NBA All-Star

NBA All-Star Game predictions

You either love the NBA All-Star game, or you’re completely uninterested in it. There’s no real in between, and it’s not hard to understand why. Watching super-rich athletes engage in playground basketball with their friends is either exciting or nauseating.

NBA All-Star

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks during the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. (Photo by Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

In the past, it’s basically been a continuation of the dunk contest. Once the player is past half court, the lane clears, and the man with the ball gets to show off. Last year’s All-Star game ended in a 192-182 victory for the West. To put that into perspective, the average score of a game last season was 105.6 points. That’s how little NBA All-Stars are interested in guarding their man.

Now, be well aware that these are the best scorers in the league, in most cases. And defense is not only less exciting than offense, but it takes more effort. The All-Star break is a rare occasion that these star players can get meaningful rest, it is what’s paramount to a successful back end to a season, and playoff runs. So working hard on the defensive end of the floor doesn’t quite make sense for them.

The problem is that the game doesn’t mean anything. There’s no competition because bragging rights are essentially irrelevant to these players. They have already proven they’re the best in the game by being chosen, so why try?

The new draft format and $100,000 cash prize are attempts at trying to remedy this issue. It’s unclear whether or not these changes will make any difference in competitiveness. But before evaluating and predicting, let’s look at the updated rosters.

Rosters

Team LeBron: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge, Bradley Beal, Goran Dragic, Andre Drummond, Paul George, Victor Oladipo, Kemba Walker, Russell Westbrook

NBA All-Star

Westbrook and Durant will be on the same All-Star team for the second year in a row. (Photo by Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Team Curry: Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar Derozan, Joel Embiid, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Al Horford, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns

Worth mentioning here is the fact that LeBron’s squad has lost four All-Star selections to injury. In the first year of the draft format, that’s not good. It’s especially bad considering all of the injuries came from the same team.

Also worth noting is that Westbrook and Aldridge missed four games between them in the last week. They will be ready for the All-Star Game, but that’s two more question marks for Team LeBron.

The replacements for injured players were not conference-specific. While in the past, someone from the same conference would have had to be chosen, this time it’s simply overall vote-getters. This probably led to the continued snub of Lou Williams, and Dragic sneaking his way in.

Team Curry

With all of his original players still in the lineup, Curry’s team has to be the favorite.

With Antetokounmpo, Derozan, Horford, Embiid and Towns, the team has tremendous length. And those of them who can’t slash to the bucket can certainly handle themselves around and beneath it.

Add in Curry and Harden, and that should be all the shooting they need. But, still, they have Butler, Lillard, Lowry and Thompson to pick up the slack. All of them can also get to the hoop, as well. But with the length on display, expect to see a lot of three-pointers from this team.

Team Curry is also being coached by Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets. The Rockets have the best record in the NBA, and the most potent offense in the league. Not that a team of this many great players will need much coaching, but expect D’Antoni to draw up offensive set pieces consistently and try to win this game with 150-plus points.

Team LeBron

Again, this team has been decimated by injuries. Four have been replaced, and two more are reportedly not at 100 percent.

Those replacements have been: Paul George for DeMarcus Cousins, Goran Dragic for Kevin Love, Kemba Walker for Kristaps Porzingis and Andre Drummond for John Wall.

NBA All-Star

Kristaps Porzingis won’t participate after tearing his ACL on Feb. 6. (Photo by Adam Hunger/USA Today Sports)

These injuries have made the team markedly smaller. Porzingis’ and Love’s replacements cost the team almost two feet of length. Having Drummond in for Wall stops the bleeding a little, but Drummond is not effective more than five feet from the basket. Kevin and Kristaps are both big men who can shoot from anywhere, and rest assured they would be if they were playing.

Some NBA fans might like the current lineup better for one reason or another. The point of All-Star selections is that they are subjective. And in just one game, the pieces don’t necessarily have to fit perfectly to win. But, losing four bonafide All-Stars for players that were “the best of the rest” shouldn’t inspire confidence.

LeBron’s team is being coached by Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors, who have the best record in the East. A no-nonsense defensive coach is a definite shake up for the All-Star Game. If Casey holds the other squad to less than 140 points, he will have lived up to that reputation.

We all know that LeBron is tired of losing, but we’ll see if he can will his team to that $100,000 prize.

Effort

Speaking of $100,000, does it really matter to some of the richest athletes in the sport? These players not only have massive contracts, but they’re all so good that they have deals and endorsements and appearances to help bolster their bank accounts.

What many fans might not know, is each member of the losing team will get $25,000. So that narrows the net winnings to $75,000. Sure, it would be life-changing money for most people in the world, but is that $75,000 worth the effort to these players?

Players don’t want to sound ungrateful, or out of touch with the rest of the world. So odds are, all 24 of them would answer with some form of, “yes, of course it matters.” And I’m sure it would be nice to have $75,000 more than you had yesterday. Especially if you receive it for playing a game you play every single night. But the fans will never really know how interested the players are. It’s an exercise in futility to read into it too much. The players will give however much they want to on the court, end of story.

LeBron will be out there trying his best to win. Curry will, too. They did put these teams together, after all. They want to be seen as a better “fantasy” manager than the other. But with the injuries, LeBron’s team has an excuse if they lose, and Curry’s team has a small incentive to take things easy on defense.

NBA All-Star

Curry and James picked the All-Star teams, and will go head-to-head again in 2018. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

With the new format, this should be a more competitive game. It will still be high scoring, and there will still be more joking around than defensive pressure. But the winning team won’t be eight points shy of 200 this year.

Prediction

Team Curry wins, 163-148

This was an easy call to make. The shooting and athleticism on Curry’s team is overwhelming. LeBron’s team will show more effort, and with Coach Casey on the sidelines, will be more engaged on the defensive end. But in the end, the shooting is what will matter.

People will clear the lane for Antetokounmpo, Harden and Curry will take 15 three-pointers each, and Embiid will trash talk his way either into or out of America’s heart.

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Mbah a Moute

The Fresh Prince of Cameroon

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, the stalwart defensive combo forward for the Houston Rockets, is a prince. Let me repeat that: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a PRINCE. Now LeBron may call himself the King, but he isn’t a prince. I watched the Rockets play the Cavaliers on ESPN on Saturday, February 3rd, and ESPN displayed a graphic that stated that Mbah a Moute is a Prince in his home country of Cameroon. I was shocked, as I feel like this is something that should be discussed more in length as it’s not everyday that you find out an NBA player is also a prince. It is time to put some respect on Prince Mbah a Moute’s name.

