Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

The second season is finally upon us. It is the time of year that all NBA fans have been salivating for all season.

There are so many questions left to be answered in the second season of the Eastern Conference. Will the Cavs fall, thus ending LeBron’s finals streak? Will the Celtics prove to be the best of the East? Could another team like the Raptors, Wizards or Bucks come out?

It will be fun to watch it all play out. Here is the preview of the Eastern Conference first round.

1 Boston Celtics vs. 8 Chicago Bulls

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

(Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Celtics and Bulls have had some amazing playoff series in the past. There was the time Michael Jordan dropped 63 points in a loss or the time they put on an epic seven-game series in 2009 that featured a total of seven overtimes.

These two teams split the season series, each winning two games. Chicago plays really well against winning teams and especially well on national television.

However, in a seven-game series, the better team is going to win. Boston averages 108 points per game, which is seventh-best in the NBA. Chicago on the other hand averages almost 103, which ranks 23rd in the NBA. Chicago will make it tough, but the Celtics’ defense will stifle the Bulls in the end.

Prediction: Celtics in 6

2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 7 Indiana Pacers

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Stop with the talk about how bad the Cavs have played. Like many past teams, they were just pacing themselves. The regular season means nothing to a team who has been to two straight finals, or to a player like LeBron James who has been to six straight finals.

Watch the switch get flipped in the playoffs. Indiana has a chance to steal a game or two with a superstar like Paul George, but that is it.

The Cavaliers will pick up the defense. With a healthy LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, their offense will keep them on course. Averaging 110 points per game leaves a little room for error on the defensive end.

LeBron-led teams have proven time and time again that they buckle down in the playoffs. Until proven otherwise, that will happen again this year.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 5

3 Toronto Raptors vs. 6 Milwaukee Bucks

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

Toronto versus Milwaukee is one of the most intriguing matchups of the first round. Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo will get a chance to shine on a national stage. The Greek Freak is the first player in NBA history to end the season in the top 20 of all major statistical categories.

Giannis is a great player, but lacks experience and a team that can do damage in the playoffs. The Bucks haven’t made the playoffs consistently in recent years, while the Raptors are heading into the playoffs for their fourth consecutive year. Toronto also reached the conference finals for the first time ever in franchise history last season, and they have improved their depth this year.

Toronto won over 50 games this season and finished the season winning eight of their final 10. The Raptors are hot and the better team, which is why they win this series without much of a worry.

Prediction: Raptors in 5

4 Washington Wizards vs. 5 Atlanta Hawks

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

(Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Washington has had one of their best seasons in franchise history. They finished 49-33, which was the third most wins they have ever had. Scott Brooks has not gotten the respect he deserves for how well he has done with the Wizards.

Washington has the best chance of upsetting the Cavs in the playoffs, but they must get past Atlanta first. The Wizards went 3-1 versus the Hawks this season. If the Wizards want to repeat that success they had in the regular season, they will need their stellar backcourt to lead them there.

The Wizards will win this series because John Wall and Bradley Beal combine to average 46.2 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game, and 14.2 assists per game. Atlanta’s backcourt of Dennis Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr. will be outmatched in this series and that will be the difference.

Prediction: Wizards in 6

You can check out the Western Conference Playoff Preview here.

 

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NBA Playoff Races

NBA Playoff Races

There is only a month remaining in the NBA season, and the NBA playoff races are heating up. There are so many questions left to answer. Who will get the one seed in the West? Who will be the eighth seeds in both the East and West? There are so many seeds undecided and positioning is going to very important in who will make deep postseason runs. Here is what to watch for in the final four weeks of the season.

Western Conference: First Seed

NBA Playoff Races

(Photo Credit: Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

There is still much to be decided in the West. The race for the first seed has really picked up since Kevin Durant got injured. The Warriors lead has vastly shrunk.

Their lead for the first seed is down to just a game and a half over the Spurs with 14 games remaining. This is an important race for the path to the conference finals and then having home-court in the conference finals.

