Most of the NBA has a nice three-day break to catch their breath before embarking on the roughly thirty game stretch that signifies the end of the regular season. For some teams, (definitely NOT the Lakers…) the impending vacation sharpened their focus and resolve as they worked to close out the first half of the season on a positive note.
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That was certainly the case for the Chicago Bulls. Leading MVP candidate Derrick Rose and the Bulls finished with an impressive four game winning streak, highlighted by toppling the team with the NBA’s best record by a whopping seven games, the San Antonio Spurs. For the Spurs it was only the tenth loss of the season (46-10). You know things are going well for your squad when going 7-3 over your most recent ten game span is considered a small disappointment.
Chicago was the last week of the first-half of the season highlight in the East, while in the West, the ever resilient Portland Trailblazers head into the break with the best momentum, owners of a six-game winning streak. When Brandon Roy was lost for the season due to injury last month, it was pretty easy to dismiss the Blazers playoff chances. Thanks in large part to the All-Star caliber play of LaMarcus Alderidge, not only have the Blazers survived, they are actually thriving and playing some of their best basketball of the season. Over the last five games Alderidge average a whopping 34 points a night. It’s truly a shame he won’t be participating in this weekend’s festivities – he certainly deserves it.
It has been a great first half of the season, and there’s no better way to celebrate it than with the best All-Star events in all of professional sports.
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Today’s Free NBA Picks – All Star Game:
Eastern Conference @ Western Conference (Total: 223.5)
The Eastern Conference has played the “JV” to the West’s “varsity” for most of the last 15 years – pretty much since MJ road off in to the sunset (the second time, not the first…or third). However, with savvy drafting and the huge exodus of elite stars migrating East, things have not only balanced out – the talent advantage actually favors the East. Though it won’t factor into Sunday’s All-Star Game, the pendulum will swing even further once the Carmelo Anthony deal finally gets done.
The West’s strength has long been in their stable of elite power forwards. This year, one of their regular All-Star participants will be suiting up in the away jerseys since Amar’e Stoudemire now suits up for the Knicks. Kevin Garnett, Carlos Boozer and Shaq (though no longer very formidable) also have taken up residence out East over the past few years.
Combine the migration with the aging of stars like Tim Duncan, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, and the West is no longer the prohibitive favorite.
The one thing they DO have in their favor is Kobe Bryant, one of the few guys who really struggles to go along with the half-hearted defensive efforts of standard All-Star Game fare will be playing – in his home arena full of frenzied fans none the less.
While Kobe and his killer instinct can be a huge advantage, in this game, I think it will ultimately be the West’s downfall. Hometown crowd equals automatic MVP assumptions; almost the unwritten rule in NBA All-Star games, get the ball to the hometown guy. Expect Kobe to be jacking up shots by the dozens. If he is off, the West is in real trouble.
Not that they don’t have some pretty major concerns to begin with. For one, the East’s starting lineup is much, much quicker, more explosive, younger and a ton better defensively. A starting lineup of Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire and Dwayne Wade could just as easily be called “the top 4 MVP candidates in order” plus Dwayne Wade (who always plays well in All-Star games and was the best player in the Beijing Olympics.
That lineup, the one that will be on the floor in crunch time, is not only better than the West, but it is also much more cohesive given the partnership of Wade and LeBron and the time that lineup (minus Kobe) spent together on the floor in crunch time winning a gold medal.
These All-Star games tend to favor the home team, the thought being they try just a bit harder to win the game at home, but I can’t see this insanely talented and competitive East squad not playing hard enough to win. Give me the East in one of the most talent-rich All-Star games in a long time.
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