NBA Second Half Predictions

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After a brief hiatus, Sports Thoughts is back to get you ready for the second half of the NBA season. There is a ton to discuss, from the tangle at the top of the West, to the Cavaliers’ rise and fall and rise again. Certainly nothing is decided, but we’re about to separate the men from the tankers. Let’s take a look at what we can expect for the rest of Spring in the NBA.

East Preseason Predictions:

  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Cleveland Cavaliers
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Toronto Raptors
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Charlotte Hornets
  7. Miami Heat
  8. Philadelphia 76ers

Hey, so far it’s not too shabby. I’m not quite sure why I picked the Hornets at the time, but everyone else is currently holding a playoff spot. The Pacers are really surprising me this year with Victor Oladipo taking the team to new heights even with the departure of Paul George. After Oladipo’s average years in OKC, I guess the change of scenery and new need for leadership really helped his development as a point guard.  

The sleeper will be the Pistons. Just outside the rankings for now, Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin are going to have a very similar dynamic to a healthy Pelicans team. While neither are top contenders for the NBA Finals, they can certainly be staples in the playoffs.

As for the top contenders, it’s a three horse race with the Wizards to likely stay firm as the perennial 4-seed. Unlike in previous years, the Cavs are not at the top. The well-documented platoon swap has so far proved effective for the disappointing Cavs team that finds themselves all the way down in third place.. awh..

Since LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, I’ve lost faith in the regular season. The thing is, everyone knows it comes down to a 7-game stretch for the top 5 or 6 teams in each conference, and most of the other teams have no chance at the title. So, you have 12 teams going through the motions, 12 teams tanking, and that leaves roughly 6 teams actually trying for the majority of the season to claim a low-seeded playoff spot.

Now, I have developed a situation to fix tanking, the player rest situation, and to attract international fans, but that is an article for another day…

Anyway, my point is I don’t care that the Cavs are only at a 3 seed. They are going to play the Celtics and Raptors regardless. Maybe home court advantage plays a big factor in the playoffs and that made the Cavs panic, but any talk about the title contenders in the regular season is just wasting time in my opinion.

That said, I do like some of the moves. Jordan Crawford and Larry Nance are young and give Cleveland some contract control. Letting Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder go seems like a waste after they just got them for Kyrie Irving, but they are both free agents soon and I doubt they will want to stay in Cleveland without James.

Yeah, James is leaving.. again, an article for another time.

I’m happy to see Dwyane Wade back in that Heat jersey too, but I certainly think splitting up the James-Wade combo was a bit excessive, especially for just a “heavily-protected” 2nd round pick. But what’s done is done. The Cavs just lost their first game with their new team on Thursday, and I think there is a lot of renewed confidence in a locker room that needs it down the stretch.

I know I talked a lot about the Cavaliers in the East recap, but the bottom line is that everyone revolves around the Cavs. The Raptors are having a phenomenal season behind DeMar DeRozan, the Celtics are playing exactly as expected, and the bottom half of the league don’t fit into the big equation at this moment. The only thing we are wondering for the rest of Spring is what kind of team they have in Cleveland. They can be way better than the Raptors, or they can see a first-round exit as the James-in-Cleveland Era ends for good.

As for my updated predictions, I don’t want to change much. I still think the Celtics are the most dangerous team in the East, and my playoff bracket is going to stay the same. The only thing I want to update is bumping the Pistons in. I’m keeping the Heat at the 8-spot, especially with Wade back home. So yes, I’m still not on board the Pacers Train.

Updated East Predictions:

  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Cleveland Cavaliers
  3. Toronto Raptors
  4. Washington Wizards
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Philadelphia 76ers
  7. Detroit Pistons
  8. Miami Heat

Cavaliers vs. Celtics; Celtics move on to the NBA Finals

West Preseason Predictions:

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. Houston Rockets
  3. San Antonio Spurs
  4. Minnesota Timberwolves
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder
  6. Portland Trailblazers
  7. Denver Nuggets
  8. New Orleans Pelicans

The West is where it gets interesting. Just about everyone is going to have a shot at the Warriors, but at the end of the day, GSW’s postseason play is the end-all be-all. The Rockets’ addition of CP3 has paid dividends so far, and they find themselves in 1st place in the West 10 games above the next best team besides Golden State.

I’d also like to say that I’m thrilled to have currently predicted the exact standings to this point. The only scary part will be whether the Pelicans can hang on to the #8 seed without DeMarcus Cousins, but as long as Anthony Davis continues to excel in his absence, I don’t see many threats for their spot.

If I had to pick a potential sleeper, I’ll go ahead and roll with the Jazz who are in the midst of an 11-game winning streak. However, the West is pretty top-heavy, so I don’t expect much to change. If they sneak in, and it’s not at the expense of New Orleans, I think Denver might be in trouble. I love Paul Millsap as much as the next guy, but the Nuggets have never been able to close out a regular season with authority. Honestly, whether or not they do this year, they would still be facing one of the 2 best teams in the NBA in the very first round.

Moving upwards, the Blazers could easily find themselves stuck at the 6 seed despite having a pretty solid shooting team. They sit behind a Thunder team that I knew would be a huge disappointment, but they are churning out wins as of late all thanks to Russell Westbrook. The Timberwolves are in the mix in the mid-tier too, but I’m picking the Blazers as the worst of the three.

It’s tough to judge the Spurs without Kawhi Leonard, but even without the superstar’s presence all season, coach Gregg Popovich has San Antonio amongst the best in the NBA. I’m convinced there’s nothing Pop can’t do to keep the Spurs in constant title contention, and this year is no different. Despite the cloud of uncertainty for the remainder of the season, I’m confident the Spurs will be making some noise this summer.

That leaves us with the Houston Rockets. One of my favorite point guards in the entire NBA, CP3 has gelled as perfectly with James Harden as I anticipated. It’s no wonder the Rockets lead the NBA with Chris Paul’s court vision and with Harden’s sweet shot. However, defense has been an issue at times, and Paul’s health has become an issue as of late.

The Rockets definitely have the best shot to dethrone the champs, but they have to keep hitting their stride through April and May and stay at 100% to have a chance. Even with shooting as good as theirs, nobody wins a shootout against GSW. If head coach Mike D’Antoni has a goal for the rest of Spring, it’s to solidify the Rockets as a more well-rounded powerhouse.

The Warriors are still playing with that huge target on their back, so I give a lot of credit to them for being on top of the dog pile for this long. That said, it’s pretty easy when you have 4 perennial All-Stars in your starting lineup. But nonetheless, Golden State proves every night why they are the class of the NBA.

Now, are they going to repeat? I’m not so sure. I’m a big believer in a need for hunger for a championship in order to reach it. It’s so hard to repeat as champions because you have nothing to fight for. The Warriors already reached all of their dreams. What’s another trophy to them? All I’m saying is it would mean a lot more to the Cavs, Celtics, Rockets, and many others.

I’m not changing my standings for the West. I’m picking the Warriors over the Rockets to reach the Finals.. but the Celtics are going to take it from them.

Let’s get ready for an awesome second half of basketball.

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