Mbah a Moute was born in Yaoundé, Cameroon in 1986. Although he was raised and lives in Yaoundé, he has a really close relationship with the town of Bia Messe. This is the town where his father, Camille Moute a Bidias, is the chieftain and where Luc is a Prince. His father is also a government official who is the General Manager of the National Employment Fund of Cameroon. Being a prince isn’t all that what you might expect, Mbah a Moute says.

Mbah a Moute

The family of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute cheers him on at a UCLA game in 2007 (Wally Skalij/Getty Images)

“I don’t really have any power, I just go to different meetings and traditional events, I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to make any decisions. That’s all my Dad.”

Mbah a Moute per ESPN

He grew up playing soccer, and didn’t touch a basketball until he was twelve years old. He taught himself how to shoot and dribble by playing at a street hoop on a lamp post. After playing for a little over two years, he made the Cameroon national youth team at 15 years old.

After being discovered while playing for the inaugural NBA Basketball Without Borders camp in Africa, he was able to get noticed enough that he got a scholarship to go play at Montverde High School in Florida. He then received a scholarship to go play at UCLA in Los Angeles, California. There, he played with fellow successful NBA players Russell Westbrook, Aaron Afflalo, Jordan Farmer, Kevin Love and Darren Collison. He accomplished the rare feat of starting in three straight Final Four’s in 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08.

When he came over to America, he knew only a few words of English and still had a very raw offensive game. This didn’t stop him from excelling on the defensive end, usually guarding the other teams best player while at UCLA. He also led the Bruins in rebounding his freshman year. The Bruin fans loved his energy and passion, and even dedicated a fan section to him by calling themselves the “Cameroon Crazies”. This is a knockoff of the Duke Blue Devils fan section and dedicated to his home country of Cameroon.

He was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the seventh pick of the second Round of the 2008 Draft. As a second round pick, he wasn’t expected to contribute much, if play at all. He quickly became a fan favorite in Milwaukee for his defensive effort and his rebounding ability. After sending his first 5 years with the Bucks as a great wing defender, he bounced around in the 2013-2014 season playing for the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves, not getting much playing time with either team. He signed with the Philadelphia 76ers for the 2014-2015 season. Even though they were one of the worst teams in the NBA, he had a career year scoring the ball averaging 9.9 points per game while also gathering 4.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He then spent two years with the Los Angles Clippers. This is when he finally developed into a serviceable three point shooter, shooting 37.3 percent from three over those 2 seasons.

This past off-season, Mbah a Moute signed with the Houston Rockets, where he has continued his development into a 3 and D player. He has hit a career high 1.1 threes a game and has made them at a 36.5 percent clip. He has helped Houston turn into one of the better defensive teams in basketball with a 106.9 defensive rating, while also having the best offensive teams in the league with a 115.6 offensive rating. The Rockets are currently 2nd in the Western Conference behind the Golden State Warriors.

Mbah a Moute at a Basketball Without Borders Camp practice (CNN)

Mbah a Moute has career averages of 6.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.9 steals per game on 45.3 percent from the field and 33 percent from downtown.

Mbah a Moute is the 2nd player ever to play in the NBA from Cameroon. The first was 7-0 center named Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje. He played only 44 games over three years for the Portland Trail Blazers from 2001-2004 before fizzling out the league. In his work with the Basketball Without Borders program, he helped discover Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center and social media icon Joel Embiid and Toronto Raptors power forward Pascal Siakam, both of whom are also from Cameroon.

Mbah a Moute has one of the most interesting backstories in the NBA, and no matter how it turns out, he still is a Prince. Not many people in the world can say that.

 

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LeBron James new team

Weighing LeBron’s most likely landing spots

LeBron James’ contract is up at the end of the season. He’s officially fulfilled his commitment to Cleveland. He delivered a championship to the long-suffering city in the most exciting NBA Finals of the past 10 years.

So that begs the question of where is his next stop?

The most interesting thing about this debate is that many teams are in limbo until James narrows down his list. Some teams are trading away players to guarantee the cap space, while others are loading up to lure him to their city. Still, others are gauging his interest to make the most calculated moves to prepare for either eventuality.

The entire league is waiting with bated breath to see where The King wants to take his talents next. No matter where he goes, the move will shake up the foundation of the NBA for the length of his new contract. He’s been tied to many teams through the rumor mill, but here are the most interesting propositions.

Los Angeles Lakers

Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news yesterday that the lakers are “shifting their focus to the 2019 free agent class.” That could mean a few things.

The most likely explanation is that James wouldn’t want to go to the Lakers without any bona fide stars on the roster. He’s carried teams to the playoffs and finals by himself before, and all signs indicate he’s on the quest for more rings.

LeBron James new team

LeBron James and Lonzo Ball share a postgame hug. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

If he signs there at the seasons’ end, James will be alone with Lonzo Ball and Larry Nance Jr., who are not huge draws. James might want the team to bring in some talent before he commits. Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson are all names that appear to be on Magic Johnson’s shortlist.

It could also mean that Johnson isn’t positive he can reel in James at all, and that he doesn’t want to trade away assets and clear massive cap space to pull in someone who may not be interested.

Leaving the cap open also allows them to go in a different direction. The Lakers could pull two or maybe even three stars after next season, letting James go his own way.

James owns homes in Los Angeles, and it’s well-known that he wants to make a transition to Hollywood after his NBA career is over. Pair that with the Lakers’ storied history and their ability to draw in free agents, and it’s hard to believe the team would not go after him with everything they’ve got.

But consider the possibility that James goes to another team on a max deal, with an opt-out clause after the first year. If things don’t go according to plan in his new city, he could exercise that option. Assuming Johnson can pull in a superstar, then the door is open for James to put on the purple and gold.

It’s messy and complicated, but Magic Johnson has the star power to get this done.

San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio’s championship window is closing. The team is old, and their three best players’ contracts expire after next season.

There is one sure-fire way to get them to re-sign, possibly even for less money. That way includes signing LeBron James.