Neither team has to worry about their first round matchup as both should win in short, easy series. The team who gets the second seed would likely see a tough series versus Houston in the second round. That is what both San Antonio and Golden State want to avoid. Both teams want to go into the conference finals as rested as possible.

Golden State and San Antonio will meet on March 29. It will be a huge game in deciding who wins the number one seed.

The Spurs and Warriors both have nine home games remaining. San Antonio has six away games while the Warriors have five. Both teams’ remaining opponents have a win percentage of 53 percent.

It will be a close finish and will come down to the final days of the season. Golden State will hold on to that number one seed as the season ends.

Western Conference Race for 8th

The Denver Nuggets currently hold the spot for the eighth seed in the West with a record of 33-35. Portland (30-37), Dallas (29-38) and Minnesota (28-39) all still have a shot to get the eighth seed.

This four team race is really close to becoming a two-team race between Denver and Portland. Denver has been playing much better lately and looks like a playoff team. They only have five home games remaining and that could be the factor that costs them that playoff spot.

Portland, on the other hand, has 10 games remaining at home and their remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of 49 percent. The Trailblazers will end up getting the eighth seed in the Western Conference with all those home games remaining against subpar teams.

The Rest of the West

NBA Playoff Races

(Photo Credit: http://deadspin.com)

Golden State and San Antonio are fighting for first and second. Denver or Portland will get the eighth seed. That leaves seeds three through seven.

The third seed is pretty much locked into Houston. Utah, Los Angeles (Clippers), Oklahoma City and Memphis mathematically can catch them, but it would take a total collapse by Houston to do so. Utah is the current four seed, but only four games separate Utah, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City and Memphis.

Russell Westbrook is close to breaking the single-season triple-double record and the Thunder are 29-6 when Westbrook gets a triple-double. Predicting he breaks the record means the Thunder will win at least eight more games. If that happens the Thunder will end up in the four or five spot.

Utah will get the spot the Thunder do not get, meaning they will also be the fourth or fifth seed. The Clippers will finish with the sixth seed and Memphis will remain as the seventh seed.

The East’s Top Half

The Eastern Conference is divided in half in terms of playoff seeding. Teams seeded one through four can end up in any one of those spots while teams five through eight will end up in the bottom half of the seeding.

The Cavaliers are in the top spot with a record of 45-22. The Celtics are two and a half back, the Wizards are three and a half back and Toronto is six and a half games back of the top spot. There should be a few changes in the top four seeds in the final weeks.

The Celtics remaining opponents have a win percentage of just 44 percent. They also have nine home games remaining while the Cavaliers have nine road games remaining. it is safe to predict the Celtics being only two and a half back will finish as the first seed and the Cavs will finish as the second seed.

The Wizards have 10 road games remaining and all that travel will catch up with them. The Raptors remaining opponents have a win percentage of just 47 percent. The top of the east will finish as follows: First Boston, second Cleveland, third Toronto, and fourth Washington.

The Rest of the East

NBA Playoff Races

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

Teams seeded fifth through 10th are separated by just five games. There are four spots for six teams.

Currently, it stands as Atlanta as the fifth seed with a record of 37-31. They will make the playoffs without question.  The Pacers are 35-33 and being above a .500 win percentage will be enough to get in as well.

That leaves Milwaukee, Detroit, Miami and Chicago fighting for the seventh and eighth seeds. Chicago has lost Dwayne Wade for the remainder of the year with an elbow injury. They were struggling with Wade and won’t be able to win enough games without him in the final month to make the playoffs.

Milwaukee is an exciting team with a star in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will lead them to a playoff appearance this season. Their remaining opponents have a win percentage of just 49 percent.

That leaves Miami who is 33-35 and Detroit who is 33-36. Both are fighting for the final remaining playoff spot. Miami started the season 10-31 and has since been on fire. No pun intended, but they have been heating up.

These teams have one more meeting against each other and that could be the deciding factor. The Pistons do have the easier remaining schedule of the two teams. This race is hard to predict, but in the second half of the season, the Heat have been the much better team.

