The NBA's topsy-turvy first half in review
By ANDREW MORRIS
College Contributor Network
321 combined points in this 64th NBA All Star game broke the scoring record in the event. The MVP of the game, Russell Westbrook, scored 41 points -– one shy of Wilt Chamberlain's record -- but he did that by having the most field goal attempts ever (28), shooting more than once every minute. While this basketball game was more of an entertainment event in New York City, it did cap off one of the best NBA first halves in recent years.
This may be the most interesting start to an NBA regular season in recent years due to the storylines running through it. LeBron James' return, the success of the Hawks and Warriors and Kevin Durant not lacing up for much of the year are all worthy of serious reviews before the thirty teams (besides the dumpster-fire Knicks, 76ers and some others) really start chasing the Larry O'Brien trophy.
Of course, every summer is defined by a lack of sports news and results in an amplification of otherwise mediocre stories. The NBA free-agent market had some of its biggest fishes get even bigger during the offseason player hunt. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Chandler Parsons followed LeBron towards incredible amounts of cash, but James was obviously the one who drew the most eyes.
His decision (which left out the "The" attached to it in the past) to return to Cleveland sparked interest throughout the league, especially when Andrew Wiggins was traded for Kevin Love. So far, Kyrie, LBJ, Love and crew have hit bumps in the road in terms of chemistry and defense, but with time and front-office deals, the Cavs sit at fifth in the Eastern Conference. There's venom in that locker room and it's all being saved for a second-half run.
Probably the biggest narrative at the midway point of the season concerns the fresh teams that have catapulted straight to the top of the conference standings, jumping over perennial top dogs in the process. It's still early and things might shake out to normalcy by the end, but for teams like the Atlanta Hawks and the Golden State Warriors, this season has been a planned, yet unexpected surprise.
Granted some teams have fallen spots in the standings due to injuries, but for awhile the Warriors were the most dominant team, offensively and defensively, since the 1996 Chicago Bulls. Oh yeah, the team's first-year coach Steve Kerr has Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green turning in chart-topping years.
In Atlanta, January felt like it never got cold, because it didn't. The Hawks went 17-0 in the month and ended the first half with the second-best record in basketball. Atlanta had the best shooting percentage, most field goals assisted, and fewest points allowed per 100 possessions in the league in January -– and it's not like these numbers were that much different than the other months. That's a simple recipe for winning basketball.
Other teams like the Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks (all hail Jason Kidd) have made fantastic improvements to their depth charts, positions in the standings and skill of play in this half compared to the previous season.
But for teams like the San Antonio Spurs, L.A. Clippers, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, work has to be done to see the same final results as last year. All these teams have great chances of accomplishing that and, especially for Oklahoma City, they may have just gotten off to a late start. The previous year's MVP, Kevin Durant, and his sidekick Russell Westbrook both missed serious time at the beginning of the year (17 games for Durant, 14 games for Westbrook) and, as everyone expected, the Thunder tanked, dropping eight-of-12 to start the campaign. Durant has had unfortunate and consistent foot, ankle and toe injuries during the first half that haven't given perhaps the league's most dangerous scorer consistent time to do his magic on the floor.
Going into the second half, don't count the top teams in and don't count the bottom teams out. Each playoff contender is dangerous in its own regard and if you were to count on one thing, these next few months of NBA basketball will be some of the most fun and captivating in recent memory.
Andrew Morris is a sophomore at Syracuse University. People refer to him in the third person and he has an everlasting love for Orange, Major League Baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland A's, Golden State Warriors, and Indianapolis Colts. Follow him on Twitter: @Andrewmo123