of Bibby, the core of their team is young, but they’ve also played together for the past few years, so the familiarity is there. Those early Sacramento teams struggled for a couple of years, but stayed together, rearranged a couple of pieces, and became a nice fixture in the Western Conference in the early-to-mid 2000’s. Atlanta believes in what Mike Woodson is preaching, and if there’s gonna be a year for them to possibly make *gasp* The NBA Finals, this could very well be their year. Boston’s getting old, I still don’t believe in Cleveland, and Orlando took a step back this season. Out of these four, Atlanta is arguably the only team that has significantly improved. Plus, with Jeezy and TI at their games, they’re on the verge of having the livest courtside fans in all of basketball.
It’s also easy to forget that Charlotte not only has a team, they play legitimate basketball, and have been a welcome surprise this season. It’s gotten to the point where the Larry Brown Haters have to finally give this man his due, because who honestly saw the Bobcats being over .500 at the All-Star break? Stephen Jackson (Ed’s favorite player) is one of the most underrated leaders in the game today, and, if nothing else, you know the Bobcats won’t be scared of anyone they play, because Jackson won’t let that happen. Gerald Wallace has been in the league for a while, and it’s good to see him contributing to what Charlotte is doing. The man is averaging 19 and 11 for Charlotte, and even though All Star voting is closed, I’m gonna campaign for Gerald Wallace anyway. I’m glad Larry Brown put an end to this “point guard controversy” crap, and gave the keys to my dude, Raymond Felton. He’s playing solid ball, and the Bobcats have DJ Augustine right there to chip in as well, and even though they have two point guards, find some playing time for Dallas’ own Acie Law!!! Sorry, but I had to get that in. They got a damn steal with Boris Diaw, and any halfway smart basketball fan knows how versatile his game is. With all that, the craziest thing about Charlotte is their overall youth. Outside of Jackson, Nazr Mohammed, and Flip Murray, no one else on their team is over 27 years old. I hope they keep on winning, because I’d love to see what they can do, come playoff time.
I don’t know what the Western Conference is going to do, but there are bound to be some hurt feelings this year, because there are some teams who have every intention to crash the postseason party. I could talk about Denver, and while they’re on top of the West, it’s pretty much expected of them to perform this year. Plus, they have a healthy mix of young and old, so I’m gonna take a trip up I-35, and scream “ALL HAIL THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER,” at the top of my lungs. What they’re doing is absolutely remarkable. They’re in seventh place right now, and believe me when I say they're for real. Kevin Durant is on the verge of being the next big problem for the league, Georgetown’s own Jeff Green and Nick Collison do their share of frontcourt dirty work, and then you have James Harden and Russell Westbrook doing their part in the backcourt. It’s going to be tough, simply because there are teams that are chasing them, but I won’t be shocked if OKC continues this, and makes a routine first-round matchup a nightmare for a traditional Western power. My only hope is they don’t play the Mavericks, and that’s for my home team’s sake.
Then you have the Memphis Grizzlies, and I’ll admit I was the first one who said they wouldn’t be worth a damn this year, they're too young, don’t know what they’re doing, and the list goes on. Memphis reminds me of a team that comes to the gym, and you’ve never seen them play. You look at them, and think “alright, they got a couple of athletes, but look at that big old joker right there,” with all eyes looking at Zach Randolph. Next thing you know, a game to 15 has turned into a war, and the big old joker is doing a majority of the scoring and rebounding for his team. They’re on the outside looking in right now, in regards to the playoff picture, but with Randolph, Rudy Gay, and OJ Mayo doing work, they’re going to be in the mix. Marc Gasol is underrated, and they have another one of my favorite rookies on their team, in Sam Young, the owner of the greatest pump-fake in the history of college basketball. I still think they’re learning how to play with each other on the fly, which depending on the night, can be a good or a bad thing. Once again, the Grizzlies are like some of these other squads, in that the core of their team is so damn young. OKC seems to be making the transition smoother, but the Grizzlies have played well through the halfway point of the season. There’s no reason to not believe they can’t keep the party going.