The media's fixation with the Miami Heat makes sense, so that they made a huge issue of coach Erik Spoelstra's comments about some team members crying after a loss earlier this week aligns with what we'd expect from coverage of the team and league. But the coverage of the Heat has drawn attention away from other worthwhile stories around the NBA. This edition of Holding Court will aim to right that wrong.
Kobe Bryant Not Falling Off a Cliff
The idea that Bryant, among the most polarizing hoopsters of his generation, might be underexposed seems laughable on the surface. It's a claim that looks even more dubious in light of his post-game shooting exhibition in Miami on Thursday. But you'll forgive me for thinking this year's All-Star MVP isn't getting enough credit for maintaining his elite play.
It seems as though any time I flip on a Lakers game, my dad will ask me, with disdain, "When is he going to retire already?" I wind up fielding this question as Kobe drains an impossible jumper over a triple-team, one he's no doubt honed in practice for hours on end. "He can't keep this up," my dad will say.
Perhaps he can. On a per-36-minute basis, Bryant's averages of 26.7 points, 5.5 boards, and 5.1 assists make him the most productive player in his 15th season or later ever. Bryant's certainly had better seasons than this one, but the fact that he's putting up these numbers at this advanced stage of his career is simply incredible.
Moreover, he ought to have plenty of bullets in the chamber for the postseason. He's averaging just 33.8 minutes per game this season, his lowest average since the Clinton administration; in 1997-98, his sophomore season, he played 26 minutes per game off the bench.
The Sad Farewell to Pro Hoops in Sacramento
For whatever reason, coverage of the Sacramento Kings' nigh-imminent move to Anaheim has lagged behind the Seattle SuperSonics' relocation to Oklahoma City two years ago. Fortunately, SB Nation's own Tom Ziller is helping to lead a grassroots effort to keep the NBA in California's capital, but it nonetheless looks as though owners Joe and Gavin Maloof have decided they want to move to the L.A. suburb, come Hell or high water.
If the Kings move, it'd send yet another message to fans of small-market teams: finance new, top-of-the-line stadiums for your squad or it's history. Living in Orlando all my life, and subsequently following the Magic as closely as anyone over the last five years, I'm sensitive to this subject. People who support teams in other small markets -- I'm thinking of places like Orlando, Charlotte, Milwaukee, and Salt Lake City here -- ought to be outraged, and perhaps terrified. But they aren't.
That's why I'm urging everyone to speak up and support the NBA in Sacramento. Ziller and his Here We Stay pals are doing as best they can, but the campaign needs to go national.
The Dallas Mavericks' Brilliance
Dallas has won 50-plus games each year for the last decade, so it's not entirely surprising that we've overlooked them yet again. Their 18-point victory against the New York Knicks last night pushed their record to 47-18, their best mark through 65 games since their ill-fated 2006-07 campaign, in which they stood at 54-11 at this juncture.
Their record looks even better when one considers what Dirk Nowitzki means to this team. Dallas went 2-7 from Dec. 28-Jan. 14, when he sat out with a knee injury. Indeed, Dallas is 45-11 with the one-time MVP in the lineup, with a point differential of plus-5.7, which is one-tenth of a point better than the Orlando Magic's season-long figure (5.6) and not far off those of other contenders like the Heat (6.5), Boston Celtics (6.5), Lakers (6.4), San Antonio Spurs (6.8), and Chicago Bulls (6.2). The Mavericks have a 1.5-game lead on L.A. for the second seed in the Western Conference and are as for-real as ever.