Cohen: Top NBA Storylines in November

By Josh Cohen
November 30, 2010

Here were the top storylines from around the NBA in the month of November:

1) THE SOUTH BEACH FIASCO

There was no doubt the Miami Heat were going to be the world’s most fascinating sports attraction this year.

There is a mystifying absorption people have for celebrities, and in today’s day and age, world-class professional athletes are among the most fashionable luminaries. They are profoundly disclosed to the public and people tend to love to develop love/hate relationships with them.

South Beach’s megastar trio fits right into this category and because of their shockingly disappointing performance thus far on the court, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are dealing with a great deal of negative publicity.

Some figured the Heat were assembled to break the NBA record for most wins in a season (72). Others, similarly, expected them to electrify fans with never-before-seen highlight plays (ex. at least five LeBron-to-Wade alley-oops a game) and outplay opponents with their implausible speed and talent.

Not so much.

Miami is a peculiar 10-8 and has not proven to have the right chemistry or resilience that championship-caliber teams tend to have.

In the Heat’s defense, however, there are still five months of the regular season remaining – which is plenty of time to make the appropriate adjustments to ultimately compete for an NBA title.

But, I am already starting to wonder – what will happen if Miami does not evolve and transform into the league power just about everyone anticipated it to be?

There are already reports circulating around the media that some of the Heat players are not happy with head coach Erik Spoelstra.

There was the mysterious Spoelstra-James bump during the Heat’s loss to the Mavericks. There are rumors that Team President Pat Riley will inevitably replace Spoelstra as head coach at some point.

I am starting to conjecture the psyche of LeBron. It’s very obvious that he signed with Miami because he envisioned “dominance and destruction” and being a part of a team that would be remembered as the “greatest, most enthralling” assemblage in sports history.

Even if his statistics wouldn’t match what he accomplished in Cleveland, the two-time defending MVP assumed his team’s success would be more “memorable” and “glamorous” than any of his individual achievements in past years.

At every NBA arena away from Miami, James is jeered at. When he touches the ball – even if he is not in position to do anything productive with it – he is booed and rebelled against.

It must affect him. Nobody wants to feel so ostracized. No human being wants to be the villain every step of the way. It’s just not a part of anyone’s nature.

Therefore, I ask again; what will happen if the Heat do not become the championship-level team they and everyone else expected them to be?

How long can James, Wade and Bosh accept the incoming scrutiny? How long can they tolerate being abhorred by NBA fans and celeb-fanatics alike?

Thus, I ask one question for all of you to think about: Will there be a South Beach breakup much sooner than anyone could have ever anticipated?




2) THE COMEBACK KIDS

There is a very popular adage in the NBA: Every team goes on a run.

Most of the time when a team is trailing by double digits in the second half, however, a run does not result in a lead or especially a victory.

The Utah Jazz certainly did not abide by that maxim in November.

It all started with a comeback win at home against the L.A. Clippers and then, things started becoming unimaginable on their unforgettable Southeast road trip.

The Jazz rallied back from a 22-point deficit to stun the Heat in overtime, 18 down to beat the Magic, an 11-point hole in the fourth quarter to outlast the Hawks and finally a 19-point shortage to knock off the Bobcats on a last-second game-winner from Deron Williams.

Most recently, Utah overcame a 19-point deficit to jolt the Lakers and another double-digit gap against the Clippers.

It seemed only logical that the Jazz would regress this season after losing Carlos Boozer to free agency over the summer.

But, rather than feel sorry for themselves, Utah acquired Al Jefferson from Minnesota and informed the evolving Paul Millsap he would have a greater role.

It has certainly worked out.

Williams, for one, is having an MVP-caliber season, Jefferson has helped anchor a thick and hard-hitting front line and Millsap has developed into one of the best power forwards in the NBA.

Especially since the Jazz do not possess a premier wing scorer, it’s surprising they have been able to mount such monumental comebacks.

It’s one thing if you have Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or Kevin Durant on your team and they just erupt. But it’s a whole another achivement when you overcome such massive deficits as a team.




3) DELIVERING IN THE CLUTCH

It may not exactly be how Head Coach Stan Van Gundy plans it during practice, but the Orlando Magic have proven this season to be cool in the clutch on the road.

In five of the Magic’s six road games this season, the game has been up for grabs in the final minutes of the fourth quarter and in four of those nail-biters, Orlando has prevailed in stirring fashion.

Against Charlotte on Nov. 6, Quentin Richardson connected on a left-handed drive with nine seconds left to extend Orlando’s lead to three and secure a win.

In New Jersey a week later, Jameer Nelson raced down the length of the floor and buried a game-winning fadeaway over the stretched arms of Brook Lopez with 4.1 seconds left.

It was Nelson serving as the hero again in Indiana when he converted on a go-ahead hoop-and-the-harm three-point play with 34 ticks remaining.

Lastly in Washington, Dwight Howard, who erupted for a season-best 32 points, banked in a game-winning putback off a Nelson miss with 4.3 on the clock.