LeBron James new team

Gregg Popovich and LeBron James congratulate each other after Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)

A team including LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James, coached by Gregg Popovich, is an instant title contender. Age and bench players be damned, that team could compete with any team in the league. Pau Gasol will be pushing 40 by the time his contract is up, but just ask Manu Ginobili how Coach Popovich can keep up old players’ efficacy.

Keep in mind that James has never had a coach anywhere near as good as Popovich. As he gets older and has to start becoming more of a system player rather than a one-man wrecking crew, coaching goes a long way.

This all hinges on the idea that James can draw in some young talent to one of the least exciting basketball cities in the country. Leonard and Aldridge would also have to re-sign. But their tradition of excellence makes it hard to completely count the Spurs out of contention.

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers are a very interesting dark horse candidate to land LeBron James. They have a breadth of young talent and the most cap space in the NBA at over $75 million.

The potential to be very good for a long time could be a huge draw for James. It also would allow him to be a leader and a mentor to the young guys on the team. That would be a complete 180 degree turn from his current situation with the Cavaliers.

The problem here is that none of the players are established enough to prove to him that Philadelphia would put him in a position to win more titles. Ben Simmons is firmly in contention for Rookie of the Year, but he has an injury history, and the sample size is tiny.

The same goes for Joel Embiid. He’s been injured constantly and just played in back-to-back games for the first time on Feb. 2 and 3. Markelle Fultz is also injured and has seemingly forgotten how to shoot the basketball.

Again, the key here is the 76ers’ cap space. The contracts there are extremely manageable, and if the young players can stay healthy, they can be doubly useful, either as trade bait or pieces of the team’s success moving forward. The ability to sign players that James likes to play with has been a huge part of his decisions in the past. However, Philadelphia is still a couple of years away from being true contenders in the East.

New York Knicks

James has been in the Eastern Conference since he entered the NBA. Staying in the East would more than likely set him up for the most success moving forward. He knows every team in the league inside and out, but playing with a similar travel schedule will be more important as he gets older. The Knicks check that box.

LeBron James new team

James shoots over Kristaps Porzingis. (Photo by: Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

New York City is the Mecca of basketball. Playing at Madison Square Garden 41 nights out of the year would be beyond compare for someone who as aspirations to become the greatest NBA player of all time. Delivering a championship to New York could very well solidify that position.

Kristaps Porzingis is out for the year, and ACL tears are a notoriously difficult injury. But given his skill set, there is no reason to believe he won’t come back 100 percent. Porzingis would be a huge draw to James if he does indeed come back strong.

Apart from The Unicorn and the city, there is little else to convince anyone that James will be a Knick. The front office is a mess, and the team has little to no direction at the moment. James could fix the latter, but this move is unlikely at best.

Los Angeles Clippers

Another Los Angeles team has LeBron James sized aspirations.

Dumping Blake Griffin’s contract off of the payroll was a major first step towards landing The King. If the Clippers deal DeAndre Jordan as well, the cap space will be wide open for a max deal. Plus, the organization also just announced that they are re-signing Lou Williams. Williams and Patrick Beverley could create a sneaky-good backcourt, although the team would still lack talent.

But still, they are a Los Angeles team. The city alone guarantees people will want to play for the Clippers. If Paul George truly does want to play in Los Angeles, who is to say he has to play for the Lakers? George and James would more than fix the frontcourt issues. Also, delivering a championship to a team that’s never seen the Western Conference Finals could cement the status James is chasing.

However, as with the Lakers, trading away assets on the promise of potential signings might not be the way to go. James wants to win now and often. Jockeying to sign him may have just taken them out of the conversation.

Houston Rockets

Now for the most likely candidate. Houston may very well have the pieces to beat Golden State right now. Add LeBron James to the team and you have a competitive Western Conference again. The problem for the NBA, however, is that the NBA Finals would be little more than a formality.

LeBron James new team

James Harden guards LeBron James. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)

Regardless, playing with James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela would be huge for James. After all, playing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh alone worked out well for him. The pieces the Rockets have are better than that Miami Heat team.

Some NBA fans, however, think playing with stars tarnished James’ legacy. He has made it clear he is uninterested in those opinions, but it could play a part in deciding not to play on a super team.

Also, to clear the cap space, the bench would more than likely suffer immensely. James won’t be able to average 36.8 minutes a game forever. Harden and Paul could lighten the load, but not significantly.

But James wants rings, as many as he can get. The move to Houston would give him the best chance to win more of them.

 

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NBA All-Star game snubs

2018 All-Star Game snubs and surprises

The 2018 All-Star game starters and reserves are set. We don’t know what color jerseys the players will be wearing, but we do know who will be wearing them.

So it’s time to cue the profanity-laced tweets and cries of “popularity contest.” Let the fans’ opinions on how to fix this defense-free contest both somehow simultaneously be heard and spectacularly ignored. Let’s bask in the interminable glory of four Warriors starters making the roster for the second year in a row. At least they might be playing on different teams this time.

The newly implemented draft system was meant to be an exciting way of adding an air of competitiveness to the game. Ask the NFL how that worked out for them.

What’s more is the fans won’t even get to watch the draft. The rosters will be announced on Thursday on an extended edition of TNT’s Tip-Off program.

Regardless of anyone’s feelings, the stage is set. So after we take a look at how voting is counted, let’s break down the biggest snubs and surprises from the All-Star game selections.

All-Star game voting

The voting for starters is split between fans, players and media. The fans votes make up 50 percent, while the players and media both account for 25 percent.

NBA All-Star Game snubs

Leaked All-Star Game jerseys are drawing bad reviews from fans (Photo by Conrad Burry)

The three frontcourt players (regardless of small forward, power forward or center designations) and the two guards with the highest combined vote totals in each conference are selected as the starters.

 

Starters: Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, James Harden and Kyrie Irving

The All-Star game reserves are chosen by the NBA coaches. They are asked to choose three frontcourt players, two guards and two more players at any position. These players have to be in the coach’s conference, and cannot be players on their own team.

The backcourt and frontcourt players with the highest vote total are selected. Then, the two extra players are chosen by votes, and position preference stated on the coaches’ ballots.

Reserves: Kyle Lowry, Bradley Beal, John Wall, Victor Oladipo, Kevin Love, Kristaps Porzingis, Al Horford, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, Draymond Green and Karl-Anthony Towns

Biggest snubs

Paul George

NBA All-Star game snubs

Paul George snubbed from All-Star game despite his great defensive season (Photo by Russ Isabella/USA TODAY Sports)

Paul George has been a part of a rocky experiment in Oklahoma City. At 27-20, the Thunder are currently the fifth seed in a tough Western Conference, but with their big three, one can’t help but think they are underachieving.

