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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2017 NBA Mock Draft

2017 NBA Mock Draft 1.0 (Pre-Lottery)

This mock draft will factor in team needs heavily rather than who is the best player. The draft order won’t be set in stone until the lottery takes place, but the talk is already starting on who will go number one overall.

Many scouts and experts are picking Markelle Fultz to go first, but it depends on who wins the lottery. Right now these predictions will be based solely off current standings and will continue to be until the draft lottery takes place. Here is Hagan’s Haus 2017 NBA mock draft.

1: Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): Josh Jackson sG Kansas

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

The Boston Celtics do not need a point guard. Fultz may be the best player in the draft, but Isaiah Thomas isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Thomas is also a proven player while any player coming out of college is unproven.

Fultz may be the best player in the draft but doesn’t fit what the Celtics need. The Celtics play great team defense and need a scorer to take the load off of Thomas.

Josh Jackson could prove to be a valuable scoring option for Boston as he averages 16.7 points per game. Jackson in a two-way player capable of becoming a superstar. Boston would be smart to add him to their core.

2: Los Angeles Lakers: Markelle Fultz pG Washington

Picking what the Lakers will do is extremely difficult. They just spent the 2015 second overall pick on a point guard. The Lakers issue is veteran leadership. They have a core of young players who just need time to develop. L.A. could trade this pick for a star player, but if they do keep it expect them to take the best available player.

That would be Washington guard Markelle Fultz. Fultz is averaging 23.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and six assists per game. Fultz also has a player efficiency rating (PER) of 28.6 and is clearly the best player in the draft. The Lakers can not pass on that just to fill a position of need.

3: Phoenix suns: Jayson Tatum Sf duke

Jayson Tatum has a well-polished iso game that is NBA ready. The Suns have a star in the making with Devin Booker and need to find a player to grow alongside him.

Tatum could grow to be a solid second option in the NBA. He can score anywhere on the floor due to his ability to create off the dribble.

One of his biggest weaknesses is his shot selection. Due to his height and ability to shoot over defenders, Tatum tends to settle for difficult shots. Shot selection will improve over time and the Suns may be able to find a Robin for their Batman.

4: Orlando Magic: Lonzo Ball Pg UCLA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit:https://www.bostonglobe.com)

Everyone is talking about LaVar Ball’s opinions rather than the play of Lonzo Ball. Ball can ball. It is as simple as that.

His father may be onto something when talking about how good his son can be. However, talking so openly may hurt his son’s draft stock.

Sticking strictly to Lonzo and his basketball ability, it is clear that he is a top prospect. Ball is a great passer with a high basketball I.Q. In the NBA Ball will be a floor general capable of running the team from the court.

Many scouts compare him to Jason Kidd, which is a pretty accurate comparison. Having a Kidd-like career would be an amazing accomplishment for anybody. Orlando needs a franchise player and that is exactly what Lonzo Ball will be.

5: Philadelphia 76ers: Malik Monk Sg Kentucky

Trusting the process hit yet another bump in the road this season. Joel Embiid suffered another injury after appearing in just 31 games. If that wasn’t enough, last year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, will not make his debut this year either. The 76ers still believe those pieces will result in playoff appearances and maybe even titles.

Interestingly enough, reports came out that Philadelphia brass believes Simmons will be the point guard. That is why they will use this top-five pick on Malik Monk.

Monk has proven to be a flat-out scoring machine and that will translate to the NBA. Drafting Monk will allow the Sixers to develop Simmons as their point guard while putting a scorer in the backcourt beside him.

Creating a powerful backcourt could be the key to a deep postseason run. They already have a great frontcourt player in Embiid.

6: New York Knicks: Dennis Smith Pg N.C. State

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: William Howard/Icon Sportswire)

The Knicks need a young explosive point guard who will grow alongside Kristaps Porzingis. Carmelo Anthony is on the back half of his career and will most likely be out of the picture soon. Derrick Rose has been very respectable in New York, but he is not the same player that won the league MVP.

Dennis Smith is a top-five talent who will fall a bit due to some of the other needs teams have. Not all are looking for a point guard.

The Knicks would get a Russell Westbrook type of player by drafting Smith. He can score, pass and rebound with the best of them in college. He also has insane athleticism that allows him to posterize defenders.

Smith would be a great pick here if the Knicks want to take steps towards becoming a playoff team.

7: Sacramento Kings: Jonathan Issac PF Florida State

The Kings need to start from scratch. Buddy Hield seems to be the guy that Sacramento will build this team around. It looks like Willie Cauley-Stein will be the man up front with DeMarcus Cousins now out of the picture.

Jonathan Issac would be a great fit with this team. Issac is a great rebounder and can run the floor well for a big man. He also shoots well from all areas of the floor. He could play at small forward or power forward in today’s NBA style. The Kings would find a great player with lots of potential.

8: Sacramento Kings (Via Pelicans): De’Aaron Fox PG Kentucky

The Kings can afford to be risky with one of their two top-10 picks. Buddy Hield will need a backcourt partner in crime, and Fox could fit that mold.

Fox is unique because he is left handed. It is sometimes hard to defend left-handed players because defenders are used to right handed defenders. He is also extremely quick and defenders may have trouble keeping up with him.

Fox will need to work on shooting with more consistency. With Hield alongside him, all Fox needs to do is run the offense.

9: Dallas Mavericks: Lauri Markkanen PF Arizona

2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: http://www.wildcat.arizona.edu)

Dallas got their center when they traded for Nerlens Noel. The guard positions seem to be held down as well with the emergence of Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry. That makes Lauri Markkanen a perfect option for the Mavericks.

Dirk Nowitzki will be going into his final season and the Mavericks need to find his future replacement. Markkanen is a 7-foot stretch big who will be able to shoot the three in the NBA. He has all the intangibles to replace the greatest European player in NBA history.

Drafting Markkanen will allow him to develop in his first season before Dirk rides off into the sunset.

