Over the past few weeks, Linsanity has swept the nation. It has been nearly impossible to ignore the New York Knicks underdog story. Jeremy Lin, the Asian Harvard graduate has transcended the mold of typical NBA players. If you haven’t heard of Jeremy Lin, then kudos to you, you have sheltered yourself from the sports storm known as Linsanity. Check out one of the thousands of stories here.
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With all the hype swirling around the streaking Knicks and their newfound star, it has been easy to overlook the rest the league. It must be acknowledged that the 2012 NBA season is exceptional for reasons beyond Lin. The lockout has changed the flow of the season. The shortened 66 game season has affected gameplay, practice time, and has challenged the gritty depth of teams. With the uncertainty surrounding Dwight Howard in Orlando, and ageing teams in Boston and Atlanta, a power shift has begun below the two top teams in the east. Behind the dominant Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat, some young teams with depth have been creating excitement for fan bases.
In the east, the most pleasant surprise has been the steady emergence of the young Philadelphia 76ers and the Indiana Pacers. The 76ers are finally competitive again for the first time since the Allen Iverson days. Their head coach Doug Collins has turned the team around in just two seasons. They possess an array of young talent and solid utilities such as Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, and Lou Williams, which are crucial for any winning team. The veteran presence, glued with young talent and bright head coach has worked. Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday, and emerging big man Spencer Hawes bring potential star power to the team. Right now, the 76ers sit atop the Atlantic division ahead of the surging New York Knicks.
The New York Knicks similarly are an emerging team that may have the star power to compete with the Bulls or Heat. Their starting five is as loaded as any in the league. With the emergence of Lin, they boast their own big three: Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, and Jeremy Lin. While the Knicks have stars, like the 76ers, the Pacers lack star power but have young promise across their entire starting lineup. Since legend Larry Bird has taken over the front office, the Pacers have drafted well, and first round picks have become solid value players. The Pacers have an all star wing player in Danny Granger, a solid 7 footer in Roy Hibbert, and a solid floor general in Darren Collision. They also have a proven veteran big man in David West, and an emerging star with shooter Paul George. The key to the Pacers is depth off the bench with Tyler Hansbourgh and George Hill.
After coming up short in a great series against Chicago last year, the Pacers may have enough to get past the first round this year. They currently are positioned five games behind Chicago in the Central Division. Indiana is only one or two player away from the top, and they have the cap room to make a splash. The team should be actively pursuing New Orleans shooting guard and Indiana native, Eric Gordon. With a little more star power, both the Pacers and 76ers could be atop the east in the next few years.
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The Western conference is a whole different scenario than the east. It appears as if several teams could win the conference, while the east has two clear favorites. The Oklahoma City Thunder is plainly the best team in the conference, but they are still young. The key for the Thunder is to have James Harden blossom into a third star. If that happens, they should cruise to the Finals. Some of the teams that are challenging for the West are both the LA Clippers and Lakers, the reigning champion Dallas Mavericks, and the San Antonio Spurs. All these teams boast the star power and experience to compete.
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Like the East, some pleasant surprises in the West have emerged somewhat in part to the 66 game season. The Minnesota Timberwolves appear to finally be out of the lottery with new head coach Rick Adleman. They have two young emerging stars in Kevin Love and rookie Ricky Rubio. When the Wolves played the 76ers only a week ago, the two young teams played with refreshing playoff vigor. Similarly, Huston has proven as a nice surprise. The emergence of gritty point guard Kyle Lowry, coupled with a very deep team, has put Huston in command of a playoff spot. As we enter the All Star break, the NBA landscape has begun to form its contenders and pretenders. With all the hype around Linsanity, it has been easy to forget about the pleasant surprises throughout the league