NBA mid-season full report: playoff outlooks, first half awards

BY MARK DOURMASHKIN ’14
Contributing writer

The first half of the NBA season is already a thing of the past, and now it’s time to evaluate the season to date. So far there have been teams exceeding their expectations (Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, and the Chicago Bulls), and underachievers such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. There are also those teams maintaining their greatness (Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs) or competing for the worst record in the NBA (New Orleans Hornets and Washington Wizards).

The second half of the season promises to be very compelling one as the perennial basketball powerhouses, Lakers and Celtics look to make a run into the playoffs and key players return from injury. For now, let’s address the current situation with the Lakers and Celtics, assess the playoff outlook, and give out the first half awards.

Can the Lakers and Celtics save their season?

Yes for the Celtics; no for the Lakers. Even though I think the Los Angeles Lakers will play better than the Boston Celtics during the second half, the Celtics play in the Eastern Conference, which has typically been an easier conference. If the Celtics just win half of their games for the rest of the season they should be able to sneak into the playoffs. The Celtics currently stand in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They are three games ahead of the ninth place, Philadelphia 76ers and six games ahead of the Detroit Pistons. Unless Andrew Bynum comes back and plays like an MVP (which is extremely unlikely) or the Detroit Pistons turn the clock back 10 years, I don’t see either team making a serious run at the Boston Celtics for the final playoff spot.

Eventually, I think it comes down to how the Boston Celtics will handle the loss of Rajon Rondo. Losing one of the best point guards in the league is a huge blow for the Boston Celtics. Rondo is one of those players who makes everyone around him better. With a veteran coach in Doc Rivers and season veterans, Kevin Garrett and Paul Pierce, the Celtics will be able to overcome Rondo’s loss and make the Eastern Conference playoffs. Rondo cannot be replaced, so guards Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry will have to help fill the void at point guard in Rondo’s absence.

The Los Angles Lakers on the other hand have a much bigger problem than the Boston Celtics. For one, the Western Conference is more competitive than the Eastern Conference and the Lakers have been dealing with chemistry issues the entire season. If the playoffs started today, the Lakers would not make the playoffs and currently stand four games behind the Houston Rockets who are in eighth place. If the Lakers missed the playoffs, it would only be the second time during the Kobe Bryant era they have failed to do so. The Lakers began the season with high hopes to win the NBA championship after signing all-stars, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Surprisingly the Lakers started the season 1-4 and stunningly fired their head coach Mike Brown. Since Mike D’Antoni has taken over the team, it has been nothing short of a failure in Los Angeles where winning is a normality for the Lakers.

To be fair, the Lakers have been plagued by injuries this season with Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol missing games. Ultimately, the Lakers will fall short of the playoffs because they lack the consistency and chemistry of a winning basketball team. I think it is time the Lakers realize Dwight Howard is only hurting their chances of winning and trade him.

Playoff Outlook

Now we know the Lakers will be watching the playoffs from their couches and the Celtics will be competing from another Championship, let’s look at some potential matchups. The Heat are the class of the East but face a number of teams that could challenge their chances at winning the Eastern Conference Championship again. Even though the New York Knicks have been making all the headlines in the first half of the season, the Chicago Bulls create the biggest threat to the Heat. The Bulls are one of the top defensive teams in the NBA and are expecting their MVP point guard, Derrick Rose to return in the next couple of weeks. The matchup everyone would want to see in the playoffs would be the New York Knicks versus the Brooklyn Nets.

If it wasn’t already a rivalry, that playoff series will certainly make it one. In the West, the ageless San Antonio Spurs hold the best record ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I think the playoff race in the West will come down to whether Chris Paul’s knee is healthy. If it is, I think the without a doubt, the Los Angeles Clippers will contend to win the Western Conference. If Chris Paul is not healthy, I don’t see the Clippers nor the Spurs, Memphis grizzles or Golden State Warriors challenging the Thunder in the West Conference.

First Half Awards

MVP: Kevin Durant — Oklahoma City Thunder
Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard — Portland Trail Blazers
Coach of the Year: Mark Woodson — New York Knicks
Finals Predictions: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Chicago Bulls

Questions? Email Mark at mdourmas@fandm.edu.

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