Much like the MLB season, the NBA doesn’t really get good until after the All-Star break. Over the years the leagues have both added an indulgent amount of regular season games to cash in on multi-billion dollar television deals. The players understand this fact, so many don’t truly turn it full sail until after All Star break, thus, the first half of the season is relatively futile.
The NBA is in a special case, as a good number of American viewers have a penchant for consuming only one sport at a time, and the NFL being the juggernaut that it is, preoccupies most of their time. While now that the NFL is in its offseason, many fans are turning their attention to the NBA.
The NBA All Star weekend is one week after the Super Bowl, and the league knows it is vital to capture the American sports-fan’s consciousness that weekend. It is not a coincidence that the NBA has so much hoopla and fan-fare at their All-Star weekend. They throttle the MLB All Star Game and Pro Bowl (might as well just put flags on those guys) when it comes to excitement and execution of their events.
What the first half of the season does do, is set up the major story lines to unfold and develop as the intensity of the games begin to ramp up. That allows insight into what games to pay attention to in the next few months. There are a plethora of questions, beefs, rumors, and races to watch as we get into the thick of the season. Hopefully this list will inspire you to follow a few NBA story lines, and prepare you for the impending playoff pushes.
15. The Blazers Will Barely Miss The Playoffs
The Portland Trail Blazers had an over/under of 25 wins this year. At the time of this writing they are 8 and two 2 their last 10 games, on a five-game win-streak, and sitting in the eighth playoff seed with a 24-26 record.
The Blazers beat the the lowly Lakers, Kings, Hornets, T-Wolves, and Bucks for that win-streak, none of which are playoff teams.
Terry Stotts does have them playing with insane hustle and intensity, as such a young team should, but it is still reasonable to question if the long tread on their tires will allow them to blaze their own trail through the rocky West.
14. The Kobe Saga Will Finally End
Whether you love, hate, or don’t really care about him, there’s no denying Kobe is an attraction. He is his era’s Jordan for a lot of people, so it’s like watching a living-legend take his retirement tour.
The Lakers are terrible; they’ve only won 10 games so far this year. Coach insists on resting him, but when he does play, he always draws a crowd to the stadium and television.
Kobe himself is having a terrible year, too. He’s shooting a career-low 35 percent, and has already attempted 275 three pointers, to only 383 two’s. He was still #1 in All-Star fan voting though!
13. The West Will Overwhelm The East
It seemed like the Eastern Conference was always going to be a laughing stock compared to the West. Now the West is full of parity, and the East has a couple serious contenders.
The East got out to a fast start this season, and for the first month looked as though it might steal primacy over the West. But the West (385-363) regained the overall-record lead, and still has superior talent compared to the East (362-381). Also, the West is 155-136 head to head against opposite-coast opponents. So, as games continue to garner more intensity, the West should firmly reestablish dominance.
12. Blake Griffin Won’t Punch-Out Anymore Equipment Managers
On Jan. 23, while the Clippers were on a trip to Toronto, Blake Griffin decided to punch the team’s equipment manager in the face for calling him a b… Female Canis Familiaris.
Griffin suffered a spiral fracture in his right (dominant) hand. He underwent surgery, and is expected to be out four to six weeks. The Clippers are currently fourth in the West (32-17), but will be tested without Griffin’s services.
Griffin’s teammates, coaches, and employer have publicly condemned his actions for being so detrimental to their chances of holding onto home court for the first round of the playoffs.
11. Dwight Howard Will Keep His Hands To Himself
Even though he will probably never get back to the level of play he was at in Orlando, Dwight Howard is still productive when he is on the court. He ranks third in the league in field goal percentage (.608) and rebounds per game (11.8).
Howard leads the league with 12 technical fouls though. At 16 techs he will receive a one-game suspension, and then another game for every two subsequent technical fouls. He does like to play physical, but with the Rockets barely above .500 (27-25), they will need their big-man in order to hang onto a playoff seed in the West.
10. Teams Will Continue To Hack-A-Shaq
Dwight Howard leads us to the next story, which will not be enjoyable for anybody. Hack-A-Shaq will continue.
Why the league continues to allow this to persist is beyond anyone’s best guess. League Commissioner Adam Silver said that he looked over the rule in the off season, but he didn’t think any change was necessary.
Good news! The D-League is testing a rule that gives two shots and possession back if a team intentionally fouls away from the ball, at any time of the game. This would render the Hack-A-Shaq worthless, and if Silver were benevolent, he would implement it before the NBA playoffs start.
9. The Pelicans Will Correct Their Heading
New Orleans made the eighth seed in the West last season, but that Pelicans team only lost six more games all year than this one already has (18-31).
