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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Who Can Knock Off Cleveland

Cleveland Cavaliers’ Threats in the Eastern Conference

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the clear-cut favorites to win the Eastern Conference and make it to the Finals. It makes you think: Who can knock off Cleveland in the East? Most assume that the Warriors and Cavaliers will meet for a third-straight Finals but that assumption could be dangerous. There are teams who could beat the Cavs and mess up everyone’s dream matchup.

The first version of this short series looked at who could knock off Golden State. If you haven’t read it you can check it out here.

LeBron James has led his team to the Finals for six straight years. It is safe to say the road to the Finals goes through Cleveland. Because it has been so long since a team not featuring LeBron has been to the Finals, it is hard to see anyone beating Cleveland in the East. Here are a few teams with the shot to dethrone the Eastern Conference Champions.

Boston Celtics

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

Boston is just three games back of the Cavaliers for the number one seed and have one more game remaining against the Cavs. Getting that first seed could be the all-important factor in the Celtics’ chances of upsetting Cleveland as the home team has won every game this season. The Cavs have won two of the three games but all have been close contests.

In all three games, Isaiah Thomas has scored 30 points or more. They match up well all along the wing with valuable minutes coming from Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown. Boston’s depth gives them a shot at the upset.

To beat Cleveland in a seven game series, Boston will need its frontcourt to play well. It is the weakest area of the team and they have the fourth worst rebounding differential (-3.6) in the NBA. In their recent win over Cleveland, they won the rebounding battle 47-41.

Getting home court can be helpful but the key to Boston upsetting Cleveland will be in the frontcourt play and they will have to win that rebound battle with a healthy Kevin Love who did not play in the last matchup.

Toronto Raptors

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Like a few other teams in the NBA, the Raptors are dealing with injuries. Kyle Lowry is a key player for Toronto and without him the Raptors have no shot at upsetting the Cavs. With that said, Lowry should be back in time for the playoffs.

Last season the Raptors faced the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals but lost the series 4-2. The Raptors struggled in the front court in that series.

The addition of Serge Ibaka was one of the most important in-season deals this year. Ibaka not only gives the Raptors a presence in the frontcourt, but he can stretch the floor on offense. He is a shot blocker on the defensive end and has lots of playoff experience.

Another addition that will help the Raptors chances of upsetting the Cavs is the addition of P.J. Tucker. Tucker provides a spark off the bench and impacts the game in multiple ways. It remains to be seen where this team will finish in the standings but this team should not be taken lightly. DeMar DeRozen needs to be a superstar for them to win a series against Cleveland as well.

They got off to a horrible slump against the Cavs last year but with those two additions they are a better team then they were last season. The Cavs cannot take them lightly or this season the Cavs will be sent home early.

Washington Wizards

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

John Wall and Bradley Beal are both having their best seasons of their careers. It can be argued that they have the best backcourt in all of basketball. Yes, as good as Golden State’s backcourt. Wall is second in assists per game with 10.9. Both guards average 22 points per game. These two stars carry the Wizards but the role players are they key to upsetting the Cavs.

Marcin Gortat is a veteran who plays big inside the paint. He could give the Cavs problems in a seven game series. Along with Gortat, the Wizards get big contributions from Markieff Morris, Jason Smith, and Kelly Oubre Jr.

The Wizards are also getting a career year out of Otto Porter who is averaging a career-high in minutes (33.8), field goal percentage (52.6%), three-point percentage (45.7%), free throw percentage (80%), rebounds (6.6), steals (1.6), blocks (0.6), and points (14.1).

This team has been playing well, especially at home were they are 25-9. Washington also signed veteran point guard Brandon Jennings will have a big impact off the bench when giving Wall some rest. They also traded for Bojan Bogdanovic who has played in five games with Washington and most recently dropped 27 points on the Raptors. As he finds his role with the Wizards he will become a valuable player. These two additions together will be huge in their pursuit of the Eastern Conference Championship.