The Heat will end up making the playoffs and Detroit will be the odd team out in the Eastern Conference Playoff race.

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Injuries are Shaking up the NBA

Injuries always end up taking its toll on the NBA season. The 2016-2017 season is no exception. As the season comes to a close, injuries are taking an even bigger toll on teams. They are giving a better idea of what the race for the championship might look like.

Key NBA Injuries This Season

Rudy Gay

NBA injuries

Rudy Gay (Photo courtesy: slamonline.com)

Rudy Gay was the first to fall to the injury bug. Gay was beginning to look like a prime trade target for a lot of teams who needed perimeter scoring. The Raptors and Thunder both looked like teams that could use his scoring presence on the outside. Gay fell victim to a season-ending torn Achilles in the midst of another solid season.

The Kings were never going to be a serious title threat, but Gay looked like a piece that could completely transform a fringe team. His presence could have vaulted the Thunder into another level, or made the Raptors contenders in the East. Nevertheless, his season is over.

The Gay injury was seemingly the first domino in the NBA injury season. Zach Lavine tore his ACL and ended his season shortly after.

Zach Lavine

Lavine took a serious leap this season and was another potential trade asset at the deadline. He became a deadly scorer for the Timberwolves this season and remained one of the most explosive and athletic players in the league. The Timberwolves title hopes were almost nonexistent even before the injury to Lavine, but the injury was still a serious blow to the young team.

Jabari Parker

Jabari Parker was the next to fall. Parker’s injury is perhaps the most disheartening of any of the injuries we have seen this year.

After missing much of his first season due to a torn ACL, Jabari started to show some of the potential that he had promised in college. He looked as if he was a blossoming star next to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Another ACL injury means Parker will likely miss the next 12 months and possibly set back the progress he’s made since his first injury.

The injury to Parker is especially disheartening to the Bucks. Shooting guard Khris Middleton missed most of the year due to an achilles tear and just recently returned to the lineup. The combination of Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Parker would have been something to behold. Perhaps it would have been enough to vault the Bucks into the playoffs. Now their playoff hopes are much more up in the air.

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid

The Sixers have a pair of young stars that have been plagued with injuries this year. Just a month ago the Sixers were turning their season around and looked like they might have a chance at the playoffs. Since then, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have both been ruled out for the rest of the year.

Like the Timberwolves and Bucks, the injuries to young stars have taken a huge toll on the Sixers. They have struggled to pick up momentum without Embiid, and they will lose time that they could have developed chemistry.

The final three, and possibly most significant, injuries are to stars at their conferences. Namely, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and Kyle Lowry. These injuries are bound to have massive implications on the playoffs hunt.

Kevin Love

The Kevin Love injury leaves the Cavaliers in a unique position. They still have the best player in the world in Lebron James and a star point guard in Kyrie Irving, but they have to decide whether it is still worth chasing the number one seed. Resting Lebron and Kyrie down the stretch might be a good move for the playoffs, but they could slip in the standings because of it.

If Love misses time in the playoffs, a strengthened Eastern Conference could give them trouble. The Celtics, Raptors and Wizards have all significantly improved this season. Even though the Cavs are still huge favorites, any one of those teams could give them a run for their money if injuries plague them down the stretch.

Kyle Lowry

NBA injuries

Kyle Lowry (Photo courtesy: grantland.com)

The Lowry injury is also a huge blow to the Raptors. The Raptors went all in on solidifying their starting lineup at the deadline. Losing their starting point guard for the rest of the season hurts. Even making the Eastern Conference Finals will be incredibly difficult if they don’t have Lowry in the playoffs.

Kevin Durant

As for Kevin Durant, there is little information about the severity of his injury. If he misses significant time, it could be devastating to the Warriors who don’t have much bench depth.

Editor’s note: Kevin Durant will miss at least four weeks due to a bone bruise and sprained MCL in his knee according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. Durant could return before the end of the regular season, but his return is in question.

