Written by Tom Mullins, TRST NBA columnist. Follow him on Twitter @tomullins
Now that we’ve seen plenty of basketball this season, teams can be separated more easily, the good from the bad, and then there’s the Wizards.
While it’s slim pickings in the Eastern Conference, out West there are several championship contenders. As usual the Spurs and Thunder are the teams to beat, with the Clippers and Grizzlies close behind. As we all know the Lakers are struggling early, and young teams such as Golden State can seize the opportunity.
Other than Miami and New York, yes that’s right, the Knicks are a championship caliber team, the Eastern Conference lacks the ‘elite’ teams. Atlanta and Chicago have played well to date without a true star, while Boston, Brooklyn and Indiana are barely over .500.
Right now you can’t look past Oklahoma City, despite their loss to the Timberwolves last night. Durant’s continuing his brilliant play from last season, looking like a serious MVP candidate. Russell Westbrook has kept improving, now distributing the ball better to his teammates. Losing Harden hasn’t impacted the Thunder, with Kevin Martin fitting in perfectly to the offense and giving them a dangerous weapon from beyond the arc. Serge Ibaka is playing like a borderline All-Star, making consistent mid-range baskets, it almost seems unfair. OKC will probably finish with the top seed in the West, and don’t be surprised if they’re in the Finals for a second consecutive year.
Defending champions the Miami Heat haven’t looked quite as good just yet, especially defensively, though they are still playing at a level greater than most other teams around the league. LeBron James is unstoppable as usual and Chris Bosh is playing efficiently on offense, however Dwyane Wade needs to recover from a slow start in order for this Miami team to be successful down the track. They should be able to escape the East for the third season in a row and defend their title, though the Knicks could challenge them in the playoffs.
Who would have thought the Knicks would be on top of the East only days away from Christmas? Carmelo Anthony has led this new look outfit to the second best record in the league. If their threes keep falling and Amar’e Stoudemire can play effectively with Melo, this New York team could be very dangerous.
Tim Duncan has turned back the clock so far this season and is playing at an extremely high level. The Spurs have cooled down a bit recently, but are still an elite team with guards such as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, along with a solid bench. They’re not going to let young teams such as the Thunder, Clippers and Grizzlies take over the West without a fight.
The Clippers are the best team in LA right now, thanks to the best point guard in the league, Chris Paul. It’s scary to think how good they could be, as they’re arguably the deepest team in the league with role players still on the sideline (Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups). Expect a deep playoff run from them, with a WCF’s berth in sight.
After a disappointing exit to the playoffs earlier this year, the Memphis Grizzlies look to go much further this season, and with the best frontcourt in the NBA, they have a great chance to succeed. It’ll be tough to get out of the West, though if their key players in Gay, Gasol and Randolph play efficient basketball, along with Conley and production from the bench, Memphis could definitely make some noise.
Look out for teams like the Bulls (if Rose is back healthy), Hawks and Warriors come the playoffs, who have played well early and won’t get the same amount of hype as the true contenders.
Teams who will improve as the season wears on include the Lakers, Celtics, Nets and Pacers. The Mavericks and Sixers should also step up their level of play when their star players return, if Bynum ever plays in Philly.
By Tim Kelly -Host, Owner, and Founder of the Real Sports Talk
Follow Tim on Twitter @KashKelly_TRST
The defending Western Conference Champion, Oklahoma City Thunder, locked up one of their key players late last night. Serge Ibaka who became known by some as “Serge Iblocka”, because of his defensive prescience inside the paint. Ibaka finished second in Defensive Player of the Year Voting last year averaging nearly four blocks per game.
The deal for Ibaka is reportedly worth 48 million dollars, over the next four seasons.
With Ibaka now locked up, the Thunder have three of their four key players locked up, (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka). The perspective of many NBA Insiders was that long-term the Thunder, who still are a smaller market team, would have to choose between Ibaka and Harden. So now with Ibaka locked up, don’t be surprised if the Thunder have to make the tough choice to trade James Harden after the upcoming 2012-13 season.
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By Akiem Balium- Host of 10 Minutes on the Clock on The Real Sports Talk Network, and Blogger for TRST’s the Sports Realist. Follow Akiem on Twitter @Li495Akiem
With London 2012 now part of history, attention turns to the next Summer Games 4 years fromnow in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro. It will be the first time that the “youth of the world” will be welcomed to South America as it’s the first time it’ll host the Olympics.
Rio won their bid in October of 2009 beating out Madrid, Tokyo, and Chicago. It was the 3rd consecutive occasion Rio had bidden for a Games. They weren’t even part of the 2008 or 2012 shortlists and they almost didn’t make the 2016 shortlist. In their case, the third time turned out to be a charm.
Rio came from nowhere to be able to win the privilege of being a host city. With poverty issues and widespread crime, Rio’s bid was seen as a huge liability. They won their bid on the backs of being able to also play host to the 2014 World Cup. 2014 is basically a dress rehearsal for 2016. If Brazil 2014 is successful, it bodes well for the possibility that Rio 2016 will also leave a lasting legacy.
There is already a controversy brewing concerning Rio’s bid. Their Olympic Stadium is expected to take place in already constructed Joao Havelange Stadium. Rio 2016 organizers have recently said that having Havelange’s name on the thing is atribute to the positive attributes he had for sport (and football in particular)in Brazil. But, that isn’t the response you will get if you talk to international football fans. Among them, Havelange is seen as a bribe-accepting schlemiel who (along with another Brazilian football bigwig Ricardo Teixeira—again,no relation to Mark) has furthered the desecration of that sport which is a bigdeal in Brazil.
As far as sports go, Michael Phelps, Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh Jennings, and Kobe Bryant will not be returning in 4 years. Surprisingly, there’s a report already that LeBron James may not return either to 2016. That actually extends to all NBA players if the owners have their way with the players regarding to the Olympics which would be a huge atrocity.
Also, given the shelf-life of gymnasts, it’s possible that none of the Fierce Five (KylaRoss, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber) will be backfor Rio either. They’ll try to come back & I hope one succeeds. But we sawwhat happened when Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin tried to make comebacks forLondon. Both failed due to injuries and (in Liukin’s case) a less-than-stellar showing at trials.
We do know that Ryan Lochte will return for the Rio Games. I’m also interested in seeing the emergence of Tyler Clary and Nathan Adrian now that Michael Phelps is out of the picture.
Beach volleyball silver medalists in London, Jennifer Kessy and April Ross, are already being touted as favorites to win gold at the Rio Olympics.
Brazil, you have a tough act to follow. But something tells me 2016 could be as much South America’s Olympics as they are Brazil’s. When South Africa held its first eve rWorld Cup in 2010, they were as much the World Cup of the African continent(since it was also its inaugural Cup) as it belonged to the individual country.
See You on the Internet Somewhere….Soon
I would like to close out this column by saying I was pleased to be apart of The Real SportsTalk’s coverage of the Olympics. The Olympic Games is by far and away my favorite sporting event, and part of that is that it can only be experienced once every four years (or every two when combining the Summer and Winter varieties).
I once again want to thank everyone from Tim, to Justin, to Nate, to all of our loyal subscribers to our YouTube & readers. There, of course, would be no Real Sports Talk without all of you that read & watch on a consistent basis.
After this,I’ll be hitting the road as I transition into my college dormitory to make the most drastic lifestyle change I have experienced in my 22 years. I will be unable to do anything sports related for the next 1 or 2 weeks. But, just likethe Olympics, I’m not saying “goodbye” but simply “check ya later”.