Game On

by - December 22, 2011 - - Comment Now »

I just left the newly renovated Madison Square Garden following the Knicks and Nets second preseason meeting, my first taste of live basketball this season (yeah, I know it doesn’t really count). Despite the ugly nature of that particular game, I’m currently experiencing a state of antsy euphoria knowing the actual season is only a few days away and will gladly ignore a little post lockout sloppy play.

I feel like a kid fresh off a month-long grounding. There are simply too many stories to delve into come Christmas day. I’ll start with the two teams I just saw.

–Tyson Chandler is clearly going to have a significant impact on the Knicks. He is big, coordinated, active and athletic. He should improve their defense, keep attention away from Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire offensively and clean up the boards to limit teams to one shot (a huge problem for New York last year). His positive attitude also seems to be contagious.

With that said, their backcourt is currently a travesty. They’ve got absolutely no one who can break down a defense off the dribble. It’s probably not a good thing when Toney Douglas is the best guard on your team. Maybe Chandler’s positive energy can help heal Baron Davis’ back.

Another story to watch is the dynamic between Anthony and Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni, considered an offensive guru, is coaching for his job. Meanwhile, Carmelo is attempting to justify his star status. Melo is a savant as a scorer but he’s never really made his teammates dramatically better like other top players (he’s been eliminated in the first round in seven of his eight playoff appearances–in an average of 4.7 games). D’Antoni promises to run the offense through him. Can they help each other get better? Will this be the year Carmelo becomes a true superstar?

–The Nets are currently Deron Williams and a bunch of scrubs. Brook Lopez is far and away their second best player and their third best player isn’t even known for basketball (the Garden crowd booed Kris Humphries vociferously, as if they were defending Kim Kardashian’s honor). *Brook Lopez’ injury was revealed after I wrote this and could make number two below the more likely outcome.*

No team has more at stake this year. It really is all or nothing for the Nets. Think about the two possible outcomes for them.

1. They acquire Dwight Howard. Then they would be heading to Brooklyn with two stars, an intriguing Russian billionaire owner, a mega star minority owner and a team capable of competing for years to come. They would actually matter and a fun rivalry would develop with the Knicks for the first time in New York basketball history.

2. They don’t acquire Dwight Howard. They continue to stink. They lose Deron Williams and move to Brooklyn with nothing. They remain irrelevant.

–Speaking of intra-city rivalries…how about the Clippers and Lakers seeming like legit competitors for the first time ever? The Lakers still have Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum making them ever dangerous. But Kobe is older (and hurt) and the team overall is slow. Plus, Josh McRoberts is their fourth best player. Meanwhile, the Clips now feature Chris Paul lobs to Blake Griffin, otherwise known as basketball pornography. Toss in the soap opera that was David Stern determining CP3’s trade destination and you have compelling theater. Jack Nicholson should just stay in his seat at all times.

–Then there’s that team in Miami. Will their chemistry continue to grow with experience or will they ultimately prove that simply assembling talent doesn’t guarantee results, even if you have the two best players in the world on the same team? (Or does it just prove that three great players need more than complete bums for a supporting cast?)

I’ll bet on them. And yes, I’ll still bet on LeBron James (even in the Finals). Give me Heat over Thunder in June.

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