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6 Surprising Story Lines of the 2014-15 NBA Season

From another Kobe injury to the Hawks domination, here are surprising story lines the season so far.

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Nearly halfway through the 2014-15 season, the NBA has seen its share of surprises. From injuries to transactions to dramatic improvements, here is a look at six unexpected story lines from around the league.

The Atlanta Hawks are Atop the Eastern Conference
The Atlanta Hawks have been a fixture in the Eastern Conference playoff scene for the past seven seasons. But after being eliminated in the first round for three straight years, they were a team good enough to make the playoffs yet not strong enough to contend. This time around, though, the Hawks are dominating the East at 37-8 with a seven-game lead over the second-ranked Washington Wizards. Only the Golden State Warriors (36-6) edged them out for a better record in the NBA. The Hawks are holding their opponents to a league-best 96.2 points per game while owning a +7.2 point differential. They rank second in assists (26.2) and three-point shooting (38.7 percent) behind the Warriors. Between Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Jeff Teague, there are arguments for three All-Star candidates on the team. The playoffs have become expected for the Hawks, but dominating in this manner is drastic change for them this season.

Kobe Bryant is (Most Likely) Out for the Season — Again
This season was supposed to be about his comeback comeback. Instead, it has become another setback. Bryant suffered a torn right rotator cuff and will undergo surgery that is expected to sideline him for remainder of his 19th season. In October Bryant returned from his second straight season-ending injury (torn Achilles in 2012-13, fractured left kneecap in 2013-14). He had appeared in 35 games, averaging 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 34.5 minutes. Injuries can be common for long-time veteran players, especially those who have clocked over 46,000 minutes. Another season-ending injury, however, was not part of Bryant’s game plan.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are Struggling for Playoff Position
There are a handful of teams that can be identified as title contenders at the start of the season. For the past few years, the Thunder have been part of that list. After losing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to injuries early in the season, the Thunder find themselves at 23-22, 14.5 games out of first place and 2.5 games out of the eighth spot. Durant has been limited to 21 games, Westbrook has appeared in 31. In the ultra-competitive Western Conference, one game can make a difference between a playoff berth and missing the cut, let alone a large chunk without the reigning MVP.

The Detroit Pistons Waived Josh Smith
About the next two and a half years, no thanks, we’re not interested. The Pistons made a shocking move in December when they used the stretch provision on Smith with two years and $26 million left on his $54 million contract. Smith has been a player linked to trade talks since his days with the Hawks, but the Pistons went an alternative route to move him and end a phase that simply wasn’t working. The team was 5-23 with Smith and promptly went on a seven-game winning streak without him. They are 12-5 since parting ways. Smith signed with the Houston Rockets shortly after being released.

Stephen Curry Has Become Very, Very Popular
Holding the best record in the NBA certainly helps a player gain popularity, but going up against the likes of fan favorites LeBron James,  Bryant and Durant in All-Star voting can be a steep mountain to climb. This season Curry received the most fan votes for the 2015 All-Star Game, beating out James 1,513,324 to 1,470,483 votes. Curry had trailed James by 13,285 votes in the previous update. Last season he received 1,047,281 votes in his first All-Star selection (he was also named a starter then). Curry also ranked second (behind James) for the most popular NBA jersey based on sales from October 2014 to December 2014.

The New York Knicks Have the Same Record as the Philadelphia 76ers
The outlook for the 76ers season was clear when they drafted an injured player for the second year in a row. The Knicks, on the other hand, acquired new a new president, coach, point guard and re-signed Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks have battled setbacks, but even with Anthony they’ve hit historically-awful losing skids. Their 16-game losing streak was one less than the 76ers’ 17 straight. Both teams currently stand at 8-37.

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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