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Nothin' but Net: NBA lacking something
By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Christmas Day normally marks the day on the calendar when the average fan devotes a little more attention to the NBA.
Sure, the NFL still dominates the sports headlines until after its biggest event, the um, what do you call it, Stupor Bowl?
Christmas is a week in the rearview mirror and the NBA season just doesn't feel like its taken off quite yet. Almost every team has played 30 games and still, this season is lacking something.
The most obvious answer is that injuries have ravaged teams and individual players.
Kobe Bryant played six games before he went back on the shelf, this time with a broken bone in his knee.
This season was all about the comeback of Derrick Rose. He took the cautious route, didn't play a second last season after his left ACL tear in the 2011-12 playoffs, then tore the meniscus in his right knee. Ballgame. Season over.
Steve Nash has the back of 93-year-old career lumberjack.
Rajon Rondo has been seen as frequently as a yeti.
Russell Westbrook is shut down again after missing the start of the season and both announcements came out of nowhere. That's a tight ship they're running in Oklahoma City.
Brook Lopez broke a bone in his foot for the third time in about a half hour, so his season is lost and career could be soon to follow. Big guys with bad feet don't turn out well, ask Bill Walton.
Al Horford, he tore his right pectoral muscle, will undergo surgery and is expected to be done for the season.
Marc Gasol, reigning Defensive Player of the Year, would probably finish first in a vote of best players sidelined with a sprained left knee.
Luol Deng had the most horrifying injury of last season - complications from a spinal tap. This season, an Achilles setback must seem like a Swedish massage and mai tais.
These are all former All-Stars in this league and the list doesn't include solid citizens like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, J.J. Redick, Larry Sanders and Steve Blake. Sanders, though, made his return last week.
Not having these players on the court has damaged the product. The NBA is a star-driven league, and yes, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade have been fine, but the absence of the above players took a toll.
Bryant was second in NBA jersey sales for 2013. Westbrook finished 11th and Rondo was 13th. That is a clear sign of individual popularity and the product doesn't feel right to the fans without the players they want to see. Supply and demand.
But those injuries are hardly the sole reason the NBA has experienced some lows this season.
Tanking was the big buzz word in the summer thanks to the bumper crops of studs about to be available in the draft. While no teams would ever dare outwardly speak that word, the Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, have, to some degree, put winning on the back burner.
The result has been truly crappy basketball. The Eastern Conference is the biggest joke since "why did the chicken cross the road?" Only three teams have a winning record and the Atlanta Hawks, one of the select three, will surely slide with Horford's injury.
Rest assured, the Sixers, Jazz, Magic, Raptors and Celtics stink, but poor Toronto. The Raps traded Rudy Gay and immediately ascended to the top of the Atlantic Division standings. Guess it doesn't reflect too highly on Gay either.
Two teams have been startling great - the Indiana Pacers and Portland Trail Blazers. Paul George, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are stars, but not mega-stars. Also, Indiana and Portland rank in the bottom-third market-size- wise, so that doesn't help getting the message to the fans about how strong these two powers are.
Two teams have been startling disastrous - the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks. New York, as it turns out, is a large market, so we know how bad it is there.
But perhaps the biggest reason why this season has failed to impress has to do with inevitable predictability.
Anyone doubt that the NBA Finals will be won by either the Miami Heat (two in a row), the San Antonio Spurs (last year's losers) or the Oklahoma City Thunder (losers from two years ago)?
The Heat have morphed into the New York Yankees. They brought the stars in and it's paid off tremendously with two titles and a Finals loss. James, Wade and Chris Bosh are no longer disdained, but the Heat winning can work two ways.
Some in sports love greatness. The Heat embody greatness. James is the best player to come along since Bryant and will probably go by him into rarified air. They stay together, Wade pieces his body together a few more seasons, and the Heat may get Erik Spoelstra in the Hall of Fame.
Or, people detest greatness, partially out of jealousy, partially out of a perceived arrogance. Neither is valid, but either way, a third straight title from the Heat would not only be expected, but probably unappreciated by the masses.
The Spurs simultaneously amaze and bore. They have had more moving pieces than a piston engine the last few seasons, but still get to the conference finals almost every year. Duncan, Parker, Manu and Pop - a hideous name for a folk band, but the cornerstones of the most remarkable NBA franchise since the mid-90s Bulls. Respected, diligent, but as colorful as a doctor's office wall. It's how Gregg Popovich wants it, but the tale has been told. We're adding chapters at the end that aren't taking us where we, or the Spurs, want to go.
The Thunder intrigue. They have the clear No. 2 player in the league in Kevin Durant and have a potent recipe for success with a sneaky-good defense, scorers, a bench and a good skipper. But it won't move the dial.
The NBA has time, but it could use an immediate kick in the can. All-Star weekend is not far off and after the Super Bowl, the association will have the nation's attention in sports to itself. (Actually, after the Olympics.)
Get the marketing machine out there for guys like George, Aldridge and Lillard. Watch and marvel at what James and Durant can do on the floor. And pray for good rehab facilities for the stars.
Or, just hope for another incredible Finals like last season. Chances are, it'll be the same two teams.
12/31 12:57:49 ET
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