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A surprisingly entertaining all-star weekend has passed, and it’s time for NBA franchises to linger.
The home stretch of the season is underway and a lot is happening. Teams gear up to take down the Warriors, Rookies lead their teams on winning streaks, and LeBron is, well, LeBron.
A lot of things are uncertain about the NBA season, but some are not. Here are some predictions you can bring to the bank for the remainder of the 2017-18 NBA season.
THE BEARD REIGNS SUPREME
James Harden’s 2017-18 season has been out of this world. The 28-year-old entered the all-star break averaging 31.3 points, 9.0 assists and 5.1 rebounds and led the Houston Rockets to a league-best 44-13 record. .
Harden was a finalist for the Most Valuable Player Award last season, but the title ultimately went to his former teammate Russell Westbrook. Harden also finished second in the All-Star race in 2014-15.
But unlike Westbrook, adding another all-star to the Rockets didn’t lessen Harden’s impact on the team.
The Rockets and Warriors have a head start over the other 13 teams in the Western Conference. Both are screened by FiveThirtyEight to finish 62-20. No other team in the West is predicting more than 48 wins.
The team have also won 10 straight games and are 2-1 against the Warriors.
There are only a few players who may even be in the conversation for the MVP: James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. Harden’s CV outshines all of these other competitors.
Antetokounmpo is a player who will be in MVP conversations for years to come, but it’s not his year. The Greek Freak sits at 27.9 points, 10.3 rebounds and nearly five assists in a Bucks team that is sixth in the East. Antetokounmpo is second in the MVP ranking IMHO, but the gap between the first and the second is significant.
LeBron continues to defy the laws of time averaging 26.6 points, 8.9 assists and 8.1 rebounds in his 15th season. However, the King James’ Cavs are the third best team in the East, and despite what people are saying, the ranking of teams does have an impact on an individual’s price.
As for Curry and Durant, it’s hard to measure their contribution to the team’s success when there are four stars in the starting lineup.
Barring an injury or a shortage of shaving gel, Harden is on track to become the first Rocket to win the MVP title since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1993-94.
DINOSAURS AND DUBS
Remember all the good things I said about the Rockets earlier. Ignore that when it comes to the NBA Finals because the Golden State Warriors are a lock out of the Western Conference.
Not just a favorite, a LOCK.
Houston has the potential to advance to the conference finals and a good shot at stealing a game or two, but to say the Rockets can beat the Warriors four times in two weeks is laughable.
Golden State went 16-1 in the playoffs last year and has come back even better this year. The big four of Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green play some of the best team basketball of their careers while second unit Nick Young, Omri Casspi, David West and Andre Iguodala took over during the absence of starters.
The Dubs lead the league in offensive efficiency, shooting percentage and assists and are in the top 10 in terms of rebound, defensive efficiency and pace.
Tag team basketball is also a theme in the East, with the Raptors on a seven-game winning streak and two games ahead of the Celtics.
The Toronto Raptors have been a constant in the East for years, but they couldn’t get to the top of the mountain. Now FiveThirtyEight is giving Toronto a 51% chance of making the final and a 21% chance of winning it all.
Even with the Cavs’ new acquisitions, the Raptor bench is the deepest in the conference. Dwane Casey’s team isn’t packed with layers of superstars, but what they do have is chemistry.
How far can this take you? Ask Gregg Popovich.
The Celtics tend to go down and the Cavs are nearly seven games behind Toronto. This, combined with DeMar DeRozan’s dependable play, makes Toronto a near-guaranteed run as a seed in the East.
TANKS FOR MEMORIES
Like it or not, tanking has become a staple in the NBA.
This is the time of year when teams must decide between making a playoff push and looking ahead. Teams like Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago are obvious candidates for “trusting the process,” but a few others are stuck in basketball purgatory.
Charlotte, Detroit, New Orleans and Utah are a few teams that have to decide whether it’s really worth pushing for a playoff berth to get run over in the first round.
For some teams, the playoff route is the only way to go.
The Charlotte Hornets are on the verge of breaking out year after year and the addition of Dwight Howard was supposed to be the catalyst that put them on edge.
Even at 25-33, the playoffs are still a possibility for the Hornets. Michael Jordan’s side are five games behind Miami’s current eight seeds. Tanking really isn’t an option for the Hornets at this point, so a playoff push is a given.
If Charlotte once again fails to finish in the first half of the conference, maybe it’s time for MJ to consider starting over.
The opposite is the case for New Orleans. Even as the eighth seed in the West, a deep playoff run isn’t possible without Boogie Cousins. Cousins’ Achilles injury put him on the board for the rest of the season just as NOLA was playing one of his best balls of the season.
The Pelicans are only one step ahead of the Clippers and Jazz, which makes the decision to tank a lot easier. Utah has won the league best 11 in a row behind Rookie of the Year favorite Donovan Mitchell and the Clippers’ Lou Williams scoring like there is no tomorrow.
The real issue with New Orleans is depth, so a quality lottery pick would be great leverage for the Pelicans to bring more players into the Big Easy for the 2018-19 season.
So when DeMarcus Cousins returns, the team can finally perform the run they’ve been destined for since the inception of the franchise.