Just blame Fergie for the fact that neither All-Star team hit 200 points. After a thrilling All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, teams are getting their final rest and preparations in place for the second half of the NBA season. The first half went mostly as expected, but the emergence of a few rookies and squads surprised everyone. With a new squad surrounding LeBron James and the Warriors still ticking along like a twelve-year-old’s 2K dream team on beginner mode, it’s pretty clear how the second half of this season should go.
The Golden State Warriors will win The Finals again. Despite blowout losses to teams like the Utah Jazz, it’s ludicrous to think that any team could top Golden State four times in a series. The Houston Rockets certainly pose a threat and could take one, maybe even two games from Golden State in a series, but not four. When James Harden and Chris Paul are healthy and playing together, Houston is on fire, but the trick has been keeping them on the court at the same time. Without a lineup that can match Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson, Houston falls short.
Many thought that Oklahoma City would be the one squad to take down Golden State with reigning league MVP Russell Westbrook welcoming Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to the building, but it’s been awkward to watch in OKC. It’s been proof that Westbrook, while being an incredible athlete and a very deserving MVP last season, is not a good teammate. While LeBron makes his teammates better and Durant has proven (with Westbrook and beyond) that he can share with top talent, Westbrook has only shown the world that he’s a black hole with blinders on; the ball goes in and doesn’t come out (no more than ten times a game, that is) unless his objectives are complete. Until Westbrook changes his game, Oklahoma City will be left on the fringes of the championship discussion, despite the immense amount of talent. They may win a playoff series, but that will be it.
Perhaps a stronger contender in the West, at least leading up to the All-Star Break, has been the Utah Jazz. After the departure of their beloved coiffeur Gordon Hayward, many doubted the ability of Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles to carry the load in Salt Lake City. The emergence of rookie and Slam Dunk Champion Donovan Mitchell has filled the hole left by Hayward and shown that not just the future but the present is bright for the Jazz. They finished the first half of the season with an eleven-game winning streak and find themselves just 1.5 games back from the eighth seed, currently held by New Orleans.
An even greater surprise can be found out East in the Indiana Pacers. After trading away their superstar in Paul George in what appeared to be a rebuild move, Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner have erupted to push the Pacers to the fifth spot in the East, just behind the Wizards and just 2 games back from LeBron and the Cavaliers.
LeBron struggled with his cast of mostly has-beens and many were traded away at the trade deadline. The Cavaliers look young and lengthy with their new roster, and the King looks happy again. With some talented players ready to follow his lead, LeBron can take the Cavs to some beautiful places again. Toronto, behind virtually undiscussed MVP candidate DeMar DeRozan, has taken the top spot in the East. The Raptors have shown an ineptitude in the playoffs in past years, but appear to be playing dominant and consistent basketball. The East is obviously the biggest mystery in the playoff picture, as the Warriors have the rest figured out.
LeBron will be LeBron, and everyone will have to deal with him in crunch time. Boston has played brilliantly with Kyrie Irving at the helm, but has shown they can be streaky for good and for bad. It appears that the Raptors pose the biggest threat to LeBron’s reign as King in the East and in the NBA.
With Kristaps Porzingis out for the season with a torn ACL, the 76ers have the NBA’s undivided attention as the up-and-coming team. Joel Embiid, despite playing limited minutes, has combined brilliantly with Ben Simmons to make Philadelphia home of the scariest team for the next few years. They still won’t make a run for the East this year, but having multiple #1 overall picks has certainly paid off for them, as now they have their dream team and the process is working its magic.
So, take a seat, relax, and watch the second half of the season as teams resume action on February 22nd.