Daniel MallipudiComment

The Assist: 10 Post All-Star Break Predictions

Daniel MallipudiComment
The Assist: 10 Post All-Star Break Predictions


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10 Post All-Star Break Predictions

What’s in store for the second half of the NBA regular season?
Here we go with some Post All-Star Break Predictions…

1. The Detroit Pistons will make the playoffs as the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.

As of the All-Star break, the Detroit Pistons are currently in the 9th spot and on the outside looking in for the playoffs. They only sit a game back of the Miami Heat (8th seed) and only four games back of the Philadelphia 76ers (7th seed). Stan Van Gundy has a renewed energy from his players as they traded for Blake Griffin (among other pieces) two weeks before the trade deadline. It gives them space on the floor without sacrificing
inside positioning as both Blake and Andre Drummond like to play on the perimeter as well as on the inside. Blake will also provide some playoff experience to a young team that hasn't been to the playoffs since they were the 8th seed facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. This team will likely incur the same fate, but when you consider what the preseason expectations were – a playoff berth would be huge.

2. The Los Angeles Lakers will re-sign Isaiah Thomas at the end of the season, based on the resume he puts together for the remainder of this season.

In a blockbuster trade right before the trade deadline, the Cleveland Cavaliers sent Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a late first-round pick to the Lakers in exchange forJordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. It was just last year that Isaiah Thomas, then a Boston Celtic, was considered one of the top ten players in the entire league AND part of the 2016-2017 NBA MVP race. Fast forward to today and we see Thomas as a member of the Lakers fighting for the starting point guard position. Cleveland was obviously a bad spot for him. The ball wasn’t in his hands enough for him to find his groove like it was in Boston. He was the number one offensive option during his time as a Celtic, making it easier for him to get his shots and find his offensive rhythm. Plus, he had a coach in Brad Stephens, that was able to mask his defensive inefficiencies (and there are a lot of them!). He finds himself in Los Angeles, whereas a starter, he will have the ball in his hands a majority of the time and he will be able to find a rhythm a bit easier than in Cleveland. He will begin to put some points on the board and create opportunities for his teammates that will run the floor with him. He won’t be better defensively, but that doesn’t matter nearly as much as getting buckets. I could see him finishing his stint with the Lakers averaging just shy of 20 points per game and 4 assists per game – which would be enough for them to offer him a one-year extension.

3. Donovan Mitchell will win the Rookie of the Year award.

This isn’t exactly a bold prediction. Donovan Mitchell can flat out play ball. Props to my man Levi, host of the Chappell Brothers Podcast, for predicting this really early in the season. He has an offensive instinct that is not common. He is averaging 19.6 points per game (leading all rookies), 3.5 assists per game (16th among rookies) and 3.5 rebounds per game. He is also shooting 35.4% from the 3-point line and 83.6% from the free throw line (3rd among rookies). There have been many comparisons to Russell Westbrook as he has led his Utah Jazz squad to a double-digit winning streak right before the All-Star break. And if all that wasn’t enough – he ends up winning the All-Star Dunk Contest in his first time competing.

4. The Toronto Raptors will be in the Eastern Conference finals.

There’s an interesting storyline brewing in the Eastern Conference. Most of us, when the season started, anticipated the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics would meet in the playoffs. We, of course, just assumed that it would be in the Eastern Conference finals. We did not consider that the Toronto Raptors could possibly take the #1 seed. But here we at the All-Star Break and it is indeed the Toronto Raptors atop the Eastern Conference. And if that continues, they may have a pretty easy path to the conference finals. Consider this, the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers may meet in the playoffs before the Eastern Conference finals and if that does happen... that will leave a much easier path to the Eastern Conference finals for the Raptors.

