The trade deadline and NBA All Star Game have both passed which means the NBA Playoffs are less than 2 months away. The second half starts back up tomorrow. Here are 5 bold predictions I have for the second half…
1.The Oklahoma City Thunder rip off a win streak of 10+ games and finish with the 3rd seed in the Western Conference.
Photo Credit: Opencourt Basketball
The Thunder have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the NBA this year. They’re a combined 4-1 against the Rockets, Warriors, and Spurs, the top 3 teams in the West. Yet they’re a combined 4-7 against the Mavs, Magic, Nets, and Lakers… some of the worst teams in the league. They’ve clearly shown they play up to their level of competition. Now it’s time to show they no longer will play down to their competition. I’m confident that reigning MVP Russell Westbrook will demand that his teammates bring their full focus every night in the second half of the season. Although they’ve slipped a little in the last month or so, they’ve been one of the best defensive teams in the league and have lost many close games. These types of things usually find a way to balance out and I believe this will happen for OKC, as they end up ripping off a big win streak and finishing 3rd in the West. It won’t be easy though, as they will play the Rockets, Warriors and Spurs two times each.
2. The race for the #1 seed in the East comes down to the final week of the season… and the Cavs who currently sit 6.5 games behind the Raptors for the 1st seed, make a serious run at it.
Photo Credit: USA Today
Right now the Raptors sit first in the East with a 2 game lead over the Celtics, followed by LeBron and the Cavs who are 6.5 games out of first. I believe this race is a long way from over and before it’s all said and done, the Cavs could still steal the first seed. I am buying into LeBron’s new supporting cast and believe that the Cavs are a real threat to represent the East in the NBA Finals again. I think the All-Star break has come at a great time for the Celtics, as it appears 2nd year Guard Jaylen Brown and Rookie Forward Jayson Tatum have hit a bit of a wall recently. The time off should do them well and help the Celts gear up for a second half run to the #1 seed. Finally, the Raptors are in the midst of their best season in the franchise’s existence and have been arguably the most consistent team in the conference. The Celts and Raptors play twice between March 31st and the end of the regular season (April 18th). The Raptors and Cavs also square off once in April. I have a feeling these specific match-ups will decide who takes the #1 seed in the East. Don’t underestimate the importance of the #1 seed this year. Two of these teams will have to battle in the 2nd round of the playoffs, while the #1 seed will most likely have a much easier match-up, most likely against the Bucks, Wizards, or Pacers.
3. Isaiah Thomas shines with the Lakers and helps to salvage some of his value as he prepares to hit free agency this summer… but not before Lavar Ball tries to throw IT under the bus for bad shot selection or missing a game winning shot.
Photo Credit: Slam Magazine
It’s no secret that this has been the “season from hell” for Isaiah Thomas. First, he gets traded from the city and team he loved, the Boston Celtics. Then he misses the first 3 months of the season due to his groin injury. Finally, he gets traded again and as nothing more than a throw-in to a team who won’t be making the playoffs this year. It’s not all negative for IT in his new situation with the Lakers. First, his dad grew up a huge fan of the team and Isaiah actually wanted to sign with the Lakers a few years back. Second, the situation isn’t that unlike the time he was traded from the Suns to the Celtics. The Lakers are a young team with a lot of up and coming talent to support him, combined with low overall expectations. Although, it’s not an entire roster of scrubs. Finally, the team is going to lean on him to score a lot, similar to the Celtics and not what LeBron needed in Cleveland. I think IT will be rejuvenated and shine with the Lakers. It’s a much better situation than people probably realize. It won’t come without some controversy though. Is there any doubt that Lavar Ball doesn’t come out after a game and rip IT? The dialogue will go something like this “Some players on the team are shooting the ball too much man! They’re worried about getting paid in the offseason! Not my boy, he just wants to win and make the team better. He needs to have the ball in his hands at the end of the game.”
4. Ben Simmons runs away with Rookie of the Year.
Photo Credit: FanRag Sports
If I made this prediction back in November, everyone would have said, “wow way to really go out on a limb MJ.” Fast forward a few months and everyone is all aboard the Donovan Mitchell train for Rookie of the Year. While Mitchell has been absolutely phenomenal, the Sixers have a better record than the Jazz and sit inside the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Meanwhile the Jazz, led by Mitchell have been on fire, winning 11 games in a row. They still sit outside the playoff picture and I believe this will remain the case at the end of the season. Meanwhile, I think Simmons will come out extremely motivated in the second half, to prove the “haters” wrong in not voting him into the All Star Game. He hit a bit of a rookie slump in January. Some people said, “The league was starting to figure him out.” He seems to be breaking past it in February, as illustrated by his triple-double in the final game before the All-Star Break. He’s also had a few double-doubles and another near triple-double in February.
5. The Sacramento Kings easily coast to the worst record in the league, giving them the best chance at landing the #1 pick in the June Draft.
Photo Credit: LA Times
I’m going to try and keep this short since no one cares about the Sacramento Kings. I have to sadly admit I’ve actually watched the Kings play twice this year. It’s honestly a miracle that they only have the 5th worst record in the league. They’ve somehow won 18 games. Outside of maybe Zach Randolph and Vince Carter, I’m not sure a casual NBA fan could name one player on the Kings… and unfortunately it’s not 2007 so Vince Carter and Zach Randolph headlining your team isn’t a good thing. They just traded their former starting Point Guard George Hill to Cleveland. They’ve already started resting veterans like Zach Randolph in the second half of back-to-back games, illustrating that they’re fully embracing tanking and going after the worst record in the league. I don’t think the Kings win more than 5 games for the rest of the season, easily giving them the worst record in the league.
The race to the end of the season should be interesting. There are still a lot of unanswered questions this season. Will the Rockets find a way to take the 1st seed in the West? Can LeBron and the Cavs maintain their hot streak and steal the 1st seed in the East? Will the 76ers finally make the playoffs? Will Lonzo Ball comeback soon and have a big 2nd half of his rookie year? Is the MVP award James Harden’s to lose? We’ll have all these answers in the next few months. Be sure to keep your eyes open for my NBA Playoff Preview come April!