It will take a team effort but with how well the Wizards play at home all they need to do is steal a game on the road. If they steal a game in Cleveland and John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter continue their amazing season they will upset Cleveland.

 

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Injuries are Shaking up the NBA

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

Key NBA Injuries This Season

Rudy Gay

NBA injuries

Rudy Gay (Photo courtesy: slamonline.com)

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

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

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

Zach Lavine

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

Jabari Parker

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

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

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

Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid

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

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

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

Kevin Love

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

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

Kyle Lowry

NBA injuries

Kyle Lowry (Photo courtesy: grantland.com)

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

Kevin Durant

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

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

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

 

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All Star Weekend 17

NBA All-Star Weekend 2017

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

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

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

NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: Pintrest)

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

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

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

MVP Prediction: Jason Williams

Winning Team Prediction: Jemele Hill’s

 

Rising Stars Challenge

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

MVP Prediction: Devin Booker

Winning Team Prediction: United States

 

Skills Challenge

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

Prediction Winner: Isaiah Thomas 

 

3-Point Contest

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit:Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports)

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

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

Prediction Winner: C.J. McCollum

 

 

 

 

Slam Dunk Contest

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

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: www.draftexpress.com)

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

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

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

Prediction Winner: Derrick Jones Jr.

 

66th NBA All-Star Game

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

NBA All-Star Weekend

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

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

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

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

MVP Prediction: Russell Westbrook

Prediction Winner: West 176-170

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

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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NBA New Year’s Resolutions: Eastern Conference

The NBA season is inching closer and closer to the All-star break, meaning the painting of the 2016-2017 season is almost complete.

Teams now have to look at their respective seasons and determine if the direction they’re heading in is the one they planned for prior to the season starting. There have been surprises and disappointments throughout this still early part of the season.

However, the NBA season is a long one. For prospering teams, success is fleeting. It’s not a wise choice to rest on early accomplishments; always continue to grow. Conversely, a bad season can turn with one hot streak putting a team directly in the thick of the playoff race.

With the new year beginning, some teams may want to make resolutions in the new year as the competition begins to heat up. There’s no time like the present to shore up some deficiencies that can be exploited in the playoffs. When the game slows down, coaches and their staffs have time to game plan, and the will to win escalates.

Let’s take a look at three Eastern Conference resolutions.

Boston Celtics- Get physical on the glass

The Boston Celtics are sitting pretty at third in the conference, but almost every game played seems to be a close one. The Celtics are a plus 19.5 net rating in the clutch this season in 24 such games. Isaiah Thomas is in the top five in scoring with almost 28 points per game and should be a lock for an All-Star spot in the East. Avery Bradley is having a career year across the board, along with the rest of the team contributing in positive ways.

Rebounding happens to not be one of those things that Boston is needing help in. They are bottom three in the league, grabbing 41 rebounds per 100 possessions.

In December, the Celtics were outrebounded in 13 of their 14 games, going 7-6 in those games. Opponents grab 11 offensive rebounds per 100 possessions, which is the fifth most in the league. Additionally, the leading rebounder on the team is Bradley at seven per game. This squad has played in a lot of close games, and has performed well. Gaining a rebounding advantage against opponents can be the difference in wins and losses.

Toronto Raptors- Shoot more from behind the arc

With a 113 offensive rating, the Raptors are only percentage points behind the Golden State Warriors who have a team made up of hyper-efficient players. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are leading this team every night. Lowry is another Eastern Conference All-Star lock and having an incredibly efficient offensive season. His defense has also been up to the task. The Raptors are in the top five in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and three-point percentage.

This is team that does everything in its power to get the ball in the hoop. Even with a stellar three-point rate, the team north of the border doesn’t take many.  Only 28% of the team’s total points come from three-point land. Cleveland and Golden State sit at 39% and 35% respectively. What’s even more perplexing is that Toronto has six players that shoot 36% or above from distance – only one of those players average more than five attempts – Lowry at 7.6 attempts per game.

