The Lakers, Celtics and Cavaliers are the only teams playing at .800 or better. The story of the season thus far has had the usual contenders in Detroit, New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Utah and San Antonio (the latter two because of injuries) playing closer to the middle of the pack than anticipated.
I have spoken to several general managers, coaches and players about the situation over the past month. They are concerned. Nobody wants to talk about it publicly, but the general feeling is that the economic meltdown is going to have an impact on revenues and salaries over the next few years.
Miami (9-9) didn't win its ninth game last season until Jan. 26, and Wade's play is the chief reason for this two months of fast-tracking. He is averaging career bests in scoring (28.7), assists (7.9), steals (2.3) and blocks (1.7), reminding covetous teams that someone other than LeBron James will be a free agent in 2010. Most encouraging is Wade's increased use of a jump shot, which means decreased use of liniments and Ace bandages for him. He still ranks second in the NBA in "and 1'' plays (21) but doesn't need a coach named Spatula nearly as much anymore. "It keeps you off the floor and it keeps you from getting banged up as much,'' Wade said in a "Eureka!'' moment the other day. See, they teach us good at the ol' alma mater.
Andre Iguodala, Luol Deng, DeShawn Stevenson and the aforementioned West/Stojakovic tandem also need to get it in gear. But given the high stakes, both for his team and for his own status in the game, McGrady has to be No. 1 on the list. The Rockets need him to regain his superstar form if they are going to finally break through in the West.