10: Minnesota Timberwolves: Harry Giles PF Duke

The Minnesota Timberwolves are right on the cusp of becoming a great NBA team. Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins are continuing to grow and will be one of the most dangerous duos in the NBA in the coming years. They have already begun to show signs of it. Point guard is not an issue as they have Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn. Picking Giles would be a shock here at number 10, but could be a huge steal.

Giles was considered the best player coming out of high school and was projected to be the number one overall pick before he began having injury problems. We have not seen what Giles is fully capable of, but his potential is through the roof. He is an athletic finisher who can be molded into a great defender under Tom Thibodeau.

This pick could be a bust, but it will more likely create a young core in Minnesota capable of winning championships.

11: Charlotte Hornets: Miles Bridges SF Michigan St.

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

The Hornets need a solid wing player and Miles Bridges would be a good fit.

Bridges is a dunking machine and plays with an extremely high motor. One of Bridges’ weaknesses is that he has no true position. Shooting guard, small forward and power forward are all in play for Bridges. Charlotte would likely play him at small forward.

Bridges has also shown consistent improvement in his shooting since high school.

12: Portland Trailblazers: Robert Williams PF Texas A&M

Robert Williams can jump out of this world. He can put anyone on a poster and loves to do so. There are countless highlights of him dunking on opponents.

Williams has a 7-foot-5 wingspan, and he knows how to use it. That wingspan allows him to excel as a rebounder and shot blocker.

One thing going against Williams is that he is raw as a big man. He lacks consistency like many raw prospects. The better competition gave him trouble, but with development from NBA coaches, he can turn into a solid NBA starter.

13: Miami Heat: Isaiah Hartenstein PF Germany

The Heat have been amazing in the second half of this season. Hassan Whiteside is a franchise centerpiece at center. Their guard play has been tremendous, and Justise Winslow is really coming into his own. That leaves the power forward position as their biggest need. The Heat need a power forward that can stretch the floor since Whiteside is the inside presence.

Isaiah Hartenstein would be a great fit in Miami. He is a versatile left-handed player who can not only score inside, but outside as well. Hartenstein is a great passing big man with a high basketball I.Q.

The downside with Hartenstein is his immaturity and lack of experience against tough competition. However, his potential makes him a lottery pick.

14: Chicago Bulls: Frank Ntilikina Pg France

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: https://hardwoodhoudini.com

One thing is clear in the NBA: teams need a franchise point guard. The Bulls do not have a franchise point guard on their roster and will be looking for one in this year’s draft. Drafting at the end of the lottery does not leave them with many options, but it will allow them to take Frank Ntilikina out of France.

Ntilikina has excellent size for a point guard. He is listed at 6-foot-5, 190 pounds. Ntilikina is a pass-first point guard with a high I.Q. He has developed a mid-range game and excellent floater, but is a really inconsistent shooter. Ntilikina also has great lateral quickness that makes him an elite defender.

All the skills are there for Ntilikina to become the franchise point guard the Bulls desperately need.

15: Denver Nuggets: John Collins Pf Wake Forest

Denver has a lot of young talent, and Collins is a bit of a project. If the Nuggets take a year or two to develop Collins, then he can become a valuable asset.

16: Milwaukee Bucks: Justin Patton C Creighton

There have been a lot of problems with Greg Monroe in Milwaukee. The Bucks have found a star in Giannis Antetokounmpo and need a big man inside to feed off of him. Justin Patton from Creighton can be that guy.

17: Detroit Pistons: Ivan Rabb C Cal

There have been swirling rumors that Andre Drummond was going to be traded just before the deadline. That still may happen in the offseason, and the Pistons need to prepare for that. Ivan Rabb would be a great fit with Stan Van Gundy.

18: Indiana Pacers: Luke Kennard SG Duke

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Kennard has been unbelievable in the second half of the season for Duke. Paul George is rumored to be on his way out of Indiana via trade or free agency in two years. Kennard may not become a franchise player, but will come into the NBA as a scoring machine.

19: Atlanta hawks: TJ Leaf PF UCLA

Drafting a power forward may not make sense with Paul Millsap around, but TJ Leaf is a bit of a project. Millsap will want to be on a contending team as his career unwinds. Everyone knows the Hawks are not winning a championship. Drafting Leaf now gives him time to develop until Millsap leaves.

20: Portland Trailblazers (Via Memphis): Justin Jackson SF North Carolina

Justin Jackson would be a great fit in Portland alongside Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The two guards can focus on the scoring and Jackson can be the team’s wing defender. Jackson is capable of guarding multiple positions and would be a solid pick by the Trailblazers.

21: Oklahoma City: DILLON BROOKS SF OREGON

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)

It is clear that Russell Westbrook needs help. He is an animal but can’t do it on his own. Dillon Brooks is one of the most underrated players in all of college basketball. Brooks is capable of being the second option to Westbrook and a true sidekick that Westbrook desperately needs.

22: TORONTO RAPTORS: DWAYNE BACON SF FLORIDA STATE

Toronto has one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Bacon can come in and be a solid rotation player allowing the Raptors to deepen their bench as they continue to chase a championship.

23: ORLANDO MAGIC (VIA LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS): TYLER LYDON PF SYRACUSE

Orlando is a tough team to gauge and need a lot. Lydon would be a head-scratching pick, but something they would do. Lydon won’t become an All-Star but will be a solid rotation player in the NBA.

24: Brooklyn Nets (via Washington): JOSH HART SG VILLANOVA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: AP)

Brooklyn needs anything and everything and is nowhere close to being a good NBA team. Josh Hart could bring a culture change to the franchise. He is a leader and a winner and the Nets could use some of that in their locker room.

25: BROOKLYN NETS (VIA BOSTON): BAM ADEBAYO PF KENTUCKY

Adding Bam Adebayo to pair up with Hart could be the start of turning things around. They won’t win many games, but the rebuild has to start somewhere. Adebayo is a solid prospect with lots of potential.

