by Abe Schwadron and Peter Walsh
Hello world! Special greetings from your loyal, sleep-deprived Post Up bloggers. Hope you enjoyed the weekend off from intense hoops action as much as our tired typing wrists did. With the All-Star break officially in the books, it’s time to turn our attention back to games that mean something, as Playoff races in both conferences are set to heat up, along with trade rumors, MVP talk and a dozen more unpredictable story lines sure to emerge over the next couple months.
So, what’s the best way to get set for the second half of the year? By looking back at what we’ve seen to this point, of course. And, since here at The Post Up we’ve been with you on every night from Christmas/Opening Day to present, it seems like we’re the best guys for the job.
With that in mind, we’ve come up with our Midseason Awards list, ranging from the normal—MVP, Coach of the Year—to the unusual—best/worst jerseys. Consider this your half-season in review. Been living under a rock in 2012? You’re in the right place. Disagree with our picks? Of course you do. Hit us in the comments section to state your case. Now that we’ve got pleasantries out of the way, let’s get it started, beginning with a trio of consensus picks:
MVP: LeBron James, Miami Heat
I’m still rooting for my original pick, Kevin Durant, to take home the honors, but only a fool would pick against The King right now, given his unbelievable numbers—27.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 6.8 apg and an insane 55 percent field goal percentage. LBJ has carried the Heat to a 27-7 record (tied for NBA’s best) and an 8-1 mark in the 9 games DWade missed due to injury. If he keeps this pace up, his season will go down as one of the best individual statistical seasons of all time. —Abe
ROY: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
On draft day, I was a little unsure of what to make of Irving due to his injury riddled season at Duke. In short, he has surprised the hell out of me. He has singlehandedly rejuvenated the Cleveland fan base and has given them hope for the future when things were looking bleak. Irving has that “it” factor that only superstars have plus his confidence in the waning moments of close games is something that that other kid from Cleveland is still developing. With averages of 18.1 points, 5.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds a game, the award is his to lose. —Pete
Defensive POY: Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies
I’m willing to admit that Dwight Howard is the L’s most powerful defensive presence. But his lack of interest at times turns me off. Allen, on the other hand, is a 24/7 menace on the court, harassing the opponent’s best wing player and often shutting them down. Plus, he’s awesome. Gucci! —Abe
Pete: Marcin Gortat, Pheonix Suns
Originally an afterthought in the Vince Carter-Jason Richardson deal, Gortat has been, by far, the best player involved in that trade. Gortat is averaging 15.9 points, which is over double his career average, 10.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. He is Top-10 in field goal percentage, rebounds, blocks, and double-doubles—the guy is a beast. The sneaky-athletic big man is quickly becoming one of the better centers in the league.
Abe: Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons
Despite playing on one of the L’s most selfish teams, Monroe manages to fight his way to a double-double on a nightly basis. He couldn’t work his way into the starting lineup in Detroit until late in the year last year, and now look at him: averaging 16.7 ppg and 9.8 rpg. That’s a monster line considering this dude rarely gets traditional isolation post-up opportunities and plays on a team with shot-jackers like Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince. Moose is about to be a certified problem.
Pete: James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s pretty rare when a team’s sixth man can be considered an All-Star Snub, but James Harden is no ordinary bench player. Harden, who could easily start on almost any team in the league (except the Lakers, Mamba ain’t havin’ that) is averaging a career-high 16.8 points per game and when he’s hot he makes the Thunder damn near unstoppable. Harden is also incredibly efficient. He is yet to take more than 13 shots in a game, yet has eclipsed the 20-point margin nine times already this season. The lefty surely knows that he is a starter in this league, but defers to his teammates for the greater good which may be his best attribute.
Abe: Lou Williams, Philadelphia Sixers
How often is a team’s sixth man also that team’s leading scorer? LouWill is scoring 15.7 points a game to lead Philly, and has time and time again been the go-to guy in the fourth quarter, even on a team with no so-called “superstar.” It seems like the sixth-year pro has finally found his calling, providing big minutes and big scoring off the bench, helping make the Sixers into a real contender in the East.
Coach of the Year:
Pete: Byron Scott, Cleveland Cavaliers
Show of hands, who thought the Cavaliers were going to be one and a half games out of the eighth seed at the All-Star Break? Scott has gotten his team to buy in and with a little help from Kyrie Irving is injecting the city of Cleveland with hope. Scott also knows how to handle young, uber-talented point guards (see: Chris Paul) and has been doing a wonderful job of bringing along Irving and managing his minutes in an attempt to avoid the dreaded “rookie wall”. With Boston and Atlanta both struggling, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Cavs sneak into the playoffs at year’s end and most likely face…Lebron James and the Miami Heat.
