As NBA stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant towered over a frantic Steph Curry in the remaining seconds of a thrilling “new-look” All-Star game, NBA organizations around the league could not blamed for basking in the serenity of a short-term vacation from the grueling 82 game long season. Soon after the break, teams would be preparing for the last stretch of the regular season, which is often the defining period when clubs their final push to make the playoffs. The present and future of NBA teams are controlled by the final standings set in April, and as it goes, the league table never lies. So with that said, let’s see what you can expect from your team this season.
Playoff dreams may be effectively over, but these clubs will be have plenty to play for with the hopes of gaining momentum for next year. Others, well… they’re vying for the number one draft pick.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have a good young core in Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball…but they need time. A 32-win season for them would be decent and with cap space now clear, you can expect a blockbuster summer in Los Angeles.
Don’t expect them to tank for the draft, but expect them to be in a good position for it anyway. The Hawks give effort – Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore are solid, but the talent in depth is just not there yet.
Amongst the lower placed teams, the Magic has shown the most consistent effort to climb the standings. With recent wins against the Celtics and the Cavs, they have shown no signs of simply rolling over. Expect competitive games from them moving forward.
The Nets are full of lost potential with D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor and Jeremy Lin. If they can get these guys firing on all cylinders, they could be a really decent unit through the end of the season.
Each Bulls player has 25 games left to make their mark. The future direction of the franchise could rest upon those who prove their worth. Zach LaVine is a nice addition, so expect him to stick around along with rookie Lauri Markkanen. Don’t be surprised if Head Coach Fred Hoiberg does some experimenting and rotate the squad for the remainder of the season.
New York Knicks
Kristaps Porzingis’ season is over, along with the Knicks’ season. They are more than one player, but he has been so instrumental this season that his absence will lead to their downfall.
Michael Jordan owns the Charlotte Hornets. Michael Jordan is also regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time. However, his career in the NBA office has not been as successful. Point Guard Kemba Walker is talented, and the acquisition of hot-and-cold Dwight Howard is interesting but I can’t see the Hornets going anywhere fast.
Devon Booker is constantly improving. He is the bright spark in an otherwise poor team. He deserves better. The Phoenix Suns tank the rest of the season.
From top to bottom the Mavericks are a mess. Allegations of sexual misconduct in the front office has overshadowed the play on the court, and rightly so. On the court, although future hall of famer Dirk Nowitzki may say otherwise, this is a tank job all the way.
De’Aaron Fox in his rookie season has shown to be decent. Look for the Kings to build around him in the off-season. But for now, the rest of the season could be hard to watch for Kings fans.
The Grizzlies have a good roster, potentially play-off worthy. But they can’t seem get to healthy. Point Guard Mike Connelly is out for the season and Chandler Parsons has had few minutes in a return, which leaves Marc Gasol left to pick up the pieces.
These teams are no scrubs. But what they make up for in spirit, they may lack in sheer star quality and depth of roster. Not all of these will make the play-offs, but each, stand a great opportunity to progress, which for some could be a nail-bite
Trust the Process. The 76ers have preached this sentiment for years, with little to no avail. However, this year has shown dividends with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons flourishing as potential stars in the league. Expect this “process| to take a little more time, but there is reason for optimism in Philadelphia.
Miami have a dynamic, youthful set-up. With the return of the prodigal son, Dwayne Wade, the spirits in Miami should be high. He will bestow a vast array of experience upon the team along with veterans, Whiteside and Dragic. With championship winning coach Erik Spoelstra at the helm, The Heat could give any team in the league a run for their money.
The Pistons traded big at the deadline a few weeks ago, as acquiring Blake Griffin has thus far proved to be a masterstroke. The partnership of Griffin and Drummond in Detroit has rejuvenated the franchise and they have instantly hit the ground running. If they can continue their form throughout the rest of the regular season expect them to go far in the play-offs.
Damien Lillard asserts he is up there with the best Point Guards in the league, and he’s not wrong. The Trailblazers play-off run starts now and they are in the thick of it. They currently sit seventh in the West, two and a half games behind second-place Minnesota, and two games ahead of Utah. It really is up to them where they finish in April.
The Timberwolves have all the right pieces. Butler, Towns and Wiggins each have the quality and potential for greatness. They sit fourth in the standings, which gives them home advantage in the play-offs, something which could prove pivotal for a good run.
The Wizards currently sit fourth in the East. They have an exciting duo in John Wall and Bradley Beal. Despite Wall picking up an injury the Wizards have continued to win, proving their depth. The East isn’t as stacked as the West, which is good for the Wizards. This means their potential route to the finals may be favorable, especially if they retain home advantage. Fourth place currently for them feels just right.
The Utah Jazz have won 11 on the bounce. How long can they keep the streak going? Who knows, but it has been fun to watch. Rookie Donavon Mitchell has been sensational. Vying for the Rookie of the Year award, Mitchell can do it all. They’ll be fighting tooth and nail for a play-off spot and are on an upward projection. If Utah can get some assets to build around Mitchell with point guard Ricky Rubio, the sky is the limit. But Utah is a small market franchise, which has always been their biggest challenge.
