With the second half of the NBA season chugging away, I feel inclined to put my non-existent reputation on the line by making six predictions of events yet to come this season:
1. The Celtics (Barring Rebuilding Trades) Will Make The Playoffs
This team isn’t done yet. They’re unlikely to climb out of the basement of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but the Celtics have come too far and overcome too much – the Perkins trade, injuries, age – to simply let the pedestrian Philadelphia 76ers, Andrew Bynum be damned, steal the 8th