26: UTAH JAZZ: CALEB SWANIGAN PF PURDUE

The Jazz are in as good of a position as the Celtics. They will finish as the fourth or fifth seed in the tough Western Conference and have two first-round draft picks. Swanigan can come right into the NBA and contribute off the bench.

27: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (VIA CLEVELAND): RODIONS KURUCS SF LATVIA

Kurucs is a project and Portland can afford to draft a developmental player this late in the first round. Kurucs is versatile and can be a valuable scoring option in the NBA.

28: LOS ANGELES LAKERS (VIA HOUSTON): DONOVAN MITCHELL SG LOUISVILLE

2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: By Pat McDonogh, The CJ)

The Lakers have youth on their side and drafting Mitchell will allow them to continue to build assets as trading blocks so that they can get superstars back in Hollywood. Mitchell is a solid shooting guard who can be a solid sixth man in the NBA.

29: UTAH JAZZ (VIA GOLDEN STATE): JOHNATHAN MOTLEY PF BAYLOR

Utah needs some frontcourt athleticism. Derrick Favors has only had one really productive season and looks to be on the decline. Motley’s offensive I.Q. makes him a perfect fit in Utah to be a solid role player on a solid playoff team.

30: SAN ANTONIO SPURS: THOMAS BRYANT C INDIANA

The Spurs are like the Patriots. They know what they are doing and you don’t question them. LaMarcus Aldridge’s future is in jeopardy due to health concerns. With Kawhi Leonard being a two-way star, the Spurs need a big man who can protect the paint.

 

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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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January NBA Playoff Predictions

As we head into the new year, here are the NBA playoff predictions for who will grab the 16 spots in the NBA playoffs this spring.

East

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs will most likely rest their starters heading down the stretch. The Raptors will most likely make a push for the top spot, and could make it close. The easier schedule will let them grab the top seed in the East. Projected win total: 62

NBA Playoffs

DeMar DeRozan (Photo courtesy: chch.com)

2. Toronto Raptors: The superstar backcourt in Toronto, coupled with their depth, makes them almost a lock for one of the top two seeds. They’ll most likely push Cleveland for home field advantage towards the end of the year. The tough schedule down the stretch will have them fall into second. Projected win total: 58

3. Boston Celtics: Boston looks to be a prime candidate to make a big splash at the trade deadline. Either way, the streaking Celtics will grab the third seed and home court in the first round. As their young backcourt and wings continue to develop the team will only continue to improve. Projected win total: 52

4. Milwaukee Bucks: The rise of the Greek Freak and Jabari Parker will propel the Bucks passed the Hawks and Hornets and give them home court advantage in the first round. Their schedule gets easier as the season progresses as well. Look for them to grab a few key wins in the next few months. Projected win total: 44

5. Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks might be sellers at the deadline, but either way they look to rise up in the weak Eastern Conference. The Hawks backcourt may prove to be their downfall in the stretch run. If they can get some solid guard play at the deadline, they may rise even further up the conference. Projected win total: 42

6. New York Knicks: The Knicks will benefit from any easy schedule over the next few months. If Derrick Rose can continue to adapt to the offense and get Kristaps Porzingis more involved in the offense, this team can compete with anyone. Projected win total: 41

7. Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets will drop down the stretch as they face more Western Conference opponents. The pace of the Hornets is unsustainable and they will likely fall in the muddled East. There are so many average teams in the East that it could go any way, but the Hornets will drop down to 7th. Projected win total: 41

8. Washington Wizards: The Wizards will ride their trio of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter to the last spot in the East. The Wizards bench may be one of the worst in the league right now. But the return of Ian Mahimi an the hopeful improvements of Trey Burke will help this team grab the last seed. The weak Eastern Conference will also help them sneak in with a sub-.500 record. Projected win total: 38

West

1. Golden State Warriors: The Golden State Warriors will remain the top seed in the West. They’ll face stiff competition from the two teams below them. But, ultimately, they are just too good. It’s hard to see the Warriors losing more than six or seven more games this year as they just don’t face enough tough competition. Projected win total: 70

NBA Playoffs

James Harden (Photo courtesy: nba.com)

2.  Houston Rockets: The Rockets have weathered through their tough schedule this far. In the second half, their schedule gets even easier. The Rockets will spend much of the next two months beating up on the weak Eastern Conference teams before holding on to grab the two seed. The Rockets will also pursue the 2nd seed more aggressively than the Spurs will. Projected win total: 62

3. San Antonio Spurs: Greg Popovich will most likely rest some of his starters down the stretch. The seeding doesn’t really matter for these yearly powerhouses. They are just too good to slip much past the 3rd seed though. Projected win total: 58

4. Utah Jazz: Look for the Jazz to make some small moves at the deadline. Home field advantage will be more important to the Jazz as well. Their depth will allow them to chase the four seed more aggressively. Projected win total: 52

5. LA Clippers: The Clippers look to be potential players at the trade deadline. But, their health will make it tough for them to keep up in the second half of the year. Hopefully when Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are back on the same floor they will be able to push back up the standings. Projected win total: 50

6. Oklahoma City Thunder: No doubt, Russell Westbrook’s push for averaging a triple-double will allow the Thunder to win enough game down the stretch. Also, after these six teams there is a severe drop-off in talent in the west. The combination of Westbrook, Steve Adams, Victor Oladipo and Damontis Sabonis will lead the Thunder to the 6th seed. Projected win total: 48

7. Memphis Grizzlies: Memphis has the firepower to compete with anyone, but injuries will make it tough for them to compete with the better teams in the East. Look for them to slump down the stretch as they try to get healthy for the playoffs. Projected win total: 44

8. Denver Nuggets: The 8th seed in the West is a mess. Currently, Denver, New Orleans, Sacramento, Portland and Los Angeles are fighting for it. Denver, ultimately, will grab the last seed in the West assuming one thing. They need to grab a piece at the trade deadline. Denver has to be the biggest player at the trade deadline. They must deal one of their big men to give this team the final push it needs to become a playoff team. If they do, they will get the 8th seed. Projected win total: 36

 

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If LeBron James took a Year Off: Who’s Ready?

