NBA gets set for a wild second half run to the playoffs

Dave Carroll -
2/16/2010 8:31:29 AM
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After treating the largest live audience in league history to the East's 141-139 win over the West in Sunday's All-Star game, the National Basketball Association has a tough act to follow in the second half of the season.

The way things are shaping up, it should not be a problem.

As it stands now, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the class of the NBA. They will start the second half on a 13-game win streak and are playing just a hair under .800 basketball (.796) with the best record in the NBA at 43-11.

LeBron James and the Cavs lead the No. 2-ranked Orlando Magic by seven games and the third-place Atlanta Hawks by 8.5 in the Eastern Conference.

As well as the Cavaliers have been playing, they are still potentially looking for help at the trade deadline. Amar'e Stoudemire has been getting the majority of the headlines heading towards Thursday's deadline. While the athletic power forward would give Cleveland a terrifying front court, with the way King James has been playing, the LeBron puppet from the Nike ads would be capable of a double-double in the Cavs' line-up.

James is on a mission to prove the loss to the Magic in last season's East Final was a minor set back on his road to an NBA title.

After a slow start to the season, the Toronto Raptors appear to have turned the corner. The Raptors have won eight of their last 10, including three straight, and have crafted a 29-23 record overall, good for fifth in the East standings.

The Raptors sit second in the Atlantic, trailing the division-leading Boston Celtics by four-games. Toronto has a shot at home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs, but in order to accomplish that goal the Raptors will need to start winning on the road. Of the 16 teams currently in playoff positions, only one has a more dismal road record than Toronto's 9-17, the Charlotte Bobcats at 7-19. 

Aside from their road woes, the most troubling aspect of the Raptors' season is the lingering questions surrounding star Chris Bosh and his impending free agency.

Bosh is having another standout season, leading the Raps in points (24.4) and rebounds (11.4) per game. The perennial all-star has been complemented by a strong performance from third-year centre Andrea Bargnani. The seven-footer is enjoying his best season in the NBA with career highs in points (17.6) and rebounds per game (6.2).

Much was made of the preseason addition of Hedo Turkoglu, but the 30-year-old has been slow to find his form. While his one-word "ball" reply to a question during a post-game interview is arguably the highlight of his first season in Toronto, he has shown flashes of what the Raptors envisioned when they brought him onboard. If he can find some consistency it will go a long way toward helping Toronto track down the Celtics in the Atlantic.

The Los Angeles Lakers are tops in the Western Conference with a 41-13, 5.5 games clear of the second-place Denver Nuggets.

Kobe Bryant has been out of the Lakers' line-up for the last three games with an ankle injury, but the team has not missed a beat. They are riding a three-game win streak and are 8-2 over their last 10. Pau Gasol has come up with two big performances, averaging 21.5 points and 19 rebounds per game against the third-place Utah Jazz and fifth-place San Antonio Spurs in the Lakers last two games.

The Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma Thunder could be poised to make big moves as the NBA gets closer to the playoffs.

Dallas pulled off a massive deal with the Washington Wizards on Saturday, picking up Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson for Josh Howard, Quinton Ross, Drew Gooden and James Singleton. The Mavericks are 32-20, good for fourth-seed at this point. With Butler and Haywood added to an already potent line-up including Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry, Dallas looks ready to make a charge at the Western powers.

The Thunder are the hottest team in the NBA not based in Cleveland. Winners of six-straight games, the upstarts from Oklahoma City can attribute most of their success to sophomore sensation Kevin Durant.

Durant (29.7) is a close second to James (29.9) and leads third-place Carmelo Anthony (29.2) by a fraction in the NBA scoring race. The 21-year-old is serving notice that he is a force to be reckoned with. If Russell Westbrook can continue his development, the future of franchise looks brighter than it has since The Glove and Reign Man powered the then Supersonics in the mid-90s.

James, Bosh, Bryant and Durant (Photo: Getty Images)


(Photo: Getty Images)
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