We’re technically past the halfway point in the NBA season, but really, let’s be serious: Things don’t start to heat up until after the All-Star break. Now we’re on the cusp of the trade deadline, and soon teams will be fighting for playoff spots and lottery ping-pong balls.
Today, we’re throwing out all bets and making ten bold predictions for the second half of the season.
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1. The New York Knicks will make a trade at the deadline…but still not make the playoffs
The New York Knicks are desperate to hold onto Carmelo Anthony and are willing to do just about anything to convince him to stay. However, if the Knicks management decides to be smart and not force a deal or throw money at another problem, New York won’t make any moves at the deadline.
Carmelo Anthony is in the prime of his career and it’s sad that he is wasting away some of his best years on a team that has no chance of winning a championship. Anthony is following up his scoring title from last year with an even better year this year. He is averaging a career-high in rebounds, shooting .409 from 3-point range, the second highest in his career, and .836 from the free throw line, second highest in his career, and he’s still averaging 27.5 points per game, second in the league, while playing a career-high in minutes per game.
Anthony has done everything possible to make this team a winner and it is just not enough. The Knicks sit at (21-33), 11th in the Eastern Conference.
The Knicks are reportedly looking to acquire point guard Jeff Teague from the Atlanta Hawks. The Knicks have suffered from awful contracts that management has handed out over the past few years. Next year, the Knicks will still have to pay Amar’e Stoudemire $23 million, Tyson Chandler $14.5 million and Andrea Bargnani $11.5 million as well as close to $6 million to J.R Smith. Acquiring Teague would mean the Knicks would have to pay the remaining three years of his four-year, $32 million contact. This would mean the Knicks will have less money in the summer of 2015 when most of those horrific contracts mentioned above expire.
Teague is a solid point guard but is definitely overpaid. Teague is having his best season this year but has only averaged 10 points per game and 4.5 assists per game in his career. Current Knicks point guard Raymond Felton is ranked 16th in assists-to-turnover ratio while Teague ranks 37th. Teague doesn’t make the Knicks a contender this year nor is he the big name player that will convince Anthony to stay. The Knicks shouldn’t make a deal at the deadline but rather try and make the playoffs with the team they have, or try and unload contracts and convince Anthony that they will free cap space to acquire players in the offseason, or during next year when some of the expiring contracts they have are more desirable.
Wait a minute, though. We are talking about the Knicks and their horrific front office management. The Knicks will make a deal for Teague or another average-to-below-average player that has a difficult contract to deal with and will end up not making the playoffs anyway. The Eastern Conference is horrendous but the Knicks are a part of the mess. Why won’t the Knicks make the playoffs? It’s simple: the Knicks are full of selfish players that have lost that desire to compete night in and night out. With all the buzz surrounding the team with Anthony potentially leaving and Woodson being fired, along with management and Anthony making it clear that this roster can’t win, the Knicks have already come to the conclusion that this season is a waste. The Knicks will quit by mid March and will realize that Jeff Teague was just another contract they will be wishing they never acquired.
2. Rajon Rondo will be moved before Thursday
Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics are in rebuilding mode and looking to acquire draft picks and young talent for next year. I think that Ainge will be willing to give Rajon Rondo away for the right price but it will be costly for whichever team decides to acquire him. Rondo is a free agent in 2015 so he most likely will only be traded to a team that has a chance of re-signing him.
I personally think the Los Angeles Lakers will make a move for the four-time All-Star before Thursday’s deadline. With Kobe Bryant‘s comments hinting toward him being close to concluding his NBA career, the Lakers are foolish to not make a move for Rondo. Rondo will most likely stay with the Lakers and if he opts to test free agency, the Lakers can also target Kevin Love in the summer of 2015. If Bryant retires it leaves the door open for the Lakers to sign both Rondo and Love in 2015. The Lakers have a lottery pick to give away this year and can give the Celtics expiring contracts to free cap space at the end of the season.
3. Los Angeles Clippers will make the NBA Finals
The Los Angeles Clippers have been flying under the radar since the beginning of this season, especially after the injury to Chris Paul. The Clippers sit at 37-19, 6.5 games back of the one seed in the West. The Clippers have been phenomenal at home (23-5) and have what it takes to win the West. The Clippers are second in points per game (107), third in assists per game and 15th in points allowed. Chris Paul has returned after missing 18 games but the Clippers were 12-6 without their star point guard.