Abe: Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
Plenty of worthy candidates for this spot—I considered Lionel Hollins, Gregg Popovich, Doug Collins—but I gotta give Thibs credit for keeping the Bulls atop the East (okay, a half-game back of the Heat, but tied for most wins, with 27) without the services of All-Stars Derrick Rose and Luol Deng for an extended period. Chicago never skipped a beat, with CJ Watson at point, and then when he went out, with John Lucas running the show. It’s a tribute to Coach Thibodeau’s tremendous defensive strategy and tightly-run ship.
Most Surprising Team:
Pete: Philadelphia Sixers
The Sixers have been slipping as of late but their 20-14 record at the break, and first place position in the Atlantic Division has caught fans and analysts off guard. This team came in completely under the radar, due in part to the hype behind the Knicks and Heat as well as their lack of a nationally marketable star. Instead, Doug Collins has gotten his team to buy in to his coaching philosophy and the Sixers have gotten a full team effort. Veterans like Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand are putting up better numbers than expected and point guard Jrue Holiday has improved by leaps and bounds. But, the real reason behind Philly’s success is their bench. Illadleph has, hands down, the best bench in the league. Between Lou Willams, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Nicola Vuceciv (a.k.a. the Night Shift) the Sixers’ 6 through 9 average 43 points per contest, which is nearly half of their total team average. Injuries have begun to take their toll and without a bonafide star to help them when their offense stalls, they may struggle down the stretch. But, if their steadfast defense holds up and their bench can keep producing at a high level, they will be okay. Regardless of what happens, their first half of the year has been impressive.
Abe: Houston Rockets
Don’t look now, but Houston sits at No. 6 in the West and would be a nightmare for any of the top seeds to face in the first round of the Playoffs. The Rockets are 20-14 despite being projected by most as a Lottery-bound squad. Kyle Lowry continues to be one of the game’s most underrated players—dude’s averaging 15.6 ppg, 7.6 apg and 5.3 rpg and hits big shots like it’s his job (it is, I guess). When you look at their roster, you don’t see much, especially in the second unit, which features the likes of Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. But coach Kevin McHale has the Rocks rolling, behind Lowry’s leadership and Luis Scola’s toughness, even with Kevin Martin’s wild inconsistency this season. Plus, Chandler Parsons has been a nice surprise.
Most Disappointing Team:
Pete: Sacramento Kings
With so much talent, it’s amazing that Sacramento hasn’t been able to win a few more games just by chance. With offensive threats like Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and Marcus Thronton on the roster, the Kings have not lived up their promise at all. After a mutinous roster pushed Paul Westphal out the door, it was clear that this season was going to be a long one out in Sacramento. Throw in the disappointing play of first round choice Jimmer Fredette, terrible defense and lack of a true point guard and you have a recipe for disaster.
Abe: Golden State Warriors
Every year, I get suckered into thinking the Warriors will sneak into the Playoff race, and with one of the most explosive offensive backcourts in the game, why wouldn’t I? Heck, even coach Mark Jackson predicted they’d be a post-season team. But even with Monta Ellis playing at near All-Star level and Stephen Curry looking healthier and healthier every game (knock on wood), Golden State just has nothing up front outside of David Lee and plays little to zero defense. The infuriating part is, the Warriors (13-17) have wins over the Heat, Clippers, Knicks, Blazers and Bulls!
Pete: Kevin Love vs. Clippers
In one of the most entertaining contests of the first-half, two of the most exciting teams in the league put on a show out in Hollywood. It wouldn’t have been right if this one didn’t come down to the wire and hopefully this was just a little preview to future Lob City-Wolves matchups. Truthfully, I don’t know which I like better; the shot itself or the ensuing celebration.
Abe: Jeremy Lin vs. Raptors
The height of Linsanity culminated with this cold-blooded three in Jose Calderon’s face. My favorite part of this play is that JLin begged coach Mike D’Antoni for an iso—simultaneously awesome (that he wanted the rock) and hilarious (that he had to ask). Oh, and the shot was butter.