LeBron James. 12-time all Star, 3 NBA championships, 3 MVPs, 10 all-NBA teams. The six straight finals, the two championships with the Miami Heat and the one for the Cleveland Cavaliers. This past NBA finals saw James almost single-handedly take a championship back from the clutches of the Golden State Warriors. Over 40,000 minutes played over his 13 year illustrious career. 8,383 playoff minutes.

USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports

His place set at the table of NBA deities. If he decided to take a year off, would anyone blame him? Outside of GM David Griffin, there shouldn’t be any backlash or drop in Q rating. He probably wouldn’t take up baseball a la Michael Jordan. But what would most likely take away from the shock and intrigue from his departure would be which team would take the title as the number one seed from the Cavs. It’s not a stretch to assume that the Cavs would no longer be the prohibitive favorites to repeat as champions.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

 

No team that assumed that role would be the favorites either. There isn’t a team in the league without James that has the ability to knock off the Warriors especially now that they’ve added Kevin Durant. No harm in trying though. There are 3 teams in the Conference that have the talent to take the next shot at the Dubs.

 

Honorable mention

Cleveland Cavaliers- one would have to assume that James left a winning culture behind. With Kyrie Irving coming off his first Ring, and maybe a successful Olympics there is a chance he will take a leap in his leadership role and help keep the team competitive and out of the lottery. Irving and Love should be a formidable offensive combo.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

That’s how they would have to operate, outscore the other team. The defense would be sub-par at best. With LeBron off the court last season the team’s offensive rating dropped 13.9 points to an anemic 101.6 points. Coach Tyronn Lue has to devise a plan to keep the offense flowing and productive. If none of these things happen, the Cavs would be back competing for a different number one.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

 

Most likely to succeed

Boston Celtics- Fans of the Celtics are extremely optimistic about their team even with Lebron still in the league. But for the purpose of this exercise, I’ll also extend some glass half full perspective. They added Al Horford, an all-star with great IQ and a well above average jack-of-all trades. Passing, shooting, defense. Although he only shot 34% from 3 with the Atlanta Hawks last season he made 84% percent of his attempts at the rim. With Isaiah Thomas penetrating the defense and getting to the rack, there should be plenty of close range shots for Horford.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

Horford has great defensive instincts. He knows where to be and has to the ability to get there on time. He’ll be thirty years old when the season starts so while a slight decline would be expected, he should have just enough athleticism left to be a rim protector. Additionally, he would fit right in as the team’s leader. This Celtics squad is starved for someone to be the alpha. Thomas is the leading scorer, but is he ready to spearhead a contender?

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

Toronto Raptors- Last year’s eastern conference runner’s up should have enough experience and continuity to take the number one spot. They had a record regular season, winning over 50 games for the first time in franchise history. The backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan was extremely formidable. Both averaging over 20 points per game in the regular season. Jonas Valanciunas also had a plus season for them as well. The playoffs however saw their backcourt struggle.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

Derozan’s lack of 3-point shooting in the regular season didn’t hurt as much (1.8 attempts per game) in the playoffs though his paltry 15% shooting from behind the arc was flat out embarrassing. Lowry’s very noted struggles only add to the fact that maybe when the expectations are high, he wouldn’t be able to lead them past his competitors. Nevertheless, with no James to have to overcome it could relieve some of the tension and lead to a more carefree environment for them.

 

Dark horse squad

The Indiana Pacers team that challenged James’ Heat teams are no more. Roy Hibbert is no longer an all-star type player and no longer plays for the Pacers. David West, the team’s enforcer and veteran leader is playing for pennies for the Warriors. George Hill, the underappreciated point guard that manned the backcourt now plays for a budding Utah Jazz team. Frank Vogel, the head coach that manned an almost impenetrable defense was fired and now Coaches the Orlando Magic.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

The only Major piece left is Paul George. The forward averaged a career high in points last season at 23 ppg only a season after missing 76 games due to a horrific leg incident during a FIBA exhibition game. It would be up to George to take a hold of this roster and lead it back to championship contender status. Jeff Teague was an excellent addition to the team as he adds playoff experience and change of pace at the point guard position. Thaddeus Young, another offseason addition adds some needed athleticism in the frontcourt. Al Jefferson, while not in the mold of Larry Bird’s plan to play faster, would give them some luxury scoring.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the young, talented Myles Turner. His defensive upside is right on par with already budding offensive arsenal. With a playoff series under his belt already in his rookie season, there wouldn’t be any surprises for the young, versatile forward.

 

This is all hypothetical. Should James take a year off to rest on his laurels, although unlikely, someone has to step up and challenge the teams in the Western Conference. Each of the teams mentioned could challenge a LeBron led team. And they’ll have to, which may be harder than in years past now that is seemingly no pressure on James. They can only hope he would consider taking an extended vacation.

Pre-Lottery Mock Draft 1.0

Nov 16, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers forward Ben Simmons (25) slam dunks against the Kennesaw State Owls during the first half of a game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 16, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers forward Ben Simmons (25) slam dunks against the Kennesaw State Owls during the first half of a game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports


  1. Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons F LSU: He will be the number pick in the draft due to his potential and upside. He needs time to develop and grow but will be a great player in the NBA. He is not as NBA ready as some of the other players but over time may be the best player drafted over the past 10 years.
    Duke's Brandon Ingram (14) shoots over Buffalo's CJ Massinburg during an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Ted Richardson)

    Duke’s Brandon Ingram (14) shoots over Buffalo’s CJ Massinburg during an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Ted Richardson)

  2. Los Angeles Lakers: Brandon Ingram F Duke: Brandon Ingram is going to jump right into the NBA and start scoring. He will make a quicker impact than Ben Simmons does and has just as high as ceiling. Ingram has the talent to go number one overall but he will be available at number two.
     (AP Photo/Ted Richardson)