The injury bug will continually be something to watch down the stretch as we find out how some of these injuries shake up the league.

 

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All Star Weekend 17

NBA All-Star Weekend 2017

NBA All-Star Weekend is finally upon us.  New Orleans will be hosting the annual event that captivates basketball fans all over the world. Friday’s events include the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game on ESPN at 7 p.m. EST and the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge at 9 p.m. EST.

Saturday is the best day of events beginning with the D-League All-Star Game at 2:30 p.m. EST on NBATV. Later that night at 8 p.m. EST starts the three main events of the day. First is the Taco Bells Skills Challenge, followed by the JBL 3-Point contest, and finishing up with the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest.

Sunday will of course feature the 66th NBA All-Star Game.

NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: Pintrest)

This year the celebrity coaches will be ESPN’s Michael Smith and Jemele Hill. Smith’s team has the following celebrities: Miles Brown, Tom Cavanagh, Mark Cuban, Baron Davis, Andy Grammer, Jiang Jinfu, Anthony Mackie, Romeo Miller, Hasan Minhaj, Master P, Candace Parker and Aaron Sanchez.

Jemele Hill’s team includes the following celebrities: Brandon Armstrong, Win Butler, Nick Cannon, Rachel DeMita, Ansel Elgort, Marc Lasry, Caleb McLaughlin, Peter Rosenberg, Oscar Schmidt, Lindsay Whalen, Jason Williams and Kris Wu.

Both teams seem evenly matched and this year’s game doesn’t seem to have as big of names as past years. Rachel DeMita will surprise some people, but most people will be looking forward to seeing former NBA players Baron Davis and Jason Williams.

MVP Prediction: Jason Williams

Winning Team Prediction: Jemele Hill’s

 

Rising Stars Challenge

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

This annual Friday night game features first and second year NBA players and can be seen on TNT at 9 p.m. EST. It is a United States versus World format in which 10 players for each team were selected by NBA assistant coaches.

The U.S. team features Devin Booker (Suns), Malcolm Brogdon (Bucks), Marquese Chriss (Suns), Brandon Ingram (Lakers), Frank Kaminsky (Hornets), Jahlil Okafor (76ers), D’Angelo Russell (Lakers), Jonathon Simmons (Spurs), Karl Anthony-Towns (Timberwolves) and Myles Turner (Pacers)

The World team has Alex Abrines (Thunder), Dante Exum (Jazz), Buddy Hield (Pelicans), Nikola Jokic (Nuggets), Trey Lyles (Jazz), Jamal Murray (Nuggets), Emmanuel Mudiay (Nuggets), Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks), Domantas Sabonis (Thunder) and Dario Saric (76ers).

Last year the U.S. won the game 157-154. The United States team is even more talented this year and will look to get another victory.

MVP Prediction: Devin Booker

Winning Team Prediction: United States

 

Skills Challenge

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The skills challenge is always an exciting event to get the fans ready for the 3-point competition. Last season a big man won: Karl Anthony-Towns. Unfortunately he won’t be defending his crown.

This year’s participants are Devin Booker (Suns), DeMarcus Cousins (Kings), Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Nikola Jokic (Nuggets), Gordon Hayward (Jazz), Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks), Isaiah Thomas (Celtics) and John Wall (Wizards).

These competitions are hard to predict, but what makes them fun is seeing lightning quick guards go up against some of the more skilled big men.

This event would have been more entertaining if Joel Embiid didn’t have to pull out, but the big men in this competition are still talented, just not talented enough to win it. This year will be the year of the guard.

Prediction Winner: Isaiah Thomas 

 

3-Point Contest

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit:Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports)

In this competition, last year’s winner will be defending his crown. Klay Thompson should be the favorite again this year, but is in for some tough competition. The 2013 champion Kyrie Irving will also be on the court. The remaining participants include Eric Gordon (Rockets), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), Wes Matthews (Mavericks), C.J. McCollum (Blazers), Kemba Walker (Hornets) and Nick Young (Lakers).