Pete: Nicolas Batum on Javale McGee and Trevor Booker
Blake is the obvious choice, and either Abe’s pick or his dunk from the other night could have gotten this spot, but I wanted to show Batum some love. The Frenchman had a great first half and this dunk punctuates it perfectly. The Blazers couldn’t come to an agreement and work out a deal with Batum in January. Instead of pouting, he went out and showed management what they’ll be missing next season. The fourth-year pro hit a remarkable nine 3’s against Denver earlier this month, then dropped 33 against the Wizards ten days later. For the season, he is averaging 13.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per and has been a solid contributor for Portland off the bench.
Abe: Blake Griffin on Kendrick Perkins
Pete: New Orleans Hornets “Mardi Gras”
Why? That’s really all I can come up with. These are abysmal. (Yes, we know neither of these guys are on the team anymore. It’s just a pic, guys!)
Abe: Memphis Tams ABA Throwbacks
If you read this blog on a daily basis, you’re familiar with my disdain for these unis. I don’t think I need to elaborate.
Pete: New York Nets ABA Throwbacks
Awesome unis originally worn by the great Dr. J back in the ’70s. The red, white and blue color scheme is dope, and the stars running down the left side of the uniform are a nice touch. Classic, clean, timeless look.
Abe: Washington Wizards ’11-12 Jerseys
I’ll be honest, my favorite unis I’ve seen this season are the Pacers’ throwbacks—but this year’s re-invented Washington jerseys are literally the only good thing going on in DC, so I had to pick them. See, even John Wall and Jordan Crawford are excited.
Eastern Conference Finals:
Pete: Heat over Knicks
Admittedly a complete homer pick with the Knicks, but one that isn’t entirely far-fetched. It’s not like they don’t have the talent, it’s whether or not they can find the necessary chemistry and put it all together. Remember, this team literally came together overnight; JR Smith went straight from the airport to the Garden, Jeremy Lin hopped up off the couch and Baron Davis is playing ball for the first time in a year. They have a Top-5 scorer in the league, a center who’s playing arguably the best basketball of his career, a suddenly deep bench and one of the best developing sports stories of all time (that’s gotta be worth something, right?). Plus, no one in the East, outside of the Heat, is particularly scary right now. Who knows if DRose’s back will hold up, Philly and Indiana are coming down to Earth, Orlando may have a completely different team this time next week, Boston looks finished and the Hawks are plagued by injury. If New York gets hot again, they could potentially grab the No. 2 seed. Why not? Still, Miami waxes them in the series.
Abe: Heat over Bulls
Sticking with my original pre-season pick, simply because these are the two best teams in the East. Both play incredible defense, and both have go-to crunch time scorers (no matter what you say about LBJ, DWade is still there). No other team in the East—including the Knicks—should give either of these teams much trouble until they face off in the ECF. And how good will these series be? I, for one, can’t wait.
Western Conference Finals:
Pete: Spurs over Thunder
The West is such a crapshoot; it really could go to any team this year. As entertaining as it would be to see the Clippers and Thunder battle over a seven game series, both teams will be doomed by poor coaching and game management. The Thunder have been unbelievable but, Scott Brooks’ fourth quarter coaching has been suspect at best. Plus, who knows if Westbrook and Durant will play off of each other in the playoffs like they have in the regular season; we all remember what happened last year, right? L.A. would be the sexy pick but, once again, their coach comes into play. Vinny Del Negro will be in way over his head come playoff time and the Clippers struggle in the half court set–something a veteran team will try and take advantage of. The Spurs and Mavs have coaches who know what it takes to win in the playoffs and have vets who have been their before. Tony Parker has been playing out of his mind this year and it would great to see Tim Duncan get one more shot at a ring before he hangs ’em up. The Mavs still have a 7-foot superstar who showed last year that he is ice-cold when it matters most and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Mark Cuban shakes things up and makes a move at the trade deadline. Spurs in 7.
Abe: Thunder over Mavericks
Before the season, I went with Mavs over Grizz, but KD and company have compelled me to switch things up. I still love the Grizzlies, and I agonized over my West picks because I so badly want Memphis to make it to this spot, but I just have no idea what happens when Z-Bo comes back, and that unknown is too scary when compared with what the Thunder are doing right now. The Mavs are rounding into form nicely, and Dirk has gone into unstoppable mode a few times this season, giving me the confidence to keep Dallas in the WCF. But OKC’s demolition of the Lakers on Thursday, their ridiculous 3-man show a few days earlier, and Kevin Durant’s upward swing are just too much for me to ignore. Thunder up!
Pete: Heat over Spurs
The Heat were the favorites coming in and will be the champs when it’s all said and done. They’re too good this year and no team will be able to hang with them for seven games, it’s as simple as that.
Abe: Heat over Thunder
In 6. Book it.