Much of the reason why the Clippers survived without Paul was because of the elevated play from Blake Griffin. Many people don’t believe Griffin can do much more then leap into the air and throwdown some ridiculous dunks, but I believe Griffin is one of the most improved players in the NBA this year. Griffin is averaging a career-high in points (24.4 a game), and is shooting over 50 percent from the field as well as over 70 percent from the free throw line. He looks so much more comfortable and confident on the offensive end and his ability to knock down the midrange jumper gives defenders trouble. Play tight and he blows by you for a monstrous dunk, sag off and he now has the ability to hit his jumper when open. Add DeAndre Jordan, who is having his best career year, 10.0 points and 14.1 rebounds a game, and the Clippers have a great combination down low. Include shooters that help spread the floor for CP3, an efficient sixth man in Jamal Crawford, a deep bench and coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers are a scary out in the playoffs.
4. Houston Rockets will be the No. 1 seed in the West
The Rockets have won eight straight games and look like they are finding their groove on offense, scoring over 100 points in seven of those eight wins. The Rockets have a great inside-out game with Dwight Howard and James Harden. Howard, after battling injuries the last few seasons, has not missed a game this year. He looks locked in and seems like he is feeling more comfortable in the offense each game. Superman is averaging a double-double and has been very reliable for Houston all year.
James Harden is averaging 24 points a night and can fill it up with his lethal jump shot or his classic Euro-step move when he drives to the bucket. Chandler Parsons gives the Rockets another offensive weapon to go to when Harden is having a tough night. Terrence Jones has given the Rockets a big boost on both ends of the floor this year, starting 44 games after starting zero last season. The Rockets only play six games total against Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Portland and the Clippers combined the rest of the season. I think Houston will add some depth at the deadline and be a force the rest of the regular season. If Houston can rev it up on the defensive end, they will be the one seed come playoff time.
5. The Miami Heat will be dethroned in the Eastern Conference Finals
The Miami Heat are the two-time defending champions and still have the same core roster as last season’s championship team. So why do I think the Heat will not make the NBA Finals this season? The Indiana Pacers have emerged as the top contender to dethrone the Heat and I think this year is the year they accomplish that task.
Roy Hibbert and David West give the Pacers a low post presence that the Heat has trouble defending. Greg Oden and Chris Andersen will not be able to stop Indiana’s force in the post and Chris Bosh isn’t a great low-post defender. Lance Stephenson is having his best season and is a big reason the Pacers lead the East. He can be a difference-maker in a seven-game series with Miami. The Pacers will hold onto first place in the East and claim homecourt throughout the playoffs. Paul George is an emerging star and is only getting better on both ends of the floor. If Andrew Bynum can add to the Pacers low post dominance, Miami will have even more trouble defeating the Pacers.
Now don’t get me wrong, LeBron James can easily go out and win his third straight championship but why I think the Heat won’t make it back to the Finals is because of the health of Dwyane Wade. Wade is clearly not the same player he was years ago and as he begins to regress, Paul George and Lance Stephenson have progressed. Wade is averaging 18.7 points per game, the lowest he has ever averaged since his rookie season. Wade is the X-factor for the Heat in the playoffs but after already missing 15 games this year, I question his long-term health the rest of season and if he can be effective come May and June. Sorry Heat fans but it’s Indiana’s time.
6. Derrick Rose will be back for the playoffs this season
Derrick Rose followed up last year’s season ending ACL tear by tearing his medial meniscus on Nov. 22 against the Portland Trail Blazers. The time of the recovery is 12-16 weeks and after many criticized Rose for not playing in last year’s playoffs, I believe Rose does this year. The Chicago Bulls are (28-25) fourth in the Eastern Conference and with Rose back, are right behind Indiana for having the best chance to compete with Miami to win the east. Chicago has already ruled out Rose for the year but Rose did leave the door open for a return if he felt healthy enough.