Charlotte Hornets- Limit opponent open threes

Steve Clifford’s team is one of the rising teams in teams in the East. The Hornets do a lot of things very well, particularly on defense. They are seventh in defensive efficiency, have an incredible defensive rebound percentage, and their opponent free throw rate that ranks 1st in the league.

Charlotte allows 30 three point attempts a game. The Hornets allow 12 open threes a game. Opponents aren’t hitting their open shots, startlingly. Teams are only shooting 33 percent on the open threes that Charlotte provides. This could be based on the teams that they’re up against, or less likely, luck. Either way, this is one of those regular season trends that could come back to haunt them in the postseason.

After giving up a rare offensive rebound, Charlotte failed to recover to the open Nikola Mirotic — waiting for the pass. No one fully commits on the closeout and Mirotic drains an open three in important time in the game.

 

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2016-17 NBA Season Preview: The Atlantic Division

NBA Season Preview Series by Danny w/the J: Atlantic Division

Daniel Richardson

Jay Louden

The 2016 NBA season is rapidly approaching and with the wild offseason over, the time has arrived for assessing the status of teams heading into training camp and predicting what fans can expect out of their respective teams. Disclaimer: We in no shape or form claim to know everything about basketball, but we do confess our love for the game and will make statements for each team built on sound arguments. With that in mind, let us begin…

Philadelphia 76ers

1st overall pick Ben Simmons will sit out a god portion of the season with a knee injury; a trend among 76ers 1st round picks in recent years.

  • Offseason: The Philadelphia 76ers drafted Ben Simmons with the number one overall pick. The team also signed their 12th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Dario Saric. The number one pick embodies the whole offseason for the 76ers. Hopefully Simmons can turn into the player they need for them to begin winning again.
  • 2016-17 Outlook: Drafting Ben Simmons and having Joel Embiid participate in any capacity will bring good things for this team. With that in mind, there are still holes in the roster.  Most obvious being the guard positions with the talent on roster skewed to the center position. The lack of shooting is almost cringe-worthy. The future of Jahlil Okafor on the team has the potential to be a distraction, but in all likelihood it won’t be. Brett Brown has shown to have a good handle on things in Philly so there shouldn’t be any surprises for him. The task is to take what he has and continue the climb back to prominence.

Jay: Simmons out for an extended period means this team will be just a bunch of draft picks with no direction. Philly is in for a similar season as the last and a shoo-in for the lottery. Philly needs to do what Minnesota did and hire a coach that can harness all the accumulated talent before they can have a sense of direction.

Daniel: No playoffs for this squad. Again. Sam Hinkie preached about trusting the process and it eventually got him fired. That’s what a martyr is, right? They got the number one overall pick in last year’s draft, and that’s what they’ll be playing for again this season. There isn’t any more doom and gloom for this team. They’ll still lose a lot but not nearly as much. I’m willing to predict a 25-57 season.

Boston Celtics

(Courtesy: Boston.com)

(Courtesy: Boston.com)

  • Offseason: The Boston Celtics Signed free-agent C Al Horford to a four-year contract. That was their offseason. Beantown was hoping for a star free-agent and they got a pretty big one.  They drafted Jaylen Brown with the third overall pick. The team added Gerald Green and Tyler Zeller also. Evan Turner opted to not return to the team and instead signed with the Portland Trailblazers.
  • 2016-17 Outlook: Any starting lineup with Al Horford in it is going to be productive. He is the model big man and the Celtics now have him. How far they go with him is the mystery. They were the fourth seed last season and were taken out of the postseason by Horford’s former team, the Atlanta Hawks. With the rest of the east (outside of two teams) scrambling and without any continuity, the Celtics should have no problem vaulting themselves into top two conversations. The defense and offense both stand to take a jump. This team is a legitimate problem.

 

Jay: Top 5 seed in the east. I like Brad Stevens as coach and I think they will be a good team in the east. The Celtics will be fun to watch.

Daniel: Isaiah Thomas and Horford pick and rolls will be potent, mostly because of Horford’s ability to move the ball from side to side. Teams are going to have a hard time trying to stop this team from scoring with the shooting they possess. 50+ wins is just the floor for them.