The franchise’s goal in the off season was to resign their free agents to maintain continuity, but then they replaced head coach Monty Williams with Alvin Gentry. It became clear that move disrupted any hope of continuity when the team went 1-11, and used 12 different lineups through the first 12 games.
This team is far too talented to continue their doldrums, so as long as Gentry doesn’t run Tyreke Evans at point guard anymore they should bounce back.
8. Kristaps Porzingis’ Stock Will Continue To Rise
At 7’3″ and 240 pounds, but with the skills of a guard, 20-year old Kristaps Porzingis is an enigma. He has been compared to his childhood idol Dirk Nowitzki, but KP has far more athleticism than Dirk ever had. As a rookie he is averaging nearly 14 points, eight boards and two blocks a game, with 54 made threes.
Nowitzki thinks the sky is the limit for this towering Euro. He said: “I think [Porzingis has] got good touch from the outside, he’s got length, he’s tougher than you think, he’s athletic… he’s going to be great for a long time.”
7. Melo Won’t Let The Knicks Trade Him
Before the season started Carmelo Anthony was asked if he would request a trade if the Knicks struggled this season, he answered succinctly: “No, Hell no!”
Here we are halfway through the season, the Knicks are not close to good, and they could get a nice haul in return for Melo in a trade. They could start to build around Kristaps Porzingis now. There have even been rumors of a Blake Griffin for Melo swap.
The problem is that Melo has the last word. His contract, on top of being worth $125 million, contains a no-trade clause.
6. The Bulls Will Make A Move
In the 2010-11 season the Bulls nabbed first place in the East, Derrick Rose won MVP, and then they lost to LeBron and the Heat in the conference finals. The future was Rose’s, then tragic injuries instantly aged him ten years. Another great player done-in by stubborn knees, a la Brandon Roy.
So that begs the question if the Bulls will trade Rose after losing Noah for the season, and having various contract issues coming in the off season. They are currently fifth in the East, but must improve their roster to have any chance at competing with the Cavs or Raptors.
5. Other Trade Rumors
Sacramento rejected Eric Gordon and Alonzo Gee for Rudy Gay, but are willing to move Gay. Markeiff Morris is forcing his way out of Phoenix, Raptors are interested. Minnesota is shopping Kevin Martin, and Denver is doing the same with J.J Hickson. The Lakers are willing to part with almost their whole roster.
Kevin Love isn’t going anywhere, neither is Dwight Howard.
The Pistons want Ryan Anderson. The Bucks are whispering about Michael Carter-Williams and Greg Monroe’s availability. Danny Ainge can’t help but tinker with the Celtics roster; David Lee will be leaving. The Hawks listening to offers on Al Horford.
Pure speculation! But some shake-ups are bound to happen.
4. Stephen Curry Will Repeat MVP
At his stature, Steph Curry is probably the most-relatable superstar the league has ever had, and he’s rewriting the record books.
Curry leads the league in points per game, player efficiency, and win-shares. He’s hit 232 three’s, 77 more than the next closest player! He is third in steals. It is safe to say Curry has over-taken LeBron as the consensus “best player in the league.”
The Warriors have a legitimate chance of setting the single-season win record (’96 Bulls won 72), and just got the go-ahead to build a new arena in San Francisco, “The House That Steph Built.”
3. The East Won’t Be Decided Until The Final Game
Steph Curry is clearly leading the best team in the Western Conference. In the East, though, it is hard to pick a clear-cut favorite. The Cavs (35-13) sit atop the conference, but they have been an injury-prone team in the past, and are one rolled ankle away from leaving the window open. The Raptors (34-16) are a solid team and should finish one or two.
So who is the third best team in the East? Right now, the third through ninth seed are separated by only four games. It will be fascinating to watch the East unfold. Good basketball, regardless of records.
2. The Finals Will Be A Rematch
Barring injury, smart-money is on Cleveland to make it back to the finals. Other than Toronto, the rest of the East was a paper tiger to begin the season.
Golden State is going to have a much tougher trip through their bracket. The Spurs, Grizzlies, Thunder, and possibly Clippers all pose as viable road blocks on the Warriors road to the Finals. The Warriors have only lost four games this season though, so it’s not easy seeing them losing four in a series.
It may be a whole lot different in the future if the NBA decides to abolish the conference-based playoff seeding.
1. Where Will KD Go?
Kevin Durant has the ability to shake up the entire league both on and off the court this Summer, when he becomes a free agent. Oklahoma City may look into setting the tectonics in motion early by trading Durant, who has said he doesn’t plan on returning to the Thunder next season.
There are legitimate rumors going back to last Summer that Durant is considering signing with Golden State. The Warriors actually have the fiscal means to pull this off too. If this super-team were to assemble, the league may have to step in and overturn it, “for basketball reasons.”
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