 

George is having a monstrous defensive season. While defense is not quite at a premium during the All-Star game, it isn’t like his offense is suffering because of it either. George is leading the league in steals at 93, and is still averaging almost 21 points per game. He’s also shooting the 3-pointer well at 42.2 percent.

In an offense dominated by two ball-hogs, that’s not bad. And many people, Russell Westbrook included, think it should have been enough to earn him a spot on the reserve roster.

Lou Williams

Lou Williams has been a revelation off the bench during the first half of the season. He’s shooting 45.1 percent from the field, and hitting 40.5 percent of his 3-pointers (of which he takes a lot). He’s averaging about 32 minutes, again, off the bench, and has had 14 games scoring over 30 points. That includes a 50-point game against Golden State, a team known for its defense as much as its offense.

Some claim that playing starters’ minutes off the bench was actually a mark against him during All-Star voting, but it also speaks to his willingness to be a team player. Those intangibles coupled with those numbers are the makings of an All-Star.

Chris Paul

Chris Paul has been pretty famously banged up this season. What most people may not realize, however, is that Paul has played in over half of the Rockets’ games this season.

When he plays, they win. Period.

When Paul has suited up this season, the Rockets have gone 23-5. When Paul, Clint Capela and James Harden are all in the lineup, the Rockets are 17-0. That’s a testament to his leadership and court vision.

Paul is averaging 19.1 points per game and 8.9 assists per game. He is also averaging a career-high 5.9 rebounds per game.

Of course, his assist numbers would be higher if the Rockets could stay healthy, but 8.9 isn’t too shabby for a team that takes as many jumpers as Houston does.

Andre Drummond

NBA All-Star game snubs

Drummond is upset he was left out of the All-Star Game reserves (Photo by Gregory Shamus, Getty Images)

Finally, Andre Drummond was left out of the All-Star game reserves. He is averaging 14.3 points and 15 rebounds per game, with the rebounds being the league’s best.

 

His free-throw shooting percentage is also up an incredible 24.3 percent, which is significant for one of the NBA’s worst at the line. His 3.9 assists per game are also up from his career average of one. Not too bad for a true center.

Drummond has been pretty vocal about his displeasure towards being left out of the All-Star roster. You can see exactly what he thought if you visit his Twitter page, as long as you’re not at work, that is.

Biggest surprises

Al Horford

The Celtics’ center Al Horford somehow made it on to the All-Star game reserve roster averaging just 13.3 points, and less than eight rebounds per game. Although his assist totals are slightly higher than Drummond’s, he’s also more of a stretch player than Drummond is.

He ventures outside the 3-point line much more than some other centers, which could have been seen as an asset. That opens the door to more passing lanes than living under the basket does.

He’s also playing almost the exact same number of minutes as Drummond is on a better team. That alone lends itself to not really having to lean on Horford as much as Detroit has had to lean on Drummond.

This isn’t a completely unwarranted All-Star game appearance. It perhaps is just an example of bias towards a more complete team.

Guards over forwards

As stated in the voting section, the two “wild card” spots on the reserve roster are given to which ever kind of player the coaches would prefer to have on the teams. Those spots in both conferences went to guards.

It’s not totally shocking, seeing as how the league has changed to rely on quickness and 3-pointers. But if the fans are supposed to believe that NBA coaches are all as committed to defense as they say they are, that should probably show up in the All-Star game. You would expect them to be favoring blocks and paint presence over quick hands and pull-up jump shots.

Watchability

In conclusion, 2018’s All-Star game just might be more watchable than previous iterations. The draft is a fun experiment, even if it doesn’t quite work out. And it’s already proven itself useful if all four Warriors don’t end up on the same side.

Even though the jerseys may be terrible, and the draft is not televised, it’s important to remember that the league is trying new things. The NBA isn’t ever going to make everyone happy with the All-Star game, especially the players. No matter how selection is done, there will always be players who are vocal about not being on the roster.

There will always be fans claiming that none of it matters anyway, or about how their voice is not heard enough. But it’s a tradition, and it is the very nature of traditions to be divisive.

Either way, N.E.R.D is playing the halftime show. That should be enough of a reason to tune in.

 

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Making the case for every fringe playoff team

The NBA season is halfway over, which means it’s time to start evaluating potential playoff teams.

The top four seeds in each conference are virtual locks, due to overall talent and coaching. The fifth-seventh seeds will do some changing around as teams jockey for their playoff seeding. Although, close followers of the NBA probably wouldn’t be surprised if the Pistons or the Trailblazers fell out of the playoff picture after overachieving slightly in the first half of the season.

As with any sport’s playoff, however, the most interesting storylines are the ones involving the teams on the bubble.

With that in mind, let’s look at each conference’s eighth seed and first two teams on the outside looking in.

Eastern Conference

Indiana Pacers (21-19, No. 8 seed)

The Pacers have been just fine without Paul George. Victor Oladipo has been playing close to his ceiling, although they’re still overpaying for him. The other piece of the trade that sent George away, Domantas Sabonis, has also been playing nicely. He’s two rebounds shy of averaging a double-double, and will probably end up setting career-high averages in every meaningful category.

While their offense has been clicking, their defense is some of the most below average in the Association. Not awful, just very mediocre. Their offense alone can win the Pacers enough games to keep them in the 8th spot. Lack of defensive consistency will have been their downfall if they fail to make the cut.

Philadelphia 76ers (19-19, first team out)

Philadelphia is one of the most exciting stories in the NBA this season. The “process” seems to have finally come to fruition, and we are finally seeing glimpses of what this long and arduous rebuild has wrought.

Even though the 76ers are a .500 team, don’t be fooled. They’re currently first in the league in rebounds per game, second in assists resulting made field goals, and sixth in points. A rested and re-energized team could ride that kind of momentum to a playoff spot after the All Star break. Plus, their first overall draft pick hasn’t even played five games yet.

NBA Playoffs

Embiid scores on Whiteside. (Photo by: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

What will keep them out of the playoffs is their youth and inconsistency in their game to game performances. As the season drags on, the young players might start to slow down, which will only exacerbate their inconsistency issues. Those red flags usually mean a .500 team will stay a .500 team, but playing in a weak conference will definitely help.