    (AP Photo/Ted Richardson)

  3. Boston Celtics: Jaylen Brown F California: The Celtics are loaded with young talent and I foresee them trading this pick. Whoever they trade with will trade up to draft Jaylen Brown who at  6’ 7” can really shoot. He spent time working out with Draymond Green which will really help him in becoming a good NBA player. He should also turn into a very talented defender in the NBA.
    (photo credit: Ciamillo-Castoria)

    (photo credit: Ciamillo-Castoria)

  4. Phoenix Suns: Dragan Bender F Croatia: The Suns need some front court help to go along with their talented guards. Dragan Bender is this year’s Porzingis. He is a stretch four at 7’ 1” who’s stock is going to benefit from scouts being wrong on Porzingis. He has a decent 3 point shot and is getting strong. Being only 18 really helps him because he could mold into a very good player.
    Photo ANDREW DOUGHTY

    Photo ANDREW DOUGHTY

  5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Buddy Hield G Oklahoma: Buddy can score from anywhere at anytime on the floor. He is deadly from behind the arc and has developed a great all around scoring game that will translate well into the NBA. Some say his size is going to hurt him, but if we looked at size to determine ability Isaiah Thomas wouldn’t be an all star. The Timberwolves can continue to build a dominate core that will grow into a championship caliber roster.
    (Source: Getty Images)

    (Source: Getty Images)

  6. New Orleans Pelicans: Jamal Murray G Kentucky: Jamal Murray is one of the best players in this draft that is flying under the radar. He has superstar potential and a very good three point shot. The Pelicans need a player who can create pressure on the defense and take away some of the pressure from Anthony Davis. Murray would be a great option for the Pelicans.
    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports.

    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports.

  7. Denver Nuggets: Kris Dunn G Providence: The Western Conference is ruled by good backcourts. If the Nuggets want to become a playoff contender they should follow that blueprint. Last year they drafted Emmanuel Mudiay and so far it seems to be a very good pick. Pairing Kris Dunn with Emmanuel Mudiay would create a young and talented backcourt that the Nuggets could build around. Some scouts even see Dunn as a top five pick so if that is true this is really a steal for Denver at pick seven.
    (AP Photo Morry Gash)

    (AP Photo Morry Gash)

  8. Sacramento Kings: Henry Ellison F Marquette: Something tells me DeMarcus Cousins will find himself on another team either during or after the draft. If that does happen they will desperately need front court help and Ellison will be able to provide that with his ability to stretch the floor. Even if Cousins is not moved this would be a good pick to solidify their front court.
     (photo by Chris Reynolds)

    (photo by Chris Reynolds)

  9. Toronto Raptors: Skal Labissiere F Kentucky: Skal has the talent to be a top three pick but had a little underwhelming season with Kentucky. He has a good shot but needs to get stronger for the NBA game. This pick would give the Raptors a deeper front court that could help them take deeper steps into the playoffs.
    (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

    (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

  10. Milwaukee Bucks: Jakob Poeltl C Utah: The Bucks already have a team that is long and drafting 7’1” Poeltl will just add to that. The Bucks tried signing Greg Monroe to help their front court but the signing has proved to be underwhelming. Poeltl is already talented defensively and his offensive game is sure to improve. He would fit in with the current Bucks really well.
    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

  11. Orlando Magic: Denzel Valentine F Michigan State: Many scouts want to compare Valentine to Draymond Green and that is understandable. He has proven to be a good leader and a talented perimeter shooter but he lacks the quickness to be a higher pick. If he turns into the player he was in college the Magic will have a great player for a long time.
    Dec 1, 2015; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) reacts in the first half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 1, 2015; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) reacts in the first half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

  12. Utah Jazz: Brice Johnson F North Carolina: The Utah Jazz are on the cusp of returning to the playoffs but just need more talent. Brice Johnson had a tremendous year for North Carolina. He is very athletic and a high percentage shooter. He needs to bulk up some for the NBA but that should happen over time. Brice Johnson could be the piece the Jazz need to make a playoff spot next season.
    (AP Photo/Young Kwak, File)

    (AP Photo/Young Kwak, File)

  13. Washington Wizards: Domantas Sabonis F/C Gonzaga: Sabonis reminds me of a more offensively talented Joakim Noah. Good rebounder with tons of energy and passion. He will give you everything he’s got 100% of the time. The Wizards may not have a desperate need for him but he will be the best player available and the Wizards would be smart to draft him.
    (Photo: Kelly Kline, Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

    (Photo: Kelly Kline, Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

  14. Chicago Bulls: Thon Maker F/C Australia: The Bulls front office sometimes doesn’t know what they are doing. There really is no consistency in how they draft and there aren’t many small forwards in this draft worth drafting at pick 14. The Bulls may trade down but I see them taking a very talented, yet unknown, Thon Maker to possible replace Joakim Noah and/or Pau Gasol. He is a freak athlete at 7’1” who has great handles for his size. He could turn out to be the best player in the draft, or the worst, only time will tell.
    ISTANBUL, TURKEY - APRIL 07: Furkan Korkmaz, #10 of Anadolu Efes Istanbul in action during the 2015-2016 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Basketball Top 16 Round 14 game between Anadolu Efes Istanbul v Panathinaikos Athens at Abdi Ipekci Arena on April 7, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Aykut Akici/EB via Getty Images)

    ISTANBUL, TURKEY – APRIL 07: Furkan Korkmaz, #10 of Anadolu Efes Istanbul in action during the 2015-2016 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Basketball Top 16 Round 14 game between Anadolu Efes Istanbul v Panathinaikos Athens at Abdi Ipekci Arena on April 7, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Aykut Akici/EB via Getty Images)

  15. Denver Nuggets: Furkan Korkmaz: G Turkey: International players are always tough to judge because of the level of competition they play against but Furkan Korkmaz is a natural scorer. He is 6’7” so he may even be able to play some small forward as well. His offensive game is completely well rounded and because he is so good offensively, his defensive game is behind. He may be a bit of a developmental project but has a lot of upside and Denver has the time to wait for this pick to develop.
    (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

