2012-13 NBA Season Storylines To Watch

With the NBA kicking of this week, it’s the perfect time to take a look at all the key storylines fans will be following this season.

Buckle up, because it looks to be one heck of a season.

No Fuel For LeBron’s Haters
LeBron James was cast as a villain for the majority of the past two NBA seasons after his bold and cocky “Decision” to take his talents to South Beach. However, after winning an NBA Championship and putting on one of the more incredible individual performances in recent memory during the playoffs last spring, it appears the stink from two summers ago is finally off LeBron. He is only 27-years-old and it’s clear he still hasn’t reached his peak as a player. Now what can the haters cling to? Lame jokes about his receding hairline? Here’s to hoping to basketball fans have finally moved past his bad decisions two summers ago and they start to enjoy one of the better talents the game of basketball has ever witnessed.

Ray Allen Against The Celtics
Wow, things got nasty between Ray Allen and the Boston Celtics in a hurry. Within weeks of Allen bolting Beantown for South Beach, the haters came out of the woodwork in a hurry. Kevin Garnett claimed to no longer have Ray Allen’s phone number. Doc Rivers lamented to the Boston media how hurt he was by Allen’s decision. And Celtics fans? Look for them to be loud and passionate in booing Allen when he returns to Boston on January 27, 2013.

Allen, who normally doesn’t talk with the media about drama, gave interviews to a couple Miami outlets this month to clear the air and share his side of the story.

Personally, I find it entertaining how much drama a role player who will only get 20-25 minutes per game is generating.

Will There Be Drama In Los Angeles?
On paper, the Los Angeles Lakers should roll to the NBA Finals. However, as the old adage goes, there’s a reason why they play the games. It will be interesting to see how the egos of Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant mesh. Plus, Steve Nash has been winning the battle against Father Time thanks to the amazing work the Phoenix Suns’ training staff has done with his body. It will be interesting to see how the grizzled vet handles the rigors of an 82-game schedule without the safety blanket of the Suns training staff and with Steve Blake being his backup.

How Will Pacers Handle Expectations?
So far, not so good. Real games haven’t even started and already Danny Granger is complaining about his knee. It was looked at by doctors and they assume he can play through some pain, but Granger is complaining about not being able to gut it out. I’m planning on writing a story this week about how the Pacers are dealing with the burden of expectations after talking with the players and Frank Vogul when they are in Toronto on Wednesday. Stay tuned to Sportsnet for that column later this week.

The Brooklyn Nets Will Fail To Meet Expectations
Speaking of failing to meet expectations, look for the Brooklyn Nets to give the New York tabloids plenty of fodder this season as they will struggle to become one of the elite teams in their own division, let alone the Eastern Conference. Sure, the roster looks splashy with names like Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez, but who on that roster is known for playing gritty defence? Look for the Nets to get killed off dribble penetration and for their bigs to get posterized on a regular basis. If this Nets team doesn’t figure out a way to play effective defence their season will be a resounding disappointment.

Are The Spurs Too Old?
Last season one of the more comical moments came when Gregg Popovich gave Tim Duncan the night off and the box score said it was because Duncan was old. While funny, the reality is Duncan has played 1,111 regular season NBA games and 190 playoff games. The treads on the tires has to be running pretty low at this point. Throw in the fact the rest of their core – Tony Parker (958) and Manu Ginobili (803) – have played a combined 1,761 games in the NBA on top of busy summers playing for their national teams. It will be interesting to see what Popovich can do to ensure his veteran team is fresh for a deep run in the playoffs. But, if last season is any indication, it just means the team’s younger players will get extended minutes during the regular season to help with their development.

Is The Jeremy Lin Fairy Tale Over?
Jeremy Lin became an instant internet and global hit within the matter of weeks and the New York Knicks weren’t sure he could sustain that so they let him sign with the Houston Rockets this summer. Through his first six preseason games Lin has averaged 30.2 minutes per game but he is shooting 13-46 (28%) from the field. Yuck. Hopefully it’s just a matter of rust and once the games start to count he is able to elevate his game.

Can Chicago Stay Afloat Until Rose Returns?
Derrick Rose is scheduled to return from offseason knee surgery in February, but it’s likely the Bulls season could be toast by then. The Bulls are using a backcourt rotation of Kirk Hinrich, Marco Bellinelli, Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler and Rip Hamilton. Yuck. In my humble opinion, that’s the worst backcourt in the NBA, and the team will struggle mightily until Rose returns.