New York Knicks (19-21, second team out)

The Knicks are a force to be reckoned with in the paint on both ends of the court. They are ninth in points in the paint and second in points allowed in the paint. Yes, we’re talking about the New York Knicks.

The team is huge, size-wise. Porzingis, O’Quinn, Kanter and Noah are all either over or close to 7-feet. That length pays dividends over a long regular season, but could actually be a problem if they sneak into the playoffs. The East is full of jump shooting teams, which will stretch New York’s strengths too thin to make them truly effective.

Western Conference

New Orleans Pelicans (20-19, No. 8 seed)

New Orleans might very well be a better team than their record indicates. They’re second in points in the paint thanks to Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins. They’re also second in the NBA in assists per game thanks to some great guard play both from starters and off the bench. Not to mention they have the second toughest schedule in the NBA (according to 2016-2017 team records).

Team defense leaves a lot to be desired for the Pelicans. Bottom five in opponents points in the paint per game doesn’t make a lot of sense considering the front court they have. They also give up the third most points in the league per game.

NBA Playoffs

Davis and Cousins during a game against the Spurs. (Photo by: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

It’s an especially strange case on New Orleans’ part. The chemistry and coaching is clearly there, as evidenced by the assist totals. But the defense is nowhere near where it should be, in spite of Cousins and Davis. Remember that Alvin Gentry was brought on to be a defensive mastermind, and the roster has only gotten better since he came to town. Maybe look for a coaching shake-up if the Pelicans miss the playoffs.

Los Angeles Clippers (18-21, first team out)

Doc Rivers’ team is hurting out west. The Clippers have been a staple of the Western Conference playoffs for the past six years, but the days of Lob City have finally come to an end. Chris Paul’s departure marked a culture change for the Clips, and the team has not found its stride just yet.

Los Angeles still has a great 3-point game. Beverley, Williams, Rivers and even Griffin can all pull up from distance. They also have great personnel for man-to-man defense. Those two things are golden in NBA playoff basketball. But, yet again, team defense is going to be the main hurdle between them and their playoff streak.

Utah Jazz (16-24, second team out)

The new look Jazz are in a soft rebuild. After losing their number one scorer in Gordon Hayward, the Jazz were almost certainly take on a new identity. But picking up Ricky Rubio and finding a steal in Donovan Mitchell should have stopped the bleeding more than it has.

Their defense is some of the best in the NBA, all around. In fact, the Jazz are top 10 in almost every meaningful defensive category under Quin Snider. Against the trend, the offense is what will probably keep Utah out of the playoffs this year. Although, again, this is a new look team. And offense almost always comes together more quickly than defense. If they can keep up the defensive dominance, they won’t be out of the playoff picture for long.

 

Featured image by ANTHONY GRUPPUSO-USA TODAY

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2018 NBA All-Star game starters

Predicting the NBA All-Star starters

NBA All-Star weekend is a great time for players to get some rest, have fun and entertain. Being the best at your job is always sought after, just like being an All-Star in the NBA is.

This season, there are many different combinations that are worthy of being starts for the All-Star game on both the East and the West. With the Western Conference having the majority of last year’s All-Stars, the Eastern Conference could potentially have some new faces in their starting lineups.

Eastern Conference

2018 NBA All-Star game starters

2017 NBA All-Star game (Photo from Clutchpoints.com)

There is a little bit of difference here.

2017 starters: Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler.

Obviously Butler is now a member of the Western Conference, so he will be replaced. Like every year, the big man has been taken out of most starting lineups due to the NBA trying to increase scoring and excitement. The five that seem most likely to get the call include a new face who was previously in the Western Conference.

Irving, DeRozan, James, Antetokounmpo and Victor Oladipo seem to be the most deserving. This would obviously put Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid on the outside looking in, but they would be reserves.

Oladipo has proven that he can be a No. 1 for a surprising Indiana Pacers team. Oladipo’s numbers read as 24.8 points, 4.1 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. He is averaging well over his career average in every statistic previously listed. He is shooting nearly six percent better than his career average and has a player efficiency rating over 24. He is more than deserving of a starting spot in a weak Eastern Conference.

Oladipo is the second leading scoring guard in the East only behind DeRozan. Oladipo is shooting the exact same from the field per game as Steph Curry. Oladipo is shooting just over 49 percent on almost 18 attempts, which is the same as Curry exactly.

Oladipo is having his best statistical season of his career. His stats match up against all other Eastern Conference guards. In comparison to someone like Joel Embiid, Oladipo has played in more games, averaged more points, played more minutes and as of right now, the Indiana Pacers have a better record than the Philadelphia 76ers. The Pacers have overachieved based on rankings, and that is why Oladipo’s been so important.

Western Conference

The Western Conference is home to the league’s best big men.

2017 starters: Steph Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis.

This year there doesn’t seem to be too much difference.

This year’s starters could have some parody. There are three point guards in the West all deserving of a spot. Curry, Harden (I guess we can officially call him a point guard now) and Russell Westbrook.

Durant seems like a sure thing, and the final spots seem to be between the Pelican big men. In the end, I think the lineup for the West has to be Curry, Harden, Durant, Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Last year, in Russell Westbrook’s MVP season, he didn’t start in the All-Star game. This season, he has less impressive numbers and has more help. He is still the third best guard among that trio. It does not help that the game is being held in L.A., which means that Curry is put ahead of him.

It’s hard to pick between the two Pelican big men. They both have solid numbers and compliment each other well. In the Western Conference, the two are fourth and fifth in the voting, and they are both more than deserving for a spot in the frontcourt.

The argument for getting both of the Pelican big men to the starting lineup starts with this: DeMarcus Cousins is averaging 25.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Anthony Davis is averaging 25.8 points as well and 10.3 rebounds per game. The two are averaging double-doubles in the same frontcourt. They both have a player efficiency rating over 23.7. A guy like Kawhi Leonard being hurt opens the door for both big men.

Karl-Anthony Towns is another guy averaging a double-double and is up over 23 in his player efficiency rating. He plays the exact same minutes as Cousins. The only difference is he is averaging just over 20 points per game which is nearly 20 percent less than both Cousins and Davis, and they are on the same team.

Ultimately, the last two spots in the Western Conference starting lineup are likely two of the three previously listed players. Davis and Cousins have made strong cases as All-Star starters, and they share the same frontcourt.

