NBA First-Half Storylines
NBA benches Gilbert Arenas
The three-time All-Star was suspended indefinitely after bringing four unloaded guns into the Wizards' locker room and later making light of the situation by pretending to shoot his teammates during a pregame huddle. Arenas pleaded guilty to felony gun possession and faces up to six months in jail; he is scheduled to be sentenced on March 26. The Wizards haven't tipped their hand about whether they will attempt to void Arenas' $111 million contract, but the union has said it will fight any such action.
Allen Iverson' short stay in Memphis
The Grizzlies figured to sell some tickets with the addition of Iverson. But the Answer never did play a home game for Memphis: Iverson appeared three times on the road, groused about his reserve role and then reached an agreement with the team on a contract termination. Iverson landed back in Philadelphia, where he is starting for the Sixers but hasn't done much to reverse their sagging fortunes.
The historically bad Nets
New Jersey was expected to struggle this season, but with Devin Harris at the point, Brook Lopez at center and several young prospects, they weren't supposed to be <i>this</i> bad. The Nets set an NBA record with 18 consecutive losses to start a season, the first 16 under Lawrence Frank before he was fired and replaced on an interim basis by general manager Kiki Vandeweghe. On top of that, they are on pace to break the single-season futility mark set by the 1972-73 Sixers, who finished 9-73.
Greg Oden: hurt again
The No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft broke his left kneecap on Dec. 5, an injury that is expected to end his season. After missing his would-be rookie season because of knee surgery and struggling through an injury-plagued 2008-09, Oden had gotten off to a strong start in 2009-2010. His absence, combined with a knee injury to backup center Joel Przybilla, has left Portland in need of frontcourt help.
Rookies making an impact
The 2009 draft has produced several early contributors, most notably Brandon Jennings, who scored 55 points in his sixth game but has slumped lately, and Tyreke Evans, who is threatening to become the fourth rookie to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. The draft has yielded gems outside the lottery, too, including Denver's Ty Lawson (No. 18 pick), Sacramento's Omri Casspi (No. 23) and Detroit's Jonas Jerebko (No. 39).
Steve Nash defies his age
A few weeks shy of his 36th birthday, Nash is playing better than ever, or at least as well as when he won the 2005 and '06 MVP awards. He is averaging 19 points and 11 assists while shooting 54 percent from the field, 42 percent from three-point range and 95 percent from the free-throw line. As a result, the Suns are pushing for first-round home-court advantage, though they have cooled off since a 15-5 start.
Star-less Rockets hang tough
Without perennial All-Stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, the Rockets have remained in playoff contention in the deep Western Conference. They've done it with nice seasons from Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, Trevor Ariza and Luis Scola, as well as another underrated coaching job by Rick Adelman. Meanwhile, they are exploring trades for McGrady, who appeared in limited minutes in six games in his return from knee surgery before he and the Rockets agreed to part ways.
Thunder, Grizzlies in the mix in West
The Thunder and the Grizzlies won 23 and 24 games, respectively, last season, but this season they've both emerged as legitimate playoff contenders. For OKC, Kevin Durant has blossomed into a star who not only scores a lot of points but also makes a difference on the defensive end. For Memphis, Zach Randolph is having an All-Star season in support of the young core of Marc Gasol, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Mike Conley.
Pistons hit the skids
Two years removed from the last of their six consecutive conference finals appearances, Detroit has fallen on hard times. Stalwarts Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton have struggled with injuries, expensive free-agent signings Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva haven't paid early dividends, and Detroit is relying on 35-year-old center Ben Wallace out of necessity. The Pistons have played better of late, but they have a lot of ground to make up after suffering through a 13-game losing streak.
Carmelo at his best
The NBA's leading scorer has put himself in the MVP conversation. He is averaging about seven more points than last season while helping Denver get into position to contend for the No. 2 seed in the West for the second year in a row.
Hawks flying high
Atlanta is on track to improve its record for the fifth consecutive season. And with this step forward, the Hawks are challenging the conventional wisdom that the East is a three-team would be a three-team race among Cleveland, Boston and Orlando. With the maturation of Josh Smith and contributions of Sixth Man Award front-runner Jamal Crawford, the Hawks have a good chance at their first 50-win season since 1997-98.
Blake Grififn misses entire rookie season
Griffin's first season in the league ended before it even started. The No. 1 draft pick broke his kneecap in the Clippers' final preseason game Oct. 23, and after an examination revealed he wasn't recovering as well as expected, he was shelved for the rest of the season for surgery.
Bobcats make some noise
By winning nine of 10 to open the new year, the Bobcats climbed (at least temporarily) to fifth in the Eastern Conference. Anchored by a stingy defense, and with trade acquisition Stephen Jackson providing some much-needed offense, Charlotte is eyeing the first playoff berth in franchise history.