The Bulls really have put together two fantastic seasons without their best player. I tip my hat to Tom Thibodeau, Joakim Noah and the rest of the Bulls players who go out and give their best effort night in and night out. The Bulls are ninth in rebounds per game, second in points allowed and 11th in assists per game. They are 2-2 against Miami and Indiana this year and 21-12 against the Eastern Conference. With the East as bad as it is, the Bulls will make the Eastern Conference Semifinals and play either Miami or Indiana and believe me, Derrick Rose will be in the starting lineup.
7. KD will bring home the MVP
2014 will be the first MVP award that Kevin Durant wins in his career. The “Slim Reaper” is having an incredible year and his run of 12 straight 30-plus games will be the highlight of this season, much like the Heat’s 27 straight wins last season. Durant is having an outstanding year, averaging 31.5 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game and is shooting 51 percent from the field. His handles at 6-9 make him almost unguardable by anybody in the league, including King James. Durant has the handles and speed to get to the basket, the length and size to score in the post and a great jump shot that has him shooting 41 percent from long range. Oh, by the way, Durant is doing this without Russell Westbrook, which means opponents know what Durant is going to do and they still can’t stop the man.
The Thunder have the best record in the league and Westbrook has missed 30 games this year. Durant deserves this award hands down and will continue to play at this high of a level even when Westbrook returns.
8. Philadelphia 76ers will have the worst record and have best chance at the No. 1 pick come June
The Philadelphia 76ers are (15-40) four games back of the Milwaukee Bucks for the worst record in the NBA. The Sixers are in great shape to unload some desirable players such as Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes (which they did earlier today) and Thaddeus Young that can help them get rid of contracts and acquire picks for the future. They have lost nine straight games and look like they will continue to lose. In the month of March, the Sixers play 10 of their 16 games against teams that have a winning record.
Milwaukee currently has the worst record but I think they have enough talent to win some games in the second half of the season. Brandon Knight has played great basketball as of late, averaging 19.2 points and 6.6 assists in the Bucks last 10 games. The Bucks roster has underperformed this season but I think they will hit a stretch where they can put together some wins. The Sixers, as many predicted, will have the best chances of getting the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft Lottery. Add Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid alongside Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams and a healthy Nerlens Noel and the future looks bright in Philadelphia.
9. The Phoenix Suns will make the playoffs
The most surprising team in the NBA is the Phoenix Suns. Imagine having your highest paid player being Emeka Okafor at age 31 and still being (32-21) in the Western Conference? Well the Suns are and after many believed they would be in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick come June, they have eliminated themselves from that conversation. Jeff Hornacek has done an exceptional job in his first season as the head coach. The Suns have a roster full of role players and young players that many thought wouldn’t be effective in the league.
Goran Dragic has played great this season, averaging over 20 points a night and has really helped keep the Suns in the playoff picture without Eric Bledsoe for most of the year. Miles Plumlee, who I didn’t think could play in the league, has developed nicely in Phoenix after barely playing in Indiana. The Suns are young and inexperienced and even though many counted them out, they play hard every night and get contributions from everyone on the roster.
The Suns will make the playoffs this season and there is still a possibility they have three or four first-round draft picks in June to add to an already young and rising squad.
10. The Los Angeles Lakers will acquire a big name player by Thursday’s deadline
Earlier in this article I wrote how I believe the Los Angeles Lakers will acquire Rajon Rondo before Thursday and I believe that shocking news has a chance to come before the deadline. If the Lakers don’t make a move for Rondo, I can see them acquiring another big name player. Look, the Lakers have a horrific roster and next year they will have a lot of cap room to make moves. But who is out there that the Lakers have a legit chance of signing? LeBron James isn’t coming and neither is Wade or Chris Bosh. Carmelo Anthony will most likely not leave the Knicks unless the organization trades him. Kobe Bryant has one or two more seasons and then Los Angeles will need a new face to the franchise.
A trade for Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo or Kevin Love is the Lakers best hope for winning Bryant his sixth ring next season. If they aren’t trying to make a run next season then there was no reason to sign Bryant to that contract a few months ago. I think Jim Buss realizes that and will give up their potential lottery pick if it means bringing in a big name player to help win next season. If he thinks Bryant can single-handedly bring the Lakers to the Finals next season, he’s crazy. They need someone alongside Mamba or they won’t make the playoffs again… even with a healthy Kobe.
What do you think?
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