The hometown guy

Kyle Kuzma will find his way on a roster here. He has put up great numbers and at times has been the most important piece for the Lakers. It seems like the voters love to have a hometown guy, and Kuzma, at this point, seems to be the most deserving.

 

Featured image from basketinfo.com.

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Five things to be thankful for in the NBA

Everyone has something to be thankful for come holiday season. With Thanksgiving passing yesterday it’s time to reflect on the things we are thankful for in sports.

The NBA season has been filled with twists and turns. Many teams and players have created a different narrative to this year’s NBA. The teams that have dominated both conferences are not the ones on top. Players have both emerged and fallen from last season. However we are thankful for many things that make the NBA entertaining. Here are five of the things that have made the NBA the most interesting this season.

The 76ers’ young guys

If you haven’t watched Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Robert Covington play you should. The three of them are making the 76ers more than exciting to watch. They are something to be thankful for due to the elevated play in the East. Having a team emerge with great young talent to compete every night with the top teams in the East is definitely something to be thankful for.

Simmons is averaging 19, 9 and 7 and Joel Embiid is averaging a double-double. Covington is shooting 46 percent from three while shooting just under eight a game. The 76ers are 10-7 and are sitting in the sixth spot in the East. Simmons has been terrific, taking defensive rebounds and turning them into points.

The Sixers have been off to a good start and are just a couple games back in the East. They should continue their pace and be a tough out for a top team in the East come playoff time.

The Gordon Hayward-less Boston Celtics

Well now the Cavaliers don’t like the superior team in the East. Gordon Hayward went down in the first quarter of the season and the Celtics rallied around that. They have the best record in basketball and have beaten the Warriors already this season.

Many thought the season was lost for the Boston Celtics without Gordon Hayward. Instead, they are continually proving they belong. They have the best defensive unit in the league right now and previously held the best offense in the NBA to 88 points. Finally the best team in the East doesn’t look like the Cavaliers, it only took a few years.

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant

Everyone loves a little conflict and soap opera. What Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have created is flat out chippy and fans can’t take their eyes off of it. Many cheer against Kevin Durant for his choice to join the Golden State Warriors and Russ has “poked the bear” in a sense.

Russell Westbrook has felt disrespected due to Kevin Durant’s decision and has made it an on the court conflict. It has made games that are normally not as interesting and turned it into prime time television.

A new villain has been created

NBA

Lonzo Ball, (Thewinningtake.com).

Lonzo Ball is a villain. Like it or not LaVar Ball has made fans not like his son but in a way it has made the NBA better. Teams look forward to playing the Lakers to watch the opposing point guard play him tough.

This is exactly what his dad wanted to do by making a below average Lakers team relevant and putting his son in the forefront because of it. People now are drawing attention to an 8-11 team with a point guard who is shooting under 32 percent.

I still find myself thinking about how thankful we are to have a person to cheer against every night. It’s like fantasy sports because it makes fans care about games that they wouldn’t normally. So in a way, LaVar deserves a thank you.

The Timberwolves in playoff position

Obviously it’s very early in the season but the Timberwolves look very good. They have a big three in Karl Anthony-Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins. They are competitive every night and look poised to finally make the playoffs. We always cheer for things that don’t happen often right? Well the Timberwolves have been absent from the playoffs for a while.

It would be good for basketball to have a shake up in playoff teams. It gets boring seeing the same teams make the playoffs year in and year out. The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs since the 2003-04 season. This could be the season that they finally break that extremely long drought. The Timberwolves round out the Thanksgiving list because they are finally relevant and create a tough playoff opponent for anyone they face.

 

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NBA takeaways

Eight thoughts about the NBA season minus LeBron James

The NBA is off to a wonderful, yet somewhat surprising start. The Celtics have won 16 straight games, the Pistons are third in the Eastern Conference and the Oklahoma City Thunder are under .500 despite building a super team in the offseason. Here are a few early season takeaways.

1. Is Lonzo Ball going to be good?

Going into the draft, the Lakers knew they were not drafting Lonzo Ball for his scoring ability, but his shot has been just awful. On shots from 0-3 feet from the basket (essentially layups), Ball is shooting 45.5 percent. His abysmal 22.8 3-point percentage is the worst in the NBA.

NBA takeaways

Hopefully Lonzo can figure out the whole shooting thing (Photo from ClutchPoints)

Instead of panicking, let’s look at some other famous guards. Russell Westbrook shot 47.6 percent from 0-3 feet, and 27.1 percent from three during his first year with the Oklahoma City Thunder. John Wall shot 40.9 percent from the field as a 20-year old in Washington, which is not as poor as Lonzo’s 31.3 percent, but is still weak.

Now for the positives. His assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty solid, and he already has two triple-doubles. Only 12 other guards have eclipsed multiple triple-doubles during their rookie seasons. That list consists of Jason Kidd, Michael Jordan, Chris Paul, Walt Frazier, Tim Hardaway and Kevin Johnson. It also includes Michael Carter-Williams, Jamaal Tinsley, Art Williams and Elfrid Payton.

Long story short, he could be great, but he also could be a major bust. He appears somewhat passive, and walking away from a fight that involved his teammates makes me question his toughness. Only time will tell, but in BBB we trust. Through 17 games, Ball is averaging 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The only other rookies to average at least seven boards and seven assists were Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

2. Ben Simmons is super talented

You can already tell that, barring injury, Ben Simmons will be in the Hall of Fame. He is a lock for NBA Rookie of the Year, averaging a ridiculous 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. The only other rookie to average at least 18-8-7 was the great Oscar Robertson. He is the modern day Magic Johnson, and NBA fans should be ecstatic.

The kid can do it all. He is special in half court, full court, open court, heck, he would probably be good in a court of law. The best part is a guy who has no jump shot is shooting 52.3 percent from the field. Simmons dominates inside, shooting 73.5 percent from 0-3 feet. I pray each and every day that he stays healthy for the remainder of the season.

3. Joel Embiid is so fun for the NBA

On Monday night, we watched Embiid swat Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, then proceeded to talk trash while Mitchell was down. This prompted Mitchell to shove Embiid, who flopped and drew a technical foul as he fell down to the floor.

In a game against the Clippers, Embiid had 32 points and 16 rebounds, while taunting Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The following night, Embiid put up his historic 46-15-7-7 stat line and proceeded to taunt Lonzo and LaVar Ball on social media.