New Orleans Pelicans
Sigh. The Pelicans are currently placed in the eighth seed in the Western Conference. They have the best big man in the league in Anthony Davis. A couple of weeks ago they were electric. All was well until their other star player, DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins went down, tearing his Achilles. Davis and Cousins were unstoppable and this injury was one that could sadly tear the Pelicans season apart. But more importantly, get well soon Boogie!
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have seemingly decided to start from scratch (again). With the departure of Chris Paul the Clippers organization looked to be in free-fall, with reports of inner-conflict and disillusionment amongst players. Now with the departure of Blake Griffin, and the likely near-future departure of center DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers may need to hit the reset button.
The Pacers are quality. Games show the Pacers are a close-knit bunch. On a three-game win streak heading into the All-Star break, there is still place for growth, which is exciting. With Paul George now gone, the Pacers are in need of star quality but for now they’ve adjusted well without him.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a superstar. Averaging 28 points and 10 rebounds this season, some have gone as far as calling him the best player in the league. At 23 years of age the potential for ‘The Greek Freak’ is unlimited. With nice pieces like Jabari Parker and Eric Bledsoe complementing him, the Bucks could be an interesting force in the play-offs. However, with the exile of coach Jason Kidd mid-season, there are still questions marks over the management of the team.
The Nuggets are decent and young. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic are bright prospects. Paul Millsap, the Nuggets best player, has been in and out of the starting line up with injuries, and whilst the Nuggets sit sixth in the West, they must maintain form in order to avoid missing out like they did in 2017.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs always have a knack for success. Gregg Popovich, the greatest coach in recent history, instills a winning philosophy in his teams. With their star player Kawhi Leonard sidelined indefinitely, LeMarcus Aldridge has taken the lead of the franchise. However, the Spurs are team-first. They rely on system and fluidity rather than a franchise superstar, which has proved to be a formula for success in the past. But right now, it seems like a superstar player is what they’re most in need of.
In one-off games, these teams could beat any of the big boys – and they have. But can they do it over seven games? It would not be unreasonable to think for these teams to get to the finals in June, but here lies those who present a certain element of the unexpected and/or uncertainty. These could be this year’s dark horses.
The Toronto Raptors currently sit first in the Eastern Conference. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry can be lights out. Serge Ibaka at center provides well-roundedness. Home advantage in the play-offs in Toronto is an unbelievable opportunity, with their amazing fan base. But it just seems like we have seen this all before – always coming up short at the last hurdle. With the East looking up for grabs, now is as good a time as any to make that final jump.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook can do it all. When the Thunder made the bold acquisitions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in the summer, the Thunder catapulted themselves into contention. With plenty of riches, a lot is expected of the Thunder and they have appeared to have matured past their early growing pains. With Steven Adams providing presence on the court, the Thunder have the ingredients to contend – only time will tell what they can achieve.
So for the past three seasons, the NBA finals has consisted of Warriors/Cavs, so I’m not exactly putting my neck on the line by suggesting these formidable rivals are due a fourth consecutive display. However, the balance of power in the NBA has never appeared more likely to be dismantled.
The acquisition of Chris Paul has the Houston Rockets nicely assembled to beat the Golden State Warriors. With Harden making his case for season MVP, the Rockets have all the pieces to compete in the Finals. Teammates like Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza provide crucial qualities in supporting Harden and CP3. They currently sit atop the Western conference in the midst of a ten game win streak. If anyone can dethrone the dominance of Golden State, it is this team.
When the Celtics acquired Kyrie Irving, they established themselves as serious contenders for a championship. They already have a well-stocked roster that Head Coach Brad Stevens had playing at a high level. But Kyrie was a game-changer. The addition of Gordon Haywood, who suffered a devastating first-game injury, was also a great move. But even without him the young core have proven their ability to compete. I expect them to make the Eastern conference finals that go the full 7 games with the Cavs. It could be decided by the finest margins.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been a shambles as an organization all season. The blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade in the summer proved to be a wrong move. An aging roster that played no defense, amongst reports of unrest between key players (*cough* Isaiah *cough*) triggered a downward spiral that forced the head office’s hand. As the trade deadline drew closer, the Cavs traded Isaiah Thomas, Dwayne Wade, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert. The Cavs the Cavs added youth in Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., amongst others. So far, they look good. Not to mention the Cavs have the best player in the world in LeBron James. Expect them to be a Finals threat.
Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors are the best team in the league. The Golden State Warriors are the current NBA champions. The Golden State Warriors are a super team with Steph, Klay, KD, Draymond, Zaza, etc. They have depth coming from the bench in Swaggy P, Iggy and Livingston. GSW should be considered the favorites to win the 2018 Finals.