Posted Jan 19 2011 9:54AM
As the schedule hits the midway point, we know that there are plenty of things that have happened in the 2010-11 season that have gone just as everyone expected.
For example, unless we're channeling Jeff Van Gundy, are any of us are really surprised that Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh in Miami aren't halfway to an 82-0 record and on track to rewriting all of Naismith's rules and several of Newton's laws? There was always going to be an adjustment period. The three rich amigos were always going to have to be healthy. There was, they will and all will be fine.
We knew the Lakers were always going to fill up TV screens with more artificial hype and drama than "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" and still find their way into the championship contenders' conversation.
We figured the Celtics would ride a healthy Kevin Garnett back toward the top in the East, Jerry Sloan would keep the Jazz humming a winning tune, Greg Oden and Yao Ming were good bets to be on the shelf and the 'Melo-Drama in Denver would drone on until our ears bled.
But no matter how many crystal balls and experts were consulted, there were still enough surprises in the first half to keep us guessing about what could happen next:
• The Spurs return: Coach Gregg Popovich can keep saying that his team really has to tighten down on its defense and shouldn't be mentioned as the best team in the league. Tim Duncan can maintain that the Spurs haven't proven anything yet.
But when you're a league-best 35-6 at the halfway mark, it says your championship window is anything but slammed shut. It started with Richard Jefferson as a more comfortable fit in his second season in San Antonio and then it grew with a healthy Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Mix in the fact that Popovich has been able to keep Duncan's minutes to a career-low so far and they'll be tough to take down come springtime. They are no longer the grind-it-out Spurs ... they now push the tempo, take the first good shot they see and deliver knockout punches from behind the 3-point line. Want another pleasant surprise? Try 26-year-old rookie Gary Neal and his sharpshooting.
• Landry Fields and Raymond Felton shine: Sure, it's Amar'e Stoudemire who gets his name at the top of the Broadway marquee for all that he's done to bring star power and pizzazz back to the Knicks lineup. He has delivered all that he promised when he signed with NY. But a couple of the biggest reasons the Knicks are over the .500 mark at the latest point in a season in nearly a decade are the co-stars. Felton was considered solid enough in helping Charlotte to their first-ever playoff berth last season, but has blossomed into a budding star and could be the answer for a contending team at the point even if Chris Paul never calls Madison Square Garden home. Fields, from Stanford, was the 39th pick in the Draft and lifted off from the launch pad in Summer League and continues in orbit with his scoring, rebounding and athleticism.
• Brandon Roy sits: It's no longer a surprise in Portland when word comes that Greg Oden has suffered another injury and is lost for another season. But with Roy, the three-time All-Star guard and cornerstone of the franchise, undergoing surgery on both knees, it's time to wonder if that new contender era of the Blazers that was supposed to have started several years ago will ever get out of the starting blocks. Suddenly that contract extension that still calls for Roy to be paid more than $63 million looks like trouble and the Timberwolves' decision to pass on those knees back in 2006 positively prescient. The Blazers are just fortunate to have LaMarcus Aldridge stepping up with his best season.
• Blake Griffin erupts: Yes, everyone expected Griffin to be the real deal last season before the knee injury postponed his rookie season. Yes, everyone believed he was one of those players that even the bungling Clippers couldn't mess up. Then Griffin returned from surgery and a year of rehab to turn into a one-man highlight show. ESPN could run an endless loop of his dunks and get a higher rating than it does for some live games. But it's not just the dunks that make your jaw hit the floor. It's the way he's competed, banged and made himself right at home with all of the self-confidence of a five-year veteran.
• Kevin Love boards: If there's a stat line of the year so far, it belongs to Love with his 31 points and 31 rebounds on Nov. 12 against the Knicks. It was the first 30-30 games in the NBA in 28 years, turning back the clock and bringing up the Moses Malone comparisons. But more impressively, Love hasn't stopped. He's leading the league in rebounding and working on a string of 28 consecutive double-doubles.
• Hedo Turkoglu comes home: Who'd have figured that when the Magic lost to the Lakers in the 2009 NBA Finals that Hedo Turkoglu would have to travel from Toronto to Phoenix before getting a chance to come back and try again in Orlando? As much as he didn't help the Raptors, Turkoglu was an even worse fit with the Suns. But playing off Dwight Howard in the middle, he's as comfortable as a custom-made suit and has the Magic revitalized and back in the contention in the East.
• Rip rips: Who could have foreseen it happening back in 2004 when Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace worked together like five fingers inside a glove in winning the NBA title? Who expected it in October? Now Hamilton mopes, draws technicals, questions coaches and, recently, just sits. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars desperately hopes to close the three-team deal with Denver and New Jersey in order to release Hamiton from this hell and turn the page.
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