FIVE QUICK NBA THOUGHTS
The All-Star break is upon us here in less than 48 hours. A few quick NBA thoughts for a Wednesday.
1. TORONTO RAPTORS (20-32): Just imagine the Raptors today before they play the Knicks being 26-26. Seriously, it should have been a distinct possibility. They've blown an amazing 13 fourth quarter leads. I'm not greedy - give me six of those 13 games back where I get a W instead of kicking it away. What does that do? It makes tonight's game as well as all of the final 30 games big considering they haven't seen the Playoffs in four-plus seasons. Instead, they have an awfully tough road to navigate. Every executive, coach and player in the Raps organization has to kick themselves every day. Yeah, I get it - "one game at a time". "Don't look back, look forward". But man oh man, it's got to be killing them when realistically they could actually be in this race. That frustration, above all else, will be the biggest issue of all for all involved and most importantly, the fans. What could have been? Fun win over the Nuggets on Tuesday night but if that was win No. 25, 26 or 27 instead of No. 20 - wow - the ACC would be really rocking. Haven't seized enough opportunities.
2. BRADLEY BEAL (Wizards): John Wall is back and the Wiz look like a team. Their young backcourt of Wall and Beal is entertaining and has a chance to help this organization begin to get this thing turned around. He's having a solid rookie year with 13.3 ppg and shooting 37 per cent from three-point range. Guard play is crucial in this game and these two have the makings of being good ones for a long time.
3. DERRICK ROSE (Bulls): Read article on him today in USA Today where he said he won't be back til he's "110 per cent" and that he's "far away". I think he's getting closer - closer than he'll let on but I totally agree with him - your team is going well without you, so don't rush it and come back at the right pace and when you're physically and more importantly emotionally ready. They're going to be in the Playoffs - NO problem. When you come back you want to be a difference maker. Only way you do that is to make sure you're "Right". Better safe than sorry. If he's right, watch out, the Bulls will be right there in the Eastern Conference discussion along with Miami, New York, Indy and Brooklyn.
4. LEANDRO BARBOSA (Celtics): Torn ACL - out for the season. What a tough break for him as he was finally settling into a solid role. On top of that, with Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger out already, Doc Rivers has his hands full trying to mix/match his lineups. The two guys that have to emerge here even more are Jason Terry and Jeff Green. Another dark horse is Avery Bradley. Between the three of them, an even greater level of output is going to be necessary. More opportunities to be the 'Guy' for these three guys. We know KG and Paul Pierce are terrific but they can't carry the load every night. Time for major elevation from these guys.
5. LEBRON JAMES (Heat): 30+ PPG and shooting 60+ per cent in his last six games. Brilliant! What else can you say about this guy? Yes, he mishandled "The Decision" but beyond that how can you truly look at this guy and dislike his game? He's selfless and is a good teammate and if I were a player (that would be a miracle at this stage) I'd be begging to get on the court with this guy. If you're any player and you were asked whether you'd like to play with him, you'd be nuts to say no. I think if you asked retired players if they would have enjoyed playing with him, I think you'd get an overwhelmingly positive response. That says a whole lot from "old-time guys". Simply put, he's the best in the league and one of the all-time greats. Enjoy him now in his prime - the overall polish is now there.