    (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

  16. Dallas Mavericks: Tyler Ulis G Kentucky: It has been quite a while since the Mavericks have had a legitimate point guard and drafting Ulis would give them that. The common knock on Ulis is that he is too small. If you watched any Kentucky games you know he made up for his size in his ability to create for his teammates and score. He is gritty and a team leader and Dallas would get a quality player if they drafted Ulis.
    Jan 9, 2016; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles guard Malik Beasley (5) dunks the ball past Miami Hurricanes forward Kamari Murphy (21) during the first half at BankUnited Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Jan 9, 2016; Coral Gables, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles guard Malik Beasley (5) dunks the ball past Miami Hurricanes forward Kamari Murphy (21) during the first half at BankUnited Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

  17. Memphis Grizzlies: Malik Beasley G Florida State: Memphis is a team that grinds out games and plays a tough, physical defensive game. They usually struggle with having a go to scorer. Beasley would provide an excellent scoring option for the Grizzlies. Some scouts say his weakness is creating for others but with Mike Conley Jr. at the point he would not have to create for others. He would be a perfect fit with the Grizzlies.
    By Brendan F. Quinn

    By Brendan F. Quinn

  18. Detroit Pistons: Caris LaVert G Michigan: The Pistons took a big step under Stan Van Gundy this year by making the playoffs. Now they need to add depth to take another step in the playoffs. LaVert would be a viable option off the bench and could develop into a long time starter.
     Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

    Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

  19. Portland Trailblazers: Stephen Zimmerman C UNLV: Zimmerman is a very talented seven footer. He has above average handling ability for his size and has a very consistent mid-range jumper. He was plagued with injuries throughout the year that did not allow him to become a dominant player. He needs to hit the weights because he is skinny and will get pushed around in the NBA. With all that being said, he’s only 19 years old and could develop into a potential all star in the right system with the right coaches.
    (Feb. 5, 2016 - Source: Michael Hickey/Getty Images North America)

    (Feb. 5, 2016 – Source: Michael Hickey/Getty Images North America)

  20. Indiana Pacers: Demetrius Jackson G Notre Dame: Jackson has a nice burst of explosion and has a great assist to turnover ratio. He is polished and has develop and will be one of the older players drafted. Because of his age you expect to get a more mature player who is capable of dictating an offense. The Pacers need more offense and Jackson is the type of player who can create that.
    (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

    (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

  21. Atlanta Hawks: Taurean Prince: F Baylor: Atlanta needs a player who can defend against other teams’ best players in the playoffs. With Teague, Horford and Millsap the Hawks have plenty of scoring. In reality, they need someone to slow down LeBron if they want to get further in the playoffs. Prince has great length and good defensive instincts. He would be a great fit with the Hawks.
    Washington forward Marquese Chriss breaks away for a dunk as Utah forward Jakob Poeltl watches in the second half as the University of Washington Huskies take on the Utah Utes at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle Sunday January 24, 2016. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

    Washington forward Marquese Chriss breaks away for a dunk as Utah forward Jakob Poeltl watches in the second half as the University of Washington Huskies take on the Utah Utes at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle Sunday January 24, 2016. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

  22. Charolette Hornets: Marquese Chriss F Washington: Charolette is a difficult team to predict so I think they will take the best available player and many scouts think Chriss will go in the top 15 but I don’t think he will go that high. He is very athletic and will dunk on anyone. He has a good wingspan that may allow him to become a good defender.
    Dec 9, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward Deyonta Davis (23) reacts to a dunk against the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks during the first half a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 9, 2015; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward Deyonta Davis (23) reacts to a dunk against the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks during the first half a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

  23. Boston Celtics: Deyonta Davis F Michigan State: Davis is big and has been molded by Tom Izzo. His game may grow in the NBA but as of now he is an offensive liability. Time will tell if he can develop his offensive game but he is NBA ready on the defensive end.
    (sportsandentertainmentnashville.com)

    (sportsandentertainmentnashville.com)

  24. Miami Heat: Damian Jones F/C Vanderbilt: Hassan Whiteside is going to be a free agent and it is unknown if he will stay with the Heat. Damian Jones is a very athletic seven footer who was instrumental in the success of Vanderbilt. The Heat need some front court help so they should go Jones.
    Maryland guard Melo Trimble (2) goes up for a basket during the first half. (Mel Evans / Associated Press)

    Maryland guard Melo Trimble (2) goes up for a basket during the first half. (Mel Evans / Associated Press)

  25. Los Angeles Clippers: Melo Trimble G Maryland: The Clippers will look to add depth because they might not be able to find a true impact player this late. Melo would be a good second option to have behind Chris Paul as he is a good ball handler and free throw shooter.
    (Dec. 15, 2015 - Source: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

    (Dec. 15, 2015 – Source: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

  26. Oklahoma City Thunder: Patrick McCaw G UNLV: McCaw was UNLV’s leading scorer and at 6’7” he has great size for the NBA. He can play on the ball and off the ball. His versatility and athleticism is what teams will be intrigued by. He is also good for at least one steal that leads to a breakaway dunk per game as he did it regularly while at UNLV.
    CZBG, Stefan N.

    CZBG, Stefan N.