The final three participants will most likely be Thompson, McCollum and Walker. Klay’s experience will really help him, but it won’t be enough to repeat.

Prediction Winner: C.J. McCollum

 

 

 

 

Slam Dunk Contest

The dunk contest is usually the most exciting and most popular event of the entire All-Star weekend. Nobody wants to be that one person who missed an epic dunk. There was a short period where fans and journalists believed the dunk contest was lacking in excitement. Thanks to Aaron Gordon and Zach Lavine’s showdown last year, the hype is real again.

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: www.draftexpress.com)

Lavine won’t be defending his crown, by runner-up Aaron Gordon is looking to capture the title against an interesting field of competitors. Also competing against Gordon are DeAndre Jordan (Clippers), Glenn Robinson III (Pacers) and Derrick Jones Jr. (Suns).

Derrick Jones Jr. is the most controversial participant this year. Jones is a rookie out of UNLV, who has played in the D-League this season and has little experience in the NBA. Some people believe he shouldn’t be allowed to participate.

When they see the show he puts on during the competition, they will soon forget that. Jones can jump out of the gym and is a real threat to win this competition.

Prediction Winner: Derrick Jones Jr.

 

66th NBA All-Star Game

The main event of the weekend is the All-Star Game. The Eastern Conference starters are DeMar DeRozan (Raptors), Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers), Jimmy Butler (Bulls), LeBron James (Cavaliers), and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks).

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The Western Conference starters are Steph Curry (Warriors), James Harden (Rockets), Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), Kevin Durant (Warriors), and Anthony Davis (Pelicans).

One of the biggest storylines of the game is that Russell Westbrook was not named a starter and how he will handle being on the same team as Durant and the rest of the Warriors after what transpired this summer. Their recent match-up was heated and lots of words were exchanged. It should make for an extremely intriguing and exciting contest.

The West has won the last two games and five of the last seven. The West is considered the tougher and deeper conference, which is why they are going to be the favorites in this game.

MVP Prediction: Russell Westbrook

Prediction Winner: West 176-170

 

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Haus Specials: NBA Game Winners

New York Knicks v Milwaukee Bucks

With the Knicks up by 14 at the start of the fourth quarter, it looked as if New York would come away with the win. Giannis Antetokounmpo had other plans. He scored 12 points in the final quarter, making three of his six shots. This insane step-back jumper sealed the deal. Greek. Freak.

Philadelphia 76er vs New York Knicks

Trust the Process. The Philadelphia 76ers have awed fans this season with their feisty, rejuvenated play. They’ve been competitive and fun. They played that same way against the Knicks. It was a four-point game in the Knickerbockers’ favor. Carmelo Anthony’s scoreless fourth quarter didn’t help and set the stage for a backbreaking game winner.

Utah Jazz vs OKC Thunder

Division Rivals. Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert. Russell Westbrook triple double. This game had it all. A seesaw affair with 16 lead changes made for an entertaining game. However, it was clunky at some points. Westbrook missed all of his shots in the third quarter. The last frame saw big shot after big shot though. Russ had the biggest one, hitting a mid-range jumper to put the Thunder up for good with 1.7 seconds left.

Miami Heat vs Golden State Warriors

Waiters Island is now open for vacation purposes. Dion Waiters scored over 30 points for a second consecutive game. This one tied his career high with 33 points. He may have hit the biggest shot of his career, holding off the Warriors and ending their seven-game win streak. Happy Birthday Dion.

 

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The NBA Five Years From Now

The NBA is a constantly changing league. Besides the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA hierarchy has been nothing if not fluid.

Just four years ago, the Heat and Pacers dominated the Eastern Conference. Four years before that, the Cavaliers, Magic, Pistons and Celtics were the class of the conference. The Western conference has been similarly volatile despite the Spurs’ constant success. The Lakers dominated the West during Kobe’s prime before the Warriors took over as the most dominate force on the Pacific Coast.

