Jan 31, 2012

State of the League: Eastern Edition

We're a third of the way through this shortened NBA season, and watching President Obama do his thing last week put me in the mood for a State of the League. For the sake of space (I don't get paid by the word, after all. Truth be told, my editor and I are in intense negotiations over my salary, which is currently $7.25/hr below minimum wage. Feel free to weigh in on that injustice in the comment section) we're not going in depth with each squad, just taking a pulse and checking vitals. 

- Cap City

Atlantic Division

The preseason consensus had the Atlantic pegged as a two-horse race between the aging Celtics and resurgent Knicks, but 20 games in, the division belongs to Philly. As previously discussed on ZA, their gaudy record (15-6) has been padded by favorable scheduling, but they still have the look and feel of a playoff team. The Celtics, frankly, look old, and that was before Rajon Rondo went down to injury. You can't count on Paul Pierce going for 34/8/10 every night, and that's what it took to beat the Wiz last Sunday. Ray Allen has continued to age well, shooting an incendiary 56% from deep, but there aren't any real sparks off the bench and scoring will continue to be an issue for a team that currently ranks 25th in that department. New York has been a disappointment at 7-13, but are you really that surprised? Carmelo's been asked to shoulder a heavy load and he's doing it (24 ppg), but very inefficiently (.394 FG%). Amare Stoudemire's been playing almost 35 minutes a game, and looked shockingly average. Given his physical issues, continued back-to-backs's probably aren't what the doctor ordered.  Landry Fields has taken a step back and the Anthony point-forward experiment was a bust, which leaves Baron Davis as this team's last, best hope. Yikes. New Jersey has four Williamses on the roster (Deron, Jordan, Shawne, and Shelden) but only Deron is worth the jersey he wears. Losing Brook Lopez didn't help. Toronto brings up the rear, and although Andrea Bargnani has been quietly justifying last year's big contract, this squad's not going anywhere anytime soon.


Out on the plains, Chicago and Indiana stand head and shoulders above the rest. This could turn into a pretty good battle, especially if both teams continue to hold serve at home, where Chicago is 9-1 and Indiana is 5-1. Their first meeting, this past Wednesday, ended with Derrick Rose saying he "couldn't wait" to play them again, but unfortunately he will have to wait, until early March. The Pacers have had a brutal early schedule, playing 13 of their 19 games on the road, which means they'll be rewarded soon with more time at Canseco. That only increases the odds that the season-ending game against the Bulls in Indy will have something at stake. Kyrie Irving has been solid and getting better for Cleveland, but besides him and Anderson Varejao, there's not too much there. Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings has shot significantly better this year, possibly due to his nonstop balling during the lockout, but he's one of the lone bright spots on a pretty underwhelming squad. Detroit also fields a team in this division. They let them play other teams and everything; it's pretty cool.


If the Occupy movement ever gets interested in the NBA, the Southeast Division should get ready for some campouts, because the inequality here is brutal. Miami is the 1%, but Atlanta and Orlando have started strong as well. All three were top five seeds last year, and it should come right down to the wire. Miami has the most talent, but they've had to play through injuries to both of their stars already. It's a good thing Pat Riley prepared for this contingency and stocked the rest of the roster with Eddy Curry's and Joel Anthony's. With Dwight Howard on the move, there's no way to foresee what Orlando's roster will look like in March, but they have some nice pieces and a great coach; if they don't get completely hosed in the Howard deal they should stick around. Washington and Charlotte are the huddled masses here, yearning to be free. They're 12 and 13 games back, respectively, but a look at their rosters suggests... on second thought, don't look at their rosters. If I told you that Gerald Henderson was injured, your reaction would presumably be, so what? Well, Gerry is currently Charlotte's leading scorer, showing you how far they've fallen since the halcyon days of Gerald Wallace and Captain Jack. The Cats actually have five players with above league average PER (Player Efficiency Rating). The Wizards, on the other hand, have only three, and one of them is Trevor Booker, who only plays 17 minutes a game. These two titans clashed twice in the past week, with the Zards taking both. I'm surprised anybody won, actually. If any teams could manage a double loss, these are them.


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