Call it Saturday “magic” or just a team that consistently delivers in pressure-packed moments, but Orlando appears to be the type of club this season that finds a way to win in crunch time.

Last season, in contrast, only once all season did the Magic win a game with a go-ahead bucket in the final 10 seconds (Rashard Lewis’ memorable drive against the Boston Celtics).

“We have shown to have great resolve,” Van Gundy said recently.

While Orlando has done it multiple times this season, there have been other notable game-winning shots from other teams.

Mo Williams, for instance, buried a 15-foot fadeaway at the buzzer to catapult the Cavaliers past the Bucks. Carmelo Anthony sunk a 23-foot jumper as time expired to propel the Nuggets over the Bulls and Grant Hill and Jason Richardson connected on an unforgettable buzzer-beating alley-oop slam to send the Suns into overtime against the Grizzlies before pulling out an unimaginable triumph.




4) MELO STILL A NUGGET FOR NOW

Many eyes opened wide over the summer when it was reported that Carmelo Anthony decided not to sign a three-year, $65 million extension with the Denver Nuggets.

His decision to pass on such a deal automatically translated into his preference to play elsewhere in the long term.

As a result, trade rumors have persistently circulated around the media involving the three-time NBA All-Star. One proposed deal that would send Melo to New Jersey in a four-team deal seemed all but done before negotiations broke off in the final hour.

While it certainly remains possible that he will be traded before the February deadline, Anthony remains a member of the Nuggets. He is tied for eighth in the NBA in scoring (23.8 points), had a 20-20 game this year against Phoenix and nailed a game-winning jumper against Chicago.

Everyone seems to have his or her own opinions on whether it would be most sensible for Anthony to reconsider his decision to not sign the extension with Denver or to remain opposed to that idea and allow the Nuggets to decide whether or not they want to trade him in a blockbuster midseason deal.

Reports continue to indicate that the Nuggets are very stringent with what they would expect in return for Melo should they ultimately decide to trade him. And you really can’t blame them.

Anthony is one of the most electrifying scorers in the NBA and also rebounds extremely well at the small forward position. It would be insane for Denver to give him away without proper value in return.

If the former NCAA champion at Syracuse is still a Nugget at the trade deadline, I can’t even imagine how many times Denver General Manager Masai Ujiri’s phone will be ringing at that time.




5) ANOTHER SEASON LOST FOR ODEN

When Greg Oden was drafted first overall in 2007, I made a very bold prediction.

I said, in front of my colleagues at NBA.com, that the Portland Trail Blazers and Orlando Magic would play each other in the NBA Finals at least two times between 2010-2015.

I was convinced, based on his performance at Ohio State and my strong beliefs that you need interior dominance to win NBA championships, that Oden would be the type of defender and rebounder that would help the Blazers become the premier team in the Western Conference.

Shortly after my audacious forecast, it was announced that Oden would miss his entire first season after having microfracture surgery on his ailing right knee.

It pretty much all went down hill for the 7-footer from there.

Although he showed flashes of what he is capable of during his second and third years in the league, Oden could never stay healthy and this past month it was pronounced that he needed to have microfracture surgery on his left knee and would miss the entire 2010-11 season.

Unless the former high school national player of the year can somehow overcome all of these devastating injuries, it’s very possible that Oden will go down as the biggest bust in professional sports history.

The Blazers, meanwhile, who never seem to have any luck keeping their players healthy, now must try to find a way to at a minimum make the playoffs. Brandon Roy, although still playing at an All-Star level, has been battling a knee injury and they are still awaiting the return of Joel Przybilla.




OTHER NOTABLE STORYLINES

6) The Resurgence of Gilbert Arenas
After countless injuries and last season’s suspension, Gilbert Arenas has returned and looks more like his old self. It still remains unclear, however, if the three-time NBA All-Star will be able to coexist with rookie sensation John Wall, who has missed several games with a knee injury.

7) The Electrifying Blake Griffin
Although we didn’t get a chance to watch him last season due to a knee injury,, Blake Griffin’s long-awaited NBA career looks like it is headed in the right direction. He is absolutely incredible to watch because of his mix of speed and power.

8) Yao Ming’s Comeback Attempt
While it was great to see Yao Ming back on the NBA hardwood this season, it doesn’t appear the Rockets center will be effective this year. Already out with a leg injury, Yao looks more like he is closing in on retirement rather than returning to All-Star form.

9) Smiles Around the Big Apple
New York hoops fans now remember what it's like to have an NBA superstar playing in their city. Amar’e Stoudemire deserves to be an MVP candidate this year and the Knicks may be playoff bound for the first time since 2004 if they can sustain this rhythm.

10) Surprise Teams
Most of us thought the Spurs were too old, the Hornets were too confused and the Pacers were still rebuilding. After their impressive starts, I think all of those expectations were wrong.

What do you think is the most intriguing storyline thus far in the NBA season?
What do you think is the most intriguing storyline thus far in the NBA season?
Latest Opinions