It’s likely that we will see a similar shift in power over the next few years. Five years from now, the league will likely have changed considerably.

Eastern Conference

In five years, Lebron James will be 37 years old. There’s no ruling out that he’ll still be dominating the league into his late thirties. Most likely, however, his days as a world-beater will be done. The power vacuum in the East could be filled by a number of teams, but these teams have the best chance at rising to the top.

Cleveland Cavaliers: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Grantland)

The Cavaliers have set themselves up well for the next few years. LeBron won’t stay at this level forever, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love can keep them a contender into the future. Kyrie will be in his prime in five years and will most likely still be one of the best point guards in the game. He can be the best guy on a championship team.

Lebron’s game will most likely adapt well as he loses athleticism. His vision and playmaking will withstand father time and compliment Kyrie perfectly. The powers of David Griffin will most likely keep the team contending well into the future.

Best Case: Kyrie turns into a superstar and Kevin Love turns into the Kevin Love of old. LeBron turns into a distributor and the Cavs continue to dominate the East year after year until his retirement.

Worst Case: Kyrie stays at the level he’s at now. Kevin Love regresses and loses some of his rebounding prowess. LeBron loses his midrange touch and struggles with injuries. The Cavs are a fringe playoff team.

Boston Celtics: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Boston Herald)

The Celtics are already a top three team in the East. Besides that, GM Danny Ainge has set them up for future success as well.

Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford will be 31,32 and 35 respectively. Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown will each entering their primes rounding out a solid five man rotation.

The picks they have stashed from Brooklyn will help round out their lineup as well. They look to have a couple of lottery picks over the next two years that should work as assets or turn into solid young talent.

Best Case: If they can land a superstar in the draft they could become a powerhouse and the top seed in the East. Similarly, If they trade some picks to land another superstar, they could elevate themselves into the top spot. Only time will tell, but they look to be a lock as a contender for the next couple of years.

Worst Case: They strike out on their lottery picks over the next two years. Their aging talent becomes injury prone and fails to produce at the same level. They stay a playoff threat, but drop to a five or six seed in the East.

Milwaukee Bucks:

Future of NBA

(courtesy of USA Today)

 To be a top team in the NBA, you need a superstar. It’s becoming more and more clear that the Bucks have that role filled. Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as one of the brightest stars in the NBA and looks ready to lead this team for the next decade.

The Bucks have a depth of other young stars as well. Jabari Parker and Malcolm Brogdon look like great pieces and Khris Middleton is set to return next year. The Bucks could be set to dominate the league for the next few years.

Best Case: The Greek Freak becomes the best player in the league. He, Parker and Middleton become a Big Three and they become a perennial championship team in the East.

Worst Case: The Greek Freak continues on his trajectory, but the pieces around him don’t develop. He becomes a good player on a bad team and they are exit the playoffs early.

Philadelphia 76ers: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Getty images)

The Sixers could be the biggest unknown in the NBA. They have made huge strides with Joel Embiid this year, but the team’s future is still up in the air.

Like the Bucks, the Sixers have the most important piece of the puzzle. If Joel Embiid can stay healthy he is going to be a star. The question is whether the Sixers can surround him with talent.

Hopefully, Ben Simmons can be another star for the team. And with two potential top ten picks this year, they could add more star power to their lineup. The Sixers have the potential to be a super-team, but also stay at the bottom of the East.

Best Case: They get two more stars in the draft this year. Ben Simmons turns out to be another star, and Joel Embiid turns into the best center in the league. The Sixers contend for the championship every year and dominate a strong Eastern conference.

Teams that will drop:

Toronto Raptors

Atlanta Hawks

Chicago Bulls

Verdict: The Bucks are the most likely team to rule the East in five years. With a few future superstars and proven role players, they are set up best for the future. The Sixers have the second best chance. With their injury risks domination is anything but definite, but they have too much talent to rule out. The Cavaliers and Celtics are dark horse candidates to remain on top of the conference as well.