  27. Toronto Raptors: Timothe Luwawu G France: Luwawu is a bit of an unknown from France but he stands at 6’7” which is great for a guard. He is quick off the dribble and a good three point shooter. The Raptors would love to get a player who could be versatile.
    (Photo: Brad Fedie , 247Sports)

    (Photo: Brad Fedie , 247Sports)

  28. Cleveland Cavaliers: Diamond Stone C Maryland: The Cavaliers will take a big man who can run the floor well for a seven footer. He has long arms and is great at grabbing rebounds.
    Associated Press

    Associated Press

  29. San Antonio Spurs: Gary Payton II G Oregon State: Tony Parker isn’t getting any younger and the Spurs need to look at developing his replacement. Payton is just like his dad when it comes to getting his hands a ball defensively and Popovich will love that. He is also very explosive and athletic and he could be a great piece to go along with LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard.
    FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2015, file photo, Connecticut's Daniel Hamilton, left, shoots over New Hampshire’s Jaleen Smith, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Storrs, Conn. Isaac, 21, and Daniel, 19, are still the younger brothers, but they are no longer little and have been making names for themselves this season on opposite coasts _ Daniel at UConn and Isaac at UCLA. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

    FILE – In this Nov. 17, 2015, file photo, Connecticut’s Daniel Hamilton, left, shoots over New Hampshire’s Jaleen Smith, right, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Storrs, Conn. Isaac, 21, and Daniel, 19, are still the younger brothers, but they are no longer little and have been making names for themselves this season on opposite coasts _ Daniel at UConn and Isaac at UCLA. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

  30. Golden State Warriors: Daniel Hamilton G UCONN: Hamilton will fit the Warriors’ system of versatile athletes. He is not a great three point shooter and may take time to develop which is why the Warriors would be a great fit for him. They don’t need him to be good right away right away.

Second Round Predictions Part II

Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel

Joe Cavaretta / Sun Sentinel

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks- This is a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Championship in which Cleveland swept Atlanta. The Cavaliers have had tons of rest and are the better team. The loss of DeMarre Carroll does not make the Hawks better or give the Hawks a better chance than last year. Last year it was so much of a cake walk for the Cavs that I don’t think the Hawks have a real shot at winning unless the Cavs run into injuries. With that being said it would take four perfect games from Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Jeff Teague to win this series. The Cavaliers will win this series and the only question is in how many games.

Prediction: Cleveland Cavaliers in 5

Toronto Raptors vs. Miami Heat- Let me be the first to say it is fun to watch Dwayne Wade again. I see the old Wade, the Wade pre-LeBron. He is a much more exciting player without LeBron. He is the unquestioned leader for the Heat. He provides so much experience, heart and leadership for a team that is mostly young and talented. Luol Deng has lots of playoff experience as well that has been very beneficial to the Heat. It has given them a reliable all around player. Hassan Whiteside has been a beast defensively as well. The Heat look poised to win the series but the Raptors will not go down without a fight. It took them longer than expected to eliminate the Pacers but after a superstar performance from Demar DeRozan and a surprise performance from Norman Powell in game seven the Raptors advanced and will look to knock off the Heat. This could be a long series as well but an exciting and intriguing one. This series has a chance to be the best series of the second round. It is definitely a difficult series to pick. Sorry Toronto, I really want to see LeBron go to battle against Wade and the Heat.

Prediction: Miami Heat in 6

Game 1 Recaps

John Amis/Associated Press

John Amis/Associated Press

Pacers @ Raptors- The Toronto Raptors continue to struggle in the postseason. The pressure for the Raptors will be at an all-time high because game two is a must win. There is a lot to look forward to for the Raptors. Even though they dropped game one they out rebounded the Pacers 52-38. Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan had bad games by their standards. The Raptors also shot an abysmal 38 percent from the field and 21 percent from the three point line. Toronto also committed 19 turnovers. It took all these things going wrong, and a phenomenal effort by Paul George for the Pacers to win this game. Look for the Raptors to come out strong in game two and even the series up at 1-1. It will be a big game for Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan and they can absolutely not afford to go down 0-2 heading to Indiana.

Rockets @ Warriors- Did anyone expect anything different from the team that broke the single season win record and is trying to defend their crown? The Warriors dominated the game from start to finish and will do so for the remainder of the series. Curry’s ankle injury is a non issue because the Warriors are good enough to beat the Rockets without Curry if need be. The Warriors do not get the credit they deserve on the defensive end but that is where they are winning games. Their ability to force the Rockets into isolation basketball is what led to the majority of their success. If you were looking for the Rockets to upset the Warriors I have news for you- wake up. This series will be over in four, maybe five games, with or without the MVP.

Celtics @ Hawks- This was arguably the best game on Saturday in the NBA. It looks like it is going to be a long, tough series. The Hawks won by one point and the majority of the statistics would show that close of a game. The two teams were virtually identical in rebounds, offensive rebounds, turnovers and fast break points. The Hawks were able to do most of their damage in the paint and if you’re looking for a reason on why this game will prove the Hawks to be the eventual winners of the series all you can look at the Hawks 18.5 percent shooting from behind the three point line. They will shoot better in most games and that might be all that is needed to win these games. One big blow to the Celtics is the loss of Avery Bradley due to injury. He is expected to miss the remainder of the series due to his hamstring injury. That is a huge loss for the Celtics. Look for the Hawks to shoot better in game two and win another close game before heading to Boston.

Mavericks @ Thunder- The Thunder had to make a statement that said we don’t care who you are but we will run through you to get to the Finals. They did just that by beating the Mavericks 108-70. It was the most dominant playoff game for Durant and Westbrook and the lowest point total in Dallas Maverick playoff history. The Thunder dominated almost every aspect of the game. Durant mentioned earlier in the week that he was tired of feeling like the forgotten superstar in the NBA. It seems like he is out to prove that he is still a dominant force. The Mavericks are simply out matched in this series and it will be tough for them to win more than one game, if that. The Thunder will take a commanding 2-0 lead before heading to Dallas.

Pistons @ Cavaliers- The Pistons squandered away an opportunity to steal home court advantage. The game was tied 88-88 with 6:29 left and that is when the the Cavs began to pull away. The Pistons did a great job in keeping their turnovers to only 10 but they need to force more turnovers as they only forced four. The Pistons will not make this series easy on the Cavs but they are not good enough to beat them in a seven game series . Game two will be another close game and look for the Pistons to steal game two.

