The 2014-15 NBA season has been a breath of fresh air for most NBA fans. Teams that have dominated the NBA playoffs the past three years were either broken apart in free agency (Miami) or decimated by injuries (OKC, San Antonio and Indiana), leaving room for Washington, Atlanta, Golden State, Memphis and others to swoop in and vie for the pole positions in each conference. Other than the newfound disparity in the league, there have been several compelling storylines to follow across the Association that make this one of the more exciting seasons in recent memory.
This article could not be started without mentioning LeBron’s “return” to Cleveland and the Eastern Conference’s new Big Three (James and all-stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving). The four-time MVP left the Miami Heat for the hometown team he spurned in 2010, quickly erasing much of the hostility that had been built up towards him during his four years in Miami. This move, coupled with a pre-season trade for Love, lead many to believe that there was a clear new beast in the East. The truth couldn’t be further off. While the Cavs posted an offensive rating of 113.5 points/100 possessions with the Big Three on the court, the team was a very average 21-20 at the midway point of the season, with glaring chemistry, leadership and defensive issues.
The power vacuum following the Heat’s breakdown did, however, create a different power in the Eastern Conference: the Atlanta Hawks. Last year’s eighth seed, barely making the playoffs — even in the weaker East — has now won 30 of its last 32 games and sits atop the conference by a wide margin. Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap are essentially guaranteed All-Star bids, but don’t sleep on Kyle Korver and Al Horfords’ impact on the team’s offense and defense respectively. Atlanta is dominating top teams from both conferences with regularity and is living proof that team play and effort can trump star power, even in the NBA.
On the other side of the NBA, the Warriors are proving that you can have star power and team play, showcasing what the best backcourt in the NBA (possibly in NBA history), two potential Defensive Players of the Year (Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut) and an experienced and innovative coach can do. The team has absolutely taken the league by storm and are on track to have the second highest win total in league history.
A part of that backcourt, shooting guard Klay Thompson, deserves his own separate storyline for the greatest shooting display in NBA history. In an impressive win over the Kings, Thompson shattered both his personal career high for points in a game and the NBA all-time record for points in a quarter by scoring 37 points in the third and 52 in the game. He hit all 13 of his field goal attempts, including nine threes in the period. To give this some context, 13 teams in the NBA haven’t had any player score 37 points in an entire game all season and no other player ever scored more than 33 in a quarter.
No stranger to scoring the basketball, Kobe Bryant returned to action after a year and a half on injury leave and tried to bring life to a dead Lakers franchise. Bryant started off as advertised and captured the attention of fans and haters across the nation. High-volume shooting allowed him to lead the league in scoring for the first three months of the season. At the same time, Kobe surpassed his inspiration, Michael Jordan, in total career points scored. However, the Lakers, hit early by season-ending injuries to Steve Nash, Julius Randle and a long absence by Nick Young, resulted in Kobe carrying far more of the load than his old body should. He shot a horrid 37.3 percent from the field, making him the first player since 1961 to shoot that badly with 20 attempts per game. Not that it mattered, as the Lakers lost to nearly everybody in the league. In the end, a rotary cuff tear has ended the season, and possibly the career of the great Kobe Bryant — a hard way for a legend to go down.
In Chicago, Derrick Rose attempted the same by coming back from major surgery on both knees in the past two years, but in a very different situation. Rose returned to a contending team featuring a revitalized Pau Gasol and a blossoming Jimi Butler, and has been able to ease his way into playing like a star. The Bulls, explosive Rose or not, figure to be a contending power in the East, but if Rose and Noah are not playing at their highest, they don’t seem to be able to compete with the Wizards, Hawks or any contenders from the West.
In total, the first half has left us with more questions than answers. Will Cleveland turn it around? Can the young, streaking teams stay hot? How will the MVP race end? Will the Thunder catch the Suns for eighth seed in the West? The beauty of sport, however, is that we know we’ll get the answers; we just need to be patient, watch and enjoy the basketball in the meantime.