Embiid is a national treasure, and like his teammate Simmons, needs prayers every night to stay healthy. He has a chance to be an all-time great, both on and off the court.

4. Brad Stevens is a magician and Kyrie Irving is special

The Celtics are off to an amazing start at 16-2, but the MVP of their team is not on the court. He is patrolling from courtside and calling out the plays.

Head coach Brad Stevens is the obvious choice for Coach of the Year and rightfully so. Without Gordon Hayward, Boston is riding a 16-game winning streak, and sits atop the Eastern Conference. Their defense has been phenomenal, ranking second in opponent field goal percentage, third in opponent threes allowed and fifth in total steals. Offensively, Boston is first in total rebounds and third in free throws made.

NBA takeaways

16 and counting (Photo from NBA.com)

When the Celtics were sitting at 14 straight, Stevens, in a postgame interview, noted “We gotta play a lot better.” That is a clear sign of an elite coach.

Kyrie Irving is shooting worse from the field, from three and from the line compared to last season. Luckily, Irving looks to be back on track after two dominating performances. Against the Hawks, Irving had 30 points while shooting 10-12. On Monday, Uncle Drew had his best game as a member of the Celtics. In an eight-point win against Dallas, Irving had 47 points (16-22), six assists and was +21 for the game.

He is also the most clutch player in the NBA. In the final five minutes with the score within five, Irving, in 38 minutes, has 65 points (24-39), 10 assists, zero turnovers, and a plus-minus of +40. Momma there goes that man.

5. Victor Oladipo looks like an All-Star

After being the punchline in the Paul George trade, the former No. 2 overall pick is having quite the season in Indiana. Oladipo is averaging 22.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, while shooting 44.7 percent from long range. All of a sudden, Oladipo is an offensive threat, and has the Pacers above .500.

6. Dwight Howard is a Hall of Famer

On Monday night, Howard had 25 points and 20 rebounds in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. This was his 49th 20-point, 20-rebound game, which is the most of any player since 1983. Yes, that is more than Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal.

NBA takeaways

Dwight Howard will be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame (Photo from USA Today)

This past March in an interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated, Howard was asked about whether or not he thinks he will be the Hall of Fame. He responded by saying, “No doubt. It’s kind of got swept under the rug because the perception of all the things that happened in Orlando. All of the media stuff. If you look at basketball itself, and I don’t ever talk about myself, but winning three Defensive Player of the Year trophies has never been done. Leading the league in rebounding six straight years. All that kind of stuff, I think that deserves it.”

Although he actually has only led the NBA in five total seasons rather than six straight, the eight-time All-Star should walk into the Hall of Fame with ease. It’s so funny because he has had such an awkward career, from dominating in Orlando, to flopping with the Lakers and bouncing from the Rockets to the Hawks and now the Hornets.

Yes, he has probably underachieved, but Howard’s numbers will put him up with the all-time greats when all is said and done.

7. What is going on in OKC?

Of course it takes time to adjust to playing with other All-Stars, but this Thunder team is sketchy. They are 7-9, and Russell Westbrook is shooting worse from the field and free-throw line than last year. He also has less assists per game despite having more talent around him.

Carmelo Anthony is shooting 42.2 percent, which would be the worst field goal percentage of his career. They are constantly letting teams back into games after the first quarter, and have now lost two straight despite being ahead by 20 points in both contests. Hopefully this team figures it out and can compete with Golden State come June.

8. James Harden is the MVP at this point in the season

Harden leads the league in points and assists per game. He is shooting 45 percent from the field, 40.4 percent from deep and 86.4 percent from the line.

Houston leads the Western Conference at 13-4, and Harden was dominating without Chris Paul, the team’s second best player, who was dealing with an injury. He dropped 56 points against Utah, and another 48 against the Suns.

 

Featured image by SlamOnline.com

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Joel Embiid and the rising 76ers

It’s pretty early in the season, but the Philadelphia 76ers are off to a good start. They are 8-6 and have been led by young stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

Ben Simmons has been showing that being a point forward is very possible in the NBA. Joel Embiid is showing that he can play with just about anyone. In a league that is shifting away from traditional centers, Joel Embiid is showing just how complete his game is.

Joel Embiid’s Early Career

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid, (Si.com).

I guess it would be fair to say that all of his career is also his early career due to him being in just his second playing year in the league. To be fair, Embiid has been a star for the 76ers in almost every game he’s played in.

Given he has only played 43 games in his NBA career Embiid notched a career high Thursday night against the Lakers. He had 46 points on 14/20 shooting, had 13 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks. He dominated a weak interiored Laker team and was extremely efficient while doing it.

He is also continuing to prove he can hurt a team in more ways than one. This season he is shooting 58 percent from inside the arc. That statistic is over eight percent better than last season and shows that he can hurt you from inside as well as from outside. Embiid has struggled with his outside shot as of this season. Last year he shot 34 percent from three and this season he is sitting right at 24 percent. If he can get back to his consistent shooting ways then he is in for an even bigger impact.

The Last Few Games

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid, (ESPN).

In his last two games, Embiid is averaging 39 points on 25-40 shooting which is good for 62.5 percent. He is 25-35 from the free throw line in that span and has grabbed 31 rebounds. He also has nine assists and eight blocks. Embiid has done a little bit of everything for his team and it has earned them wins in the last two games.

In wins this season Embiid has averaged 27 points and is shooting 59 percent. In losses this season, he has averaged 17 points and is shooting just 40 percent from the field. In translation, the versatile big man has been very important to this young teams success.

Team Outlook

As of right now, the 76ers only go as far as Embiid and Simmons take them. They have a lot of good role players to mix and match around them, but the NBA is all about star power. Until Markelle Fultz gets healthy and Dario Saric picks up his play a little, Simmons and Embiid have to carry most of the load.

One guy who does not get enough credit is Robert Covington. Covington is shooting 50 percent from three this season and he attempts seven a game. He’s averaged 17 points per game and he and J.J. Redick have helped open up the lane for both Simmons and Embiid to do their damage.

The 76ers are a very dangerous ball club. They have the ability to play with anyone and beat anyone on any given night. With Embiid and Simmons leading the way, the 76ers are in good position to make the playoffs. Barring any serious injuries, the 76ers should end up in the 5-7 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. With Embiid playing at borderline MVP quality, the 76ers could shake up the Eastern Conference playoffs.