Hornets @ Heat-  Everything went right for the Heat on Sunday. They played a perfect game of basketball in route to a complete blowout of the Hornets. The Heat shot 57.6 percent from the field and an amazing 50 percent from three. They also out rebounded the Hornets 42-28. The Hornets seemed completely overwhelmed and outmatched in this game and it was mostly just playoff game jitters. The Hornets are young and inexperienced. This series should become tighter and game one should be an anomaly. With that said I still think the Heat win game two but in a much tighter game.

Grizzlies @ Spurs- The theme of the first round so far seems to be epic blowouts. This one was no different, and this one is expected. The Grizzlies have too many injuries and not enough talent. The Spurs have been great all year and this was no different. The Spurs used a total team effort offensively and defensively to dismantle the Grizzlies. This series will be a short one and the Spurs will roll again in game two.

Trailblazers @ Clippers- The Trailblazers are fighting an uphill battle. The Clippers on paper are a much better team and it showed in game one. Chris Paul and Black Griffin had outstanding games to lead the Clippers to an easy victory. The series won’t get close until it shifts to Portland because the Blazers are much better at home. Look for the Clippers to push this series to 2-0 but a much closer series when back in Portland.

The Second Season

Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) fouls Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) during the first half in Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) fouls Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) during the first half in Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Has there ever been a better final day of the the regular season in NBA history? The Warriors broke the Chicago Bulls’ record of 72 wins in a season. The Warriors beat the Grizzlies by a score of 125-104 to finish the season 73-9. Steph Curry finished with 402 made three pointers this season which is also an NBA record. He also scored 46 points to make sure the Warriors broke the win record. Impressive isn’t even enough to describe what the Warriors were able to do. It is truly an amazing feature but it doesn’t even hold a candle to what happened in Los Angeles for Kobe’s final game.

Hollywood couldn’t write a script as great as Kobe wrote for his final performance in Staples Center. The show that Kobe put on reminded us of Kobe in his prime while chasing championships. It was magical. It was mesmerizing. He poured his heart and his soul into his final game in the same way he did for his entire career. It was poetic.

60 points in his final game; it is the most ever for a player in their final game. It was the most points in the NBA scored the entire season. It was the 25th 50 point game of his career. He never ran. Not when times got hard instead he fought through. When the injuries tried to stop him he fought back to make sure he went out on his own terms. There is only one quote to sum up up Kobe and his performance, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.”

It was a perfect way to end the regular season and get us all ready for the NBA’s second season. Now that the regular season is over let’s take a look at all the first round playoff matches and who will win.

Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons: Do not sleep on the Pistons. They are a well coached team with lots of talent. Andre Drummond will get his first action in the playoffs and Reggie Jackson has some experience with the Thunder. LeBron James does not want to be one of the few players to lose to an eight seed but it is possible. The Pistons won three of the four matchups in the regular season which will give them the confidence in the playoffs to pull a possible upset. Although it is possible, I don’t see the Pistons beating the Cavaliers in a seven game series.

Cleveland wins series 4-2

(2) Toronto Raptors vs (7) Indiana Pacers: The Raptors are in the perfect position heading into the playoffs. They are a quiet two seed who nobody is talking about or picking to do much in the playoffs. They had 56 wins which is a franchise record. The Pacers are a surprise team in the playoffs this year. Paul George is a star and Myles Turner is an up and coming star as well but the Pacers are not equipped to make a run this year. The Raptors had much success against the Pacers this year and this series will be no different.

Toronto wins series 4-1

(3) Miami Heat vs (6) Charolette Hornets: The Heat are one of the teams perceived to have the capability to dethrone the Cavaliers as the Eastern Conference Champions. They have the talent to do so but the Hornets will be no easy out. The teams split in the regular season and I believe this series has a chance to be one of the most competitive first round series. I see this series going seven games but Dwayne Wade will lead the Heat to a series win.

Miami wins series 4-3

(4) Atlanta Hawks vs (5) Boston Celtics: The young Celtics are scrappy and play with a certain toughness that leads to success. Atlanta has a lot of playoff experience but they usually don’t go far into the playoffs. This Hawks are one of the best passing teams in the league as they were second in the NBA in team assists with an average of 25.6 per game. The Celtics are one of the best teams at forcing turnovers so it will be a clash of styles and strengths. This will be a highly competitive series and the regular season was won by the Hawks. This time will be different.

Boston wins series 4-2

Western Conference

(1) Golden State Warriors vs (8) Houston Rockets: The Golden State Warriors just broke the record for most wins in a season. The need 16 wins to go back to back. This is the chance to defend their title which is always harder than getting the first championship. They will play against James Harden which will be no easy task but the Warriors play a true team game. James Harden is good enough to possibly steal a game and it will be in Houston if it happens but the Warriors are determined to win. They will.

Golden State wins series 4-1

(2) San Antonio Spurs vs (7) Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies remarkably made the playoffs through an up and down season filled with injuries. Memphis would barely have a chance to beat the Spurs with Mike Conley Jr. playing but with him out the chances are even more slim. The Spurs are a well oiled machine that has no chance of breaking down against the Grizzlies.

San Antonio wins series 4-0

(3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (6) Dallas Mavericks: The Thunder are the third best team in the West and an afterthought to contend for the title. The stigma is that its going to be Spurs vs Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder have to prove to themselves they can win the West and it starts with beating the Mavericks. The Thunder swept the Mavericks in the regular season and I don’t see the Mavericks upsetting the Thunder in this series.

Oklahoma City wins series 4-1

(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs (5) Portland Trailblazers: The Clippers are a great team with great talent but talent can only take you so far. The Trailblazers surprised the entire league with how good they have been. Damian Lillard is probably the most underrated player in the NBA and the fact that the Trailblazers made the playoffs should attest to that. The Clippers are going to be the clear favorite in this series but I won’t count out the Trailblazers completely. We have seen in the past that Lillard can hit game winners in the post season. The Rockets have experienced this. The Clippers should pull this series out but I am not totally confident in their ability to beat Portland in a seven game series.

Los Angeles wins series 4-3

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