Western Conference

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Bleacher Report)

Golden State Warriors: 

The rich get richer. The Warriors will most likely take a similar path to the Heat after they signed Lebron James. Although they lacked cap space in the first year, they added depth in James’ second year with the team. Although they lack depth this year, the Golden State Warriors will most likely continue to get better as their four stars hit their prime. They will most likely continue to be the class of the West.

Best Case: The Warriors gain depth to surround their stars. They remain the one seed for the next five years and win championships along the way.

Worst Case: The Warriors can’t retain their superstars. They’re stuck with a middling team that sits in the middle of the conference every year.

San Antonio Spurs: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Bleacher Report)

The Spurs have Kawhi Leonard, Lamarcus Aldridge and a knack for never missing on a free agent signing or draft pick. They will continue to build around Kawhi and remain at the top. As long as they have a star player and the best coach in the league they will continue to contend.

Best Case: They make a splash in free agency. With two superstars and a great supporting cast, Popovich continues to keep this team at the top of the West.

Worst Case: The team struggles to contend, and Kawhi is the only star on the team.

Los Angeles Lakers: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of USA Today)

The Lakers have a depth of budding superstars, led by Deangelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. The team is set for the future and have a great young coach in Luke Walton. Whether or not they can contend depends on the progression of Brandon Ingram, but if their stars pan out they could easily turn into one of the best teams in the West.

Best Case: Deangelo Russell and Brandon Ingram turn into superstars and lead the Lakers to championships over the next few years. Luke Walton becomes one of the best coaches in the league and they become the powerhouse of the West.

Worst Case: Brandon Ingram can’t put on weight. Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle don’t live up to their potential. The Lakers can’t execute their turnaround and remain a borderline playoff team.

Minnesota Timberwolves: 

Future of NBA

(courtesy of Sporting News)

The Timberwolves have a coach, two stars and a depth of pieces that can contribute or be traded. They will also most likely have a top pick in this year’s draft. Although their timetable has already been pushed back, it is matter of when not if they will be the class of the west.

Best Case: Towns and Wiggins become superstars at the level of Durant and Westbrook, but the team succeeds and wins championships. They become a perennial one seed.

Worst Case: The Wolves fall into a trap of becoming a great team, but never an elite team. They never develop the pieces around Towns and Wiggins, and stagnate around the 2 or 3 seed.

Teams that will drop: 

Houston Rockets

Los Angeles Clippers

Memphis Grizzlies

Verdict: The Timberwolves are the most likely team to dominate the West in five years. They have two future superstars in Wiggins and Towns, and they have the young pieces around them to build a great team. The Warriors are the second most likely, as they already have the proven stars, but their stars will be aging in five years. The Lakers and Spurs will be dark horse contenders because of their star power and their respective coaching prowess.

Who Should Start in the NBA All-Star Game

The 66th NBA All-Star game is set to be played Feb. 19 at 8:00 p.m. in New Orleans. Fans began voting for All Stars on Christmas day and can do so through NBA.com, the NBA app, Twitter, Facebook, or by Google search. Fans can submit one ballot a day on any of these platforms. Voting ends Jan. 16, so there is plenty of time for fans to cast their ballots.

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of Sporting News

There is a lot of argument over how voting is done and which players should be playing. Every fan has heard from someone that the All-Star game is just a popularity contest anymore. It is all offense and no defense. It is full of high flying dunks, deep three-point shots, and entertainment for the fan.

This season, the NBA changed the voting process and will allow fans to account for just 50% of the All-Star vote. The other 50% will be from NBA players and the media, each accounting for 25%. Time will tell if this new method will change the way players are selected. In the mean time, these are the guys I will be voting for.

Eastern Conference Starting Lineup

Kyrie Irving

If Kyrie has not yet proven he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference, I don’t know what more he can do. He has proven how clutch he is with game-winning shots over his last two matchups against Golden State. He is second among Eastern Conference point guards in points per game (24), first in field goal percentage (48%), and second in three-point percentage (42%). He is also averaging nearly six assists a game. He is incredible when it comes to playing iso and has the best ball handling in the NBA.