Garnett Helps Celtics Eliminate Hawks

After Game 2 of Boston’s opening round series against Atlanta, Kevin Garnett said the Celtics were “all grit and balls.”

28 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks and three steals later, Kevin Garnett carried the Celtics to an 83-80 series clinching victory over the Hawks in Game 6. The Big Ticket’s impact on this series isn’t hard to grasp. Simply put, he was vintage KG. With Garnett on the floor the Celtics were +73. When he was sitting on the pine -42.

One question remains though: With so many game changing injuries having already occurred in the NBA, can a veteran Celtics team stay together for one last title run? The Celtics weaknesses were pretty glaring in this series. They can’t rebound, they lack elite athleticism, they struggle to score for stretches and they’re old.

Despite all of the above, when the Green Team plays at their peak they can be the best team in basketball. After the All Star break the C’s went 26 -12 down the stretch—proving they still had gas in the tank.

In the next round they will play the upstart Philadelphia 76ers and rekindle an old school playoff rivalry. In two different affairs in “The City of Brotherly Love,” the C’s were not feeling any love.

In their first face-off, former No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner had the best game of his young NBA career. Pouring in 26 points and grabbing nine boards. Along with Turner’s effort the Green Team failed to hit the glass and got out rebounded by 19.

In the second game the Celtics started out strong, before a scary injury derailed their momentum. Late in the first half swingman Mickel Pietrus fell awkwardly before being carted off on a stretcher. His injury seemed serious at the time after he was spitting up blood on the court and the Celtics could not rebound from what was a gruesome sight.

However, in their last match-up of the season the Celtics got the 76ers number. With Avery Bradley scoring 18 points and Rondo dishing out 15 assists the Celtics cruised to a double-digit home victory.

The series will not be an easy one for either side. However, if the Celtics can stay healthy, they should win this series in seven.

Hawks Narrowly Avoid Elimination

Every year during the NBA playoffs, there comes a moment where a team has a choice to lay down and allow their opponents to get some rest before inevitably heading to the next round, or choose to keep fighting in hopes of pulling off an improbable comeback.

Faced with a “win or stay home” scenario, the Atlanta Hawks nearly handed the Boston Celtics a win but hung in to earn a 87-86 victory in Atlanta.

After a successful but tough season, Hawks coach Larry Drew felt that his team was ready for the challenge of fighting out there way out of a 3-1 hole.

“I think we have had a really good season up until this point. We have overcame a lot of adversity through the course of the season,” Drew said before the game. “This team that has shown that they can take the challenge, especially when you talk about dealing with adversity and tough times.”

The Hawks definitely did their part to keep things interesting, as they made several runs but the Celtics responded at the end of every quarter, making it a back-and-forth battle all the way until the final possession.

After being down as much as ten in the second quarter, the Hawks made a furious run to close the half, making four consecutive three pointers, including two from Marvin Williams. In most cases this would leave a team with a bit of momentum going into the second half. However, a couple of free throw makes and a big dunk from Celtic big man Brandon Bass kept the Hawks from running away. To make things worse, Rajon Rondo drilled a three at the buzzer to send the teams to the Locker-room tied at 40.

In the third quarter, the Hawks played some of the best basketball they’ve played all series. Sparked by a fiery Al Horford who was playing in his first game in Philips arena since undergoing season ending surgery back in January, the Hawks soared to a 12-point lead with less than three minutes to go in the third. Then Rondo struck again.

Rondo closed out the quarter with six points, one assist, one steal and one rebound in the last two minutes and 42 seconds of the third to cut the lead to two.

In the final period the Hawks got the lead back up to seven, but the Celtics crept their way back getting the lead down to one with 10 seconds left to play.

Then Rondo struck. Again.

A Josh Smith inbound bounce pass was intercepted by Rondo giving the Celtics one last crack at closing the series in Atlanta. Luckily for the Hawks, the Celtics seemed so caught off guard by Smith’s blunder that they were unable to get off a good shot.

With the series heading back to Boston for Game 6, the Hawks will once again have their backs against the wall as they go against a pesky Rondo, a hot Paul Pierce and bustling away crowd.