 

Featured Image from Booshsports.com.

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NBA injuries

Eight NBA players that absolutely, positively, cannot get injured

After watching Gordon Hayward go down with a gruesome ankle injury, it got us thinking. Who in the NBA can absolutely, positively, not go down with a serious injury?

Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons, the favorite for Rookie of the Year, is an Australian prodigy with an immense amount of talent. After being shut down last year because of a foot injury, Simmons is more motivated than ever. While being the best rookie would be nice, Simmons is focused on being the best player in the NBA.

Physically, Simmons is perfect for the “positionless” trend in the NBA. His size, athleticism and length are unparalleled to many. A gifted passer, Simmons has been called upon by Philadelphia to be their starting point guard. Keep in mind that he is 6-foot-10.

The NBA needs this man to stay healthy. He is one of the most hyped up players in a while, even drawing comparisons to LeBron James, due to his selfless style and high basketball IQ. In five preseason games, Simmons averaged 11.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists.

Joel Embiid

The GOAT on social media (Twitter.com)

Not only is Twitter better with a healthy Joel Embiid, but the NBA is a joy to watch when this man is on the court. Recently, we saw Embiid get into a Twitter fight with Miami Heat star Hassan Whiteside. The exchange was over a preseason game. I can’t even imagine what this guy is capable of over an entire season, both on and off the court.

In just 25.4 minutes per game last year, Embiid averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. His season was sadly cut short due to a left knee injury.

Recently, the 76ers told Embiid that he will be on minutes’ restriction to start the year. Embiid had a few harsh words to say on the decision, but you can’t not love this guy. He is absolutely hysterical and backed up his clown behavior with incredible numbers in his first 31 career games.

The 76ers could easily make a playoff run with Simmons and Embiid healthy. I will be praying to the basketball gods on a nightly basis to keep Embiid on the floor and all over social media. The NBA needs personalities like this, which is why Embiid’s health is so crucial.

Lonzo Ball

Big Baller Brand for life! If Lonzo were to get hurt, that means less LaVar. Is this a world you would want to live in? Actually, don’t answer that. Seriously though, the Lonzo Ball hype train has been full for months and itching to take off.

Because of his father’s comments, Lonzo is walking into the league with a target on his back. He is considered to be extremely calm and laid back, yet players already don’t like him. People are tired of hearing about him and he has yet to play a minute of meaningful basketball. Can he shoot? Will he get bullied? Does he have what it takes to bring the Lakers to the playoffs? LaVar believes so, but we can only wait and see.

If Zo were to get injured, we wouldn’t be able to see what shoe he will predominately be rocking on the court. If you watched any of the Summer League, you would know that the cameras were more focused on Ball’s footwear than the actual game.

Kyrie Irving

Headlining the biggest breakup saga of the summer, Irving is ready to be the man, and the point guard he knows he can be. Without Irving, the East would be a total joke. The only team that poses a threat to LeBron and the Cavs in the East is Kyrie’s Celtics.

Can Kyrie keep the Celtics afloat? (Photo from SI.com)

Say what you want about Washington and Toronto, but if Hayward comes back, the Celtics are the only team that could give the Cavs a run for their money. The NBA needs Uncle Drew on the floor.

Kyrie vs. Lebron in the Eastern Conference finals is a dream waiting to happen. We don’t really know exactly how they feel about each other, but we do know that they are not on talking terms.

The rivalry between Boston and Cleveland was growing, but now it has risen to another level. Irving could also make a serious run at MVP, so we can only pray as his injury history is rather suspect.

Lebron James

An NBA without LeBron James doesn’t seem possible, as he has never missed a significant amount of time, but you just never know.

LeBron, the obvious face of the NBA, is so vital it is not even funny. He now has beef with Kyrie, which gives the Eastern Conference some serious drama. And, of course, James and the Cavs always have their eyes on Golden State.

This season, James is looking to become the youngest player to reach 30,000 points. He will turn 33 in December and needs 1,213 points to eclipse 30,000. The youngest to 30,000 is currently Kobe Bryant, who accomplished this at 34 years and 104 days.

James could also become the first forward to ever achieve 8,000 career assists. The NBA would probably burn down if this man was out, but I really don’t think the basketball gods would let that happen.

Russell Westbrook

Mr. Triple-Double, Russ is a must-see on TV. He is arguably the most exciting player to watch, and now has serious talent around him. They told Russ it wasn’t possible to average a triple-double in today’s NBA, and he responded with a simple “why not?”

It’s not just his style of play that is exciting. Westbrook’s fashion game is out of this world. The man never wears an outfit twice, and has quite a peculiar taste in clothing. His postgame interviews are always a joy to watch, as he has no problem with making a reporter look foolish.

Also, the KD vs. Russ battle just got more interesting with the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Could we see these two duke it out in the Western Conference finals?

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Last season, the “Greek Freak” led the Bucks in scoring, assists, rebounding, steals and blocks. Antetokounmpo became the first player to ever finish top 20 in all five major statistical categories. He’s arguably the most lovable guy in the league.

Recently, Kevin Durant spoke extremely high of him, claiming Antetokounmpo could be the “best player to ever play if he really wanted to.” Durant would go on to say that Antetokounmpo is his favorite player to watch.

The best part is that he is only 22 years old. The sky is the limit for this kid. While Milwaukee won’t win the championship, they could be an interesting team. In a lot of insiders’ minds, Antetokounmpo is a dark horse for MVP. He has an incredible backstory and is the most innocent guy in the league.

Kristaps Porzingis

How great would it be if basketball was relevant again in New York? The “Unicorn” has a chance to make this happen. With Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony out of town, Porzingis has the opportunity to become a star in the Big Apple.

NBA injuries

Will the Unicorn make New York relevant? (Photo from ESPN.com)

Much like Antetokounmpo, Porzingis is young at age 22 and extremely likable. On at least two occasions, the Knicks star has slid into the “dm’s” of Instagram models. While the conversations may not have went as Porzingis hoped, you have to respect the game.

It’s a rebuilding year for the Knicks, but expect Porzingis to elevate his game. Last season, he averaged 18.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and two blocks a game. If Porzingis were to go down, people might forget that New York has professional basketball in their state.

 

 

Featured image by NY Daily News

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