5. The Oklahoma City Thunder will lose in the first round of the playoffs.

Am I the only one that doesn’t believe in the Oklahoma City Thunder? They show flashes of team chemistry and team cohesiveness necessary to win in the playoffs, but they are inconsistent. They are two games behind the #4 seed, they are 13-16 on the road, and are only 18-17 against teams in the Western Conference. As it stands right now, OKC would be the lower seed against the Minnesota Timberwolves. If you look at how the Minnesota Timberwolves are playing (27-10 against the Western Conference and 24-7 at
home) I believe they’ll take down OKC, given the opportunity.

6. The Boston Celtics will get Gordon Hayward back from injury before the end of their playoff run and still not make it to the NBA Finals.

I have been impressed with Brad Stephens this year more than in years past. He got a brand new roster to gel, almost immediately, and then had to deal with a devastating injury to Gordon Hayward on the first night of the season. Since then, the Boston Celtics have the #2 record in the East and have the number two ranked defense in the league. That’s a good run, but this year, it will end just short of the Finals.

7. The Cleveland Cavaliers will be the Eastern Conference representative in the NBA Finals... again. 

I cannot see anyone in the East beating the Cleaveland Cavaliers four times in seven games, regardless of who has home court advantage. Koby Altman, Cavaliers General Manager, reshaped the roster for the better. The team is a better team today than it was prior to the All-Star Break and it will be a better team going forward with its current structure. They are younger, more athletic, hungrier and are (already) better together than the previous version of the Cavaliers. They are surrounded by players that run the floor well, play above the rim, and they have players who don't mind playing second fiddle to LeBron. They will also add Kevin Love when he is done rehabbing his hand, which is only going to add depth, increase their effectiveness from outside, and give them another rebounder to start the fast break on the defensive end. Cavaliers will make the Finals, again.

8. The Golden State Warriors will finish as the #2 seed in the Western Conference and also win their 3rd NBA Championship in four years.

This team will play smart during the second half of the season, while getting rest where it can for its star players. I don't see this team bending over backward in order to secure the #1 seed. They can win on the road and they are confident in their identity as a team. They don’t have anything to gain by exerting extra energy to secure the #1 seed. Warriors coach Steve Kerr will have his team ready to play, compete, and win come playoff time.

9. The Houston Rockets will secure the #1 seed in the Western Conference and Rockets guard Chris Paul will play in his first conference championship series (where they will lose to the Warriors).

This unit has been the most exciting team to watch this season. Their offensive statistics and efficiency are absolutely off the charts. They are riding a ten game winning streak into the All-Star break while posting 114.6 points per game (good for 2nd in the league). They also are only allowing 105.4 points per game (12th in the league). Mike D’Antoni has a perfect
mixture of talent and three-point shooters that allow both Harden and Paul to be incredibly effective on the offensive end. Plus, two days after clearing waivers, veteran forward Joe Johnson signed with the Rockets, giving them depth for their playoff rotation. This team will push the Warriors for the best record in the league and home-court advantage, but ultimately lose to them in the Western Conference finals.

10. James Harden will win the 2017-2018 Regular Season MVP (finally).

It’s time that James Harden gets the recognition he deserves as one of the best players of our generation, and of all time. So far this season he is averaging; 31.3 points per game, 9.0 assist per game, 5.1 rebounds per game and 1.76 steals per game, 44.8% from the field, 38.4% from 3-point range, and 86% from the free throw line – ALL of these are career highs for James Harden. He leads the league in points per game, is 2nd in the league in
assists per game, he is 10th among guards in rebounds per game, he leads the league in free throws attempted and in free throws made, and he is 9th in steals per game. After reviewing his games and statistics for the last few years, I have concluded that James Harden is the fourth best shooting guard of all time (behind Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and the logo, Jerry West). Seriously, it’s time he gets his due. James Harden will win the MVP. Case closed.

It was a fun and entertaining All-Star Weekend. Now the second season starts and the games become more meaningful, the competition gets more fierce, and greatness emerges as we near the end of the regular season and enter the postseason.

Ball it up, yo.