March 20th, 2006 03:57 EST
Destiny in Big D?
With the second half of the NBA season fast underway, fans around the country must be feeling the excitement. Rivalries, dark horses, powerhouses, and MVP candidates will clearly emerge, each vying to be the center of attention for the months to come.
Rivalries, especially, will keep the fans tuned in as four teams all have very solid arguments as to why they deserve to hold up the Larry O’Brien Trophy come June. Only one team will succeed – a team from Texas, but not the one you may think.
Dallas and San Antonio touched gloves on March 2 for the first time since 1 December. The game, hosted by the Spurs, had a playoff like atmosphere with it going back and forth all the while Robert Horry and Jerry Stackhouse got into it. The Mavs were due for a couple losses to the likes of San Antonio and Phoenix, but San Antonio was desperately in need for a "big" win after losing their "big" games to the Pistons.
"We have to understand that the Mavs are for real”, Spurs guard Tony Parker said before the All-Star break. "Avery’s a good coach and he knows our playbook by heart."
The little general should know their playbook by heart; he holds the Spurs franchise record for most consecutive games played in the 1990s.
Tony Parker and the Spurs are already bracing themselves for their inevitable second round match up, while Dallas is preparing for the home-court advantage they will earn by finishing higher than the Spurs.
With Phoenix still reeling from the unfortunate injury to their All-Star forward Amare Stoudamire, Dallas has propelled themselves to the top of the conference – and, by proxy, the entire NBA – in just half the season.
Dallas won’t stop their push to be top dog until the sun shines in June. Coach Johnson, accompanied by his tough defense has carried his Mavs to a 57-13 record since taking over for the ailing Don Nelson. Josh Howard, small forward from Wake Forest, is living up to all the hype, playing like the first round pick he was in 2003.
The Spurs are the defending champs; that fact, though, just adds fuel to the Mavs fire. The Spurs have never seen Dallas play defense like this, nor have they been very good at winning high-scoring games. For the Spurs to keep the race close with their in-state rival, Tim Duncan needs to get his game back on track, resume averaging around 24 points per game, thereby allowing his teammates to relax on the court and play coach Greg Popovich’s patented defensive basketball.
Miami and Detroit both play more before seasons end, too. Two more chances (March 22 and April 6) to decide whether Dwayne Wade’s heroics are enough to save the Heat and their title hopes. Seminal questions remain though. Can the talented Heat be consistent enough to beat quality teams like themselves? Is Shaq healthy enough to fulfill his promise of a second-half season surge by his team? An easy schedule should make this last promise much more attainable, with the likes of Toronto, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Boston on their upcoming docket.
What is assured is that Detroit will always be good. If a team can send four out of their five starters, plus their coaching staff to the All-Star game, you know they’re contenders. In the second half of the All-Star Game in Houston, the East went on that run to come from behind of a 17-point deficit because of stifling defense played by Pistons teammates Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups.
"It’s going to be us and somebody," Wallace said of the Easter Conference finals. "That’s all I know for sure."
It’s confidence and guarantees like that will get you to the NBA finals every year no matter who your coach is. The Pistons can’t be worried too much by their potential Western Conference foe, when they have the Heat – and this time a healthy Dwayne Wade – blocking their path back to the finals.
In summation, Miami has been struggling all year against top-flight talent and if not for the rest of the East struggling, it’s a race to the finish.
Out West, no matter how good the Mavs were before San Antonio and Phoenix, they’ll still be subjected to the same old criticisms.
The Mavericks continue to be on the rise with their hot streaks and their improved defense– and, most importantly, the Spurs can be beat.