Another thing I love about All-Star Weekend is it signals the start of a new season during the season, if that makes sense. I am one of the proponents for shortening the NBA Season, just because I think it is too many games that don't mean much. Of course every game matters but for teams like the Bulls and Warriors, a loss in the middle of January don't hold much weight.
After All-Star break though games are more significant because we're getting closer to the Playoffs. I always notice players have a little bit more pep in their step after the All-Star Break, which for me, creates more entertaining basketball. While we get ready for the start of the 2nd season Thursday night, here is a few things I think you should pay attention too for the remainder of the season.
Will the Cavs finish strong?
Walking into the All-Star break the Cavs were on fire. They went on a 11-game win streak, winning 13 of their last 15 games. Prior to that strong finish though they were, 19-20 as of January 13th, so that run came at good time.
The Cavs were without Bronny prior to that run, 1-7 without LeBron. Lebron should be rested now between the 8 games he missed and the All-Star Break, which is a great thing for the Cavs. I expect to see a very focused LeBron James for the remainder of the season. Right now the Cavs are the 5th seed, 10 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Hawks.
Cavs is also 1 1/2 games behind the Bulls in the Central Division. I think it is very important for whoever wins this division because for some reason, I see them playing each other in the 1st round at the 4th and 5th seed. And whoever does win this division will get home-court advantage, something I think is essential for the Cavs.
I still have questions if Kyrie and K-Love will be able to keep up with LeBron on this potential run. I have confidence in both of their skills but obviously it's going to take more than skills to get this team above the rest. Even though this is a very good big 3, the one thing they lack is experience. LeBron is the only one who has playoff experience of the three. Neither Love or Kyrie has been in this situation where they have to guide a team to the playoffs.
Will the Warriors prove they are true title contenders?
Of course this questions can't be answered until the NBA Finals, but what I'm asking is will people start to believe in their potential? Reason why I say that is because, even with the Warriors being number 1 in the West, and has been for some time now, some people still don't have them as a main contender for a title.
On paper and by the numbers, it's easy to persuade one that the Warriors will be playing in the NBA Finals. Their 26-7 in the conference, 23-2 at home, and 19-7 on the road. They lead the league in points differential (+11), points scored per game (110), and lead the league in both field goal percentage (.481) and opponent field goal percentage (.421). Numbers like that signal a very promising future for the Warriors, unfortunately though, basketball isn't played on paper.
I don't think it's a reach to put the Warriors in the Finals. They have playoff experienced and have been playing very good defense. The fact that they are one of the best defensive teams in the league, gives me more confidence in them.
Andrew Bogut is a large question mark for me. He has only played 37 games this season and since 2012 he has only played 136 games. In order for the Warriors to go far, I think Bogut has to be a main ingredient, to have that big body presence in the middle. In the playoffs, the game slows down, and half-court basketball becomes more prevalent, and a quality BIG MAN is needed. Bogut numbers aren't much to look at, averaging only 6 points and 8 boards, but that defensive presence in the middle is far more important.
Right now the MVP is a two man race between James Harden and Steph Curry. Both are having career seasons, and has been highlight reel material. Right now I would give the nod to Steph Curry since his team has the best record in basketball, but honestly, I have switched back-n-forth between these two, so it will probably change again.
Here is a list of the Head-to-Head match-ups from this season:
- November 8th - Steph Curry 39 points, 9 boards, 5 dimes, 4 steals 68% FG, 6-9 3PT; James Harden 22 points, 7 boards, 7 dimes, 33% FG. Warriors 98 - Rockets 87
- December 10th - James Harden 34 points, 7 boards, 4 dimes, 4 steals 52% FG; Steph Curry 20 points, 7 boards, 7 dimes, 8-15 FG. Warriors 105 - Rockets 93
- January 17th - Steph Curry 27 points, 11 dimes, 7 boards, 3 steals, 1 block, 50% FG; James Harden 12 points, 4 dimes, 4 steals, 4-15 FG. Warriors 131 - Rockets 106
- January 21st - James Harden 33 points, 4 boards, 6 dimes, 44% FG; Steph Curry 22 points, 10 dimes, 7-12 FG, FOULED OUT. Warriors 126 - Rockets 113
Of course the Warriors have the better team, so don't focus so much on who the games. One thing that I notice about those four games, even if Steph didn't have a crazy stat line, it still was a good game. Overall I will have to give the edge to Steph because he has been playing the better all-around basketball at the guard position, along with shooting people lights out
Can the Hawks stay at the top of the East?
After winning 18 straight, the Hawks walked into the All-Star Break 3-4 in their last 7 games. I don't want to say the streak took a lot out of them but I think we all can agree they overachieved for the first half of the season. Now they can't surprise anyone no more. Sitting at the top of the East with the 2nd best record in the NBA, the target is definitely on their back, with teams like the Cavs, Wizards, Bulls, and Raptors gunning for them. Will they be able to answer the challenge?
A lot of their success have to do with their big 3, mainly Jeff Teague. I would say that Teague is the best player on this team, and so far this season he has been exceptional, averaging 17 points and 7.5 dimes. I think Teague will have to play at an MVP level for the remainder of the season in order for the Hawks to stay at that top spot.
Even though they don't have a true superstar, they have 5 quality starters that play well. All 5 starters average double figures in points, and bring something different. Can this style of basketball work for the remainder of the season. Can the Hawks survive not having a 20-point scorer on their team? I'm not sure.
Who will win the race for 8th?
Of course I'm speaking of the race for eighth in the west. What makes this so compelling for me is because it includes the Oklahoma City Thunder, who talents exceeds an 8th seed. Early injuries to their superstars is why the Thunder are in this situation, but they have more than enough time to make a run.
The scary part is if they do indeed get that 8th seed. Can you imagine a Thunder-Warriors 1st round series? If that's not good for TV I don't know what is.
The Suns are currently in 8th but they are in the middle of trying to trade one their best player Goran Dragic, so that could affect them for the remainder of the season. The Thunder trail behind them by 1 1/2 and the Pelicans sit a game 1 game behind the Thunder. The Pelicans hold the tiebreaker over the Thunder, which will keep them in the picture even if the Thunder do surpass the Suns.
As much as I love Anthony Davis, I want the Thunder to make the postseason. With them in the 8th seed, I think it will create a very exciting, unpredictable, possibly historic postseason.