Demar DeRozan

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of Yibada

DeRozan has shown a lot of improvement from last season. He is leading the East in scoring with just about 28 points a game. He has been a big part of the Raptors offense and is why they are second place in the Eastern Conference. His field goal percentage is also the highest it has been since his rookie season, and he is averaging almost three times the amount of shot attempts. No other two-guard compares to DeRozan in the East.

Lebron James

King James is the most obvious choice in the East lineup. The best player in the NBA is once again in the MVP talks like he is every season and his numbers back it up. Lebron is averaging 25 points, eight rebounds, and almost nine assists per game. He has the Cavs at the top of the Eastern Conference and that looks like it will not change anytime this season. Lebron is a sure lock in the All-Star game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Better known as the “Greek Freak,” Antetokounmpo is not only making a case as the league’s most improved player, but also an All-Star starter. The 22-year-old forward would be first in rebounds and assists for his position in the East if it wasn’t for Lebron James. He is also third in scoring for his position in the conference. With numbers like 23 points per game, nine rebounds, and nearly six assists, the Greek Freak should be seeing his first All-Star game action as a starter.

Hassan Whiteside

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of ESPN

Whiteside is probably the least likely of these selections to make the starting lineup. In this new small-ball era, popularized by Golden State, centers are a dying breed in the NBA. Last season no player over 6-foot-9 made the starting lineup. If this trend continues to grow, Whiteside may never get a chance to start. Whiteside is also better known for his defense rather than his offense, which is not popular amongst All-Star voters. Here is the argument for Whiteside.

His numbers per game are 18 points, 15 rebounds (first in the NBA), and just over two blocks (fourth in the NBA). The points are a career high for Whiteside, whose field goal percentage is also fourth in the east at 55%. Whiteside has the range to shoot jumpers, can catch lobs, and block shots as he said earlier in the season. He is no doubt the best center in the East and should earn a spot in this lineup.

Western Conference Starting Lineup

Russell Westbrook

The triple-double king and league’s leading MVP candidate should be as sure of a lock as Lebron James is in the East. The NBA’s leading scorer at nearly 32 points a game is also averaging 11 assists (second in the NBA) and 10 rebounds. No player has put up numbers like this since Oscar Robertson. Not much more to say about Westbrook, who knows how to put on a show for the crowd as well.

James Harden

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of Sporting News

Harden is showing this season that he is an All-NBA caliber player. Being left off the teams last season must have been all the motivation he needed. Harden is putting up MVP-like numbers with 27 points per game (fifth in the NBA) and is first in assists with 12. He is also averaging eight rebounds a game. Perhaps the most improved aspect of Harden’s game is his defense. You can tell from watching him that he is putting a lot of effort on both sides of the ball.

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant is pretty much just picking up where he left off last season. After moving over to Golden State, he quite possibly became the league’s most hated player. The same thing happened to Lebron James when he moved to Miami and it didn’t keep him out of the All-Star lineup. It should not keep Durant out either. He is averaging 26 points per game and nearly nine rebounds, which is a career high. Durant is still at the top of his position in the Western Conference.

Anthony Davis

NBA All-Star Game

Courtesy of USA Today

The league’s leading candidate for Comeback Player of the Year is playing the best season of his life. Davis is averaging almost 30 points (second in NBA) and 12 rebounds (seventh in NBA) per game. Not to mention he is leading the NBA in blocked shots. Davis should also be hearing his name in the MVP talks, but the incredible players like Westbrook, Harden, and James have overshadowed him. Not to mention the fact he is on the Pelicans, one of the worst teams in the NBA. Nevertheless, Davis is a lock in the West lineup.

Demarcus Cousins

Unsportsmanlike conduct and bad attitude often overshadow the fact that Cousins has been the best center in the NBA for the last several years. This year he is no doubt at the top again. Cousins is third in the NBA in scoring (29 points per game) and also averaging just over 10 rebounds a game as well. No other center compares.

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