As I said yesterday, we finally got an All-Star Game that was worth a shit. After years and years of horrible games, we finally saw the stars come to play. They cared about winning that game and it showed. I for one, cannot think of a better way to open up the final two months of the NBA season.
These two months between the All-Star break and the final day of the season is all about guys playing just like that. Guys playing their asses off trying to sneak into the eighth spot in the playoff race is what its all about!
There are plenty of races and stories to keep track of, but worry not, I am here to tell you the three biggest storylines heading into the final homestretch.
1-The Race for the Two Seeds
In both conferences, the top seeds seemed to be locked up already. The Bucks are carrying a 6.5 game lead over Toronto while the Lakers are up 4 games on the Nuggets. The real race is for the two seeds in each conference.
In the West you have Denver (currently in 2nd), the Clippers, the Jazz, and the Rockets all within 3.5 games of the second seed. Of these four teams I think we can all agree that the Clippers are easily the best, most talented team. Can that carry them to the 2 seed in the West?
Well, let’s see. For the rest of the season the Clippers are tied with the Rockets in having the 7th easiest schedule (based on current Winning Percentage). They have Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Lou Williams, and they just added Reggie Jackson. Simply put, they have one of the best rosters in the league and they are led by one of the best coaches in the league. (I actually don’t like the Jackson pickup, I think they made this move more to keep Jackson away from other contenders in the West)
With load management being a part of the gameplan, I really don’t see the Clippers getting to the second seed. They also know that they don’t need it as much as the other teams do. With that roster, they can travel anywhere and beat anyone.
That leaves us with the Rockets, Jazz and Nuggets. With Westbrook playing the way he is playing, I can easily see the Rockets taking off in the next two months. The lack of a big guy has opened up the court for Westbrook and everything just seems so easy for him.
The Jazz have been playing as well as anyone in the league over the last two months. In their 9 games heading into the break they lost their first 5 and won their last 4, but it was the stretch before that that really makes you wonder. Between December 11th and January 25th the Jazz went an insane 18-2. That is the team that we expected when the season started. Led by Donovan Mitchell, this is a team nobody wants to see come playoff time, especially in Utah.
Finally we have the Nuggets. The Nuggets are one of my favorite teams to watch in the league. They are currently in the second seed and I would like to see them stay there. That, however, is going to be a tall task for this team. They have the 9th toughest remaining schedule in the league and they sit only 1 game ahead of the Clippers right now. Say what you will, but Nikola Jokic is a legit star in this league and I can see the Nuggets playing with anyone. I just can’t see them holding on to that 2 seed.
I don’t necessarily love the small ball lineup, but I really think Houston rides this wave to the second seed. I do not think it holds up in the playoffs, but it will be enough to get them to that second seed.
In the East we really just have two teams who can stake their claim to the second seed. Toronto currently sits in second with Boston 1.5 games behind them. Miami is 4.5 behind Toronto, but questions with Jimmy Butler’s health have me out on the Heat in the regular season (different story come playoff time).
Toronto has shocked me more than any other team in the league. With the expiring contracts they have, I had the Raptors abandoning ship this year. Holy shit I could not have been more wrong. I was wrong about Siakam (he is a star), wrong about Lowry, and wrong about everything with that team. Nick Nurse is one of the best coaches in basketball and he gets the absolute best from his team on a nightly basis. I don’t think there is a team that plays harder than the Raptors on a game to game basis.
With that said, the Celtics core is as good as it gets. Tatum is playing like a superstar, plus they have two other stars in Kemba and Hayward. If, and that is a big if, the Celtics get completely healthy, they are one of the best teams in the league.
Both teams have the same remaining strength of schedule so that’s a wash. The talent level obviously favors Boston, but the experience and chemistry that Toronto has cannot be overlooked. Those guys love playing with each other and they all trust each other.
I’m leaning towards the talent. I think Hayward gets healthy and Tatum gets a couple of MVP votes and Boston sneaks into that second seed in the last week of the season. This will be huge for them when they matchup with the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
2-Rookie of the Year Race
Every year, behind the MVP race, the Rookie of the Year race is the most fun award to watch for. It really is the second most star studded award race in the league. Most of these rookies will grow into superstars (Luka, Trae) and watching them compete their ass off at 18-19 years old is fucking awesome.
This year we don’t only have the two biggest rookies, but also two of the biggest stars in the league.
Honestly, this race is over for me. Ja won this award two months ago, but leave it to the sports “experts” to give it to a guy who played less than half the season.
Ja Morant vs. Zion Williamson
Ja has not only been the best rookie this year, but he has also been a top 30 player in basketball. He has taken a Grizzlies team that was expected to be in the lottery again and he currently has them in a playoff spot. He is averagine 17-7-4 , shooting 49%, and 36% from three. Don’t just look at the numbers though. Watch the Grizzlies play. He is the unquestionable leader on a team that is on pace to win 45 games. The Grizzlies go as he goes, and he has been nothing short of spectacular.
Just when it seemed like Ja had already run away with the award, Zion entered the chat.
Zion is must watch TV, I will admit that. He is a complete anomaly with the way he moves at his size. Nobody that big should jump that high. He makes Lebron look normal. It is just absolutely fucking insane. Every morning it seems like ESPN is showing some kind of stat where Zion is 1 of like 3 players to do something through his first however many games. He is great, but!
BUT! He can only play a maximum of 37 games this year, and that is if he plays in every game the rest of the season. We know that that probably will not happen, and it should not happen. I don’t care who you are, you cannot play 37 games and win any type of award. That is not even half the season. It is just fucking asinine to think that he deserves this award over a guy who has carried his team through an entire season.
Regardless of what I think, the media has inserted Zion into this conversation and it may get really intriguing if the Pelicans start creeping up on the Grizz in the playoff hunt. Time will tell, but in my mind, Ja has already won this award.
3-Can Lebron Lead the Lakers to a Title?
With the horrible passing of Kobe Bryant, this is a huge storyline for me. How ENORMOUS would it be if Lebron brought a title to LA the year that Kobe passed. It would be poetic justice for Lakers fans everywhere.
There are two superstars in LA trying to become the third players ever to win a championship with three teams. They would each be the first players to be the best player on that team. (John Salley and Robert Horry both won titles with 3 teams) Lebron with the Lakers and Kawhi with the Clippers are both trying to make history. It seems that at the moment Kawhi will be Lebron’s biggest obstacle in making a return to the NBA Finals.
Right now the Lakers are in first in the West and they have the second best record in the league. Lebron is playing great basketball and him and AD have had almost no growing pains in their first year playing together. The issue is that the Lakers still only go as Lebron goes. The same cannot be said for Anthony Davis.
The Lakers’ Net rating with Lebron is historic, while their Net rating without James is awful. The point is, Lebron is going to have to play some heavy minutes, especially in the playoffs for this team to get to the finals. This is not the East that Lebron is used to playing in. This Western Conference will be a fucking gauntlet with their possible matchups going like this:
Round 1-Grizzlies/Trail Blazers/Pelicans
That playoff run would be no fucking joke. Lebron is one of the greatest to ever do it though and I have faith, especially given what has happened this year.
As a Knicks fan, I will be rooting for Lebron, the Lakers, and the city of Los Angeles. I don’t think anything would be better for the league than this Lakers team winning a title in 2020.
Make sure to listen to my podcast this Sunday as I will talk about the first games out of the break and some of the big games the following week.