The NBA second half resumes on Thursday, and after an eventful trade deadline and a storyline-full first half, basketball fans will be able to sit back and enjoy the stretch run. Here are some of our bold predictions for the next two months.
Sixers Finish as East’s No. 1 Seed
Something feels different about this Philadelphia 76ers team in a loaded Eastern Conference. Looking at past seasons, they had talent, but you never thought they could make a deep run. What we’ve seen from Joel Embiid and James Harden these past few months has been exceptional.
They’ve gone 26-7 after starting the season 12-12 and may not have reached their ceiling. Embiid deserves MVP, Harden is en route to a potential assist title, and the team is filled with quality depth and perimeter shooting, something they haven’t had in previous seasons.
Philly only sits three games back of the top seed and has a brutal six-game stretch to open up from the All-Star break. If they come out of that looking strong, they’ll come for the throne.
Brooklyn Stays in East’s Fifth Seed
Everyone has assumed that the Brooklyn Nets would roll over and die after trading Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but that won’t be the case. Mikal Bridges showed All-Star potential as the lead guy, most notably with his 45-point performance last week.
Cam Johnson, Seth Curry, Spencer Dinwiddie, Nic Claxton, Cam Thomas, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Royce O’Neale round out a good rotation that isn’t going to slack off with Jacque Vaughn proving to be a heck of a coach, earning a well-deserved contract extension.
I don’t see the Miami Heat or New York Knicks surpassing this Nets’ squad.
Dallas Regresses with Kyrie
Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving have gone 0-2. Luka and Kyrie could be extraordinary together, but the supporting cast around them is lacking. The solid defensive pieces shipped for Kyrie are already missed, with the Dallas Mavericks giving up 133, 124, and 118 points in their past three games.
Plus, we’ve all seen how deep the West is. Currently the sixth seed, they are only two games away from the 12th seed with New Orleans, Golden State, Minnesota, and, dare I say, the Los Angeles Lakers behind them, who will have improved health and/or new faces down the stretch.
Luka and Kyrie might combine for 100 points in a game and put on a good show, but Dallas as a team will falter.
OKC Surges Into the Playoffs
This tout might come slightly out of the left field, but I have loved what I’ve seen from the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have the fifth easiest remaining schedule. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an absolute star whose name needs to come up more with the best names in the sport. He’s spectacular.
Around him, young pieces like Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams have complemented Shai’s scoring well, with Lu Dort serving as a glue piece for the young guys. We mentioned how tightly compact the West playoff chase is, so we expect the Thunder to earn one of the four play-in spots.
I wouldn’t want to go against this team in a one-game elimination scenario.
Russell Westbrook Works with Clippers
Let’s put Russell Westbrook’s Laker days in the rearview mirror. It was a marriage destined for divorce on the honeymoon, and he’s better off. Sure, the Hall of Famer is past his prime, but he can still provide value, and the Los Angeles Clippers are desperate for a point guard.
John Wall flamed out, Reggie Jackson doesn’t have it, and Paul George and Kawhi Leonard cannot be bringing up the ball as much as they are. Russ will alleviate some of the pressure off the Clippers tandem and be able to serve as a playmaker, something he can excel in.