Brooklyn Nets

(Courtesy Sportingnews.com)

(Courtesy Sportingnews.com)

  • Offseason:  The Brooklyn Nets drafted Caris LeVert with the pick they received from the Indiana Pacers for Thaddeus Young.  The biggest deal for the team was the signing of Jeremy Lin to a multiyear contract. Other additions were Luis Scola, Randy Foye, Greivis Vasquez, former top Pick Anthony Bennett, and power forward Trevor Booker.
  • 2016-17 Outlook: The Nets have a new coach in Kenny Atkinson and have a roster filled with a bunch of veteran guys. Atkinson has spent a very healthy amount of time in Atlanta with a relatively competent front office and helped run a very formidable offense two years ago. Could he bring that culture to the Nets? Maybe. Brook Lopez is older and Jeremy Lin, who might’ve had his best season since Linsanity with the Charlotte Hornets, will be tasked with manning the offense. In other words, anything is possible.

Jay: The Nets will be on the outside looking in at best come playoff time, but won’t get in the playoffs. The team will be able to score, but I question their ability to defend with the likes of Jeremy Lin, Sean Kilpatrick and others, who are offensively gifted, but defensively challenged.

Daniel: No playoffs for the Nets I’m afraid. The roster doesn’t exactly exude confidence, nor does it possess a lot of talent. With teams in this division getting better and in the east in general, the Nets have a long way to go to compete.

Toronto Raptors

Toronto is looking to build off the success they had last year with their core still in tact

  • Offseason: With a fairly successful season coming into the offseason, there wasn’t much to be done. DeMar DeRozan signed a multi-year extension and Jared Sullinger was added to the fold also. Undrafted rookie Fred Van Vleet signed a contract with the Raptors.
  • Outlook 2016-17: Toronto fans can sit and relax. Coming off an Eastern Conference Finals berth and taking the Championship Cavaliers to six games, this team is on an upward trajectory. Kyle Lowry had an optimal showing as backup point guard in Rio with Team USA. The only thing the Raptors have to do is maintain a level of concentration and poise that can keep them ultra-competitive.

Jay: The Raptors lost Bismack Biyombo so their defense will be challenged, but they will still make the playoffs thanks to Lowry, DeRozen and Jonas Valanciunas and get somewhere in the 2-4 seed range.

Daniel: Toronto will probably have to compete with Boston for the number two seed in the East. They could have a 53-29 season which seems just about right for them.

New York Knicks

Porzingis giving Dirk a taste of his own 3-point medicine at MSG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Offseason: Busy is the word for the Knicks this offseason. The effectiveness is yet to be seen though. The Knicks added Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings, and Derrick Rose. They also traded away Robin Lopez and former first round pick Jerian Grant. Lance Thomas was resigned to a deal as well. Derrick Williams signed elsewhere with the Miami Heat.
  • 2016-17 Outlook: With all of the players added in the offseason, it would be a complete travesty to forget about Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis is the present and the future of the Knicks, and he has to be involved in the games. Standing around and watching Jennings, Carmelo Anthony, and Rose dribble the ball for 18 seconds on offense isn’t going to motivate him to compete on the other end. The fanfare for this “super-team” needs to die down and our attention needs to shift to KP.

Jay: If Melo wants to eliminate his me-first image, it’s this season. Heading out of Rio as the veteran and leader, he needs to continue this position and play a passing role along with the rest of the team. Porzingis can develop into the next Dirk Nowitzki (or dare I say even better?). The team has to recognize that they’re all past their prime and if they want to win in the near future, KP is their Big Ticket. If all goes right, the Knicks wind up the 7th seed in the east.

Daniel: Anywhere from a 6th -8th seed is possible for this team. Jeff Hornacek is a pretty good coach, and the roster has some competence to it. The front office commitment to the Triangle Office is still mind-boggling, but it would be wise to watch and see what happens with that. Is it crazy of me to predict a 44-38 season?

 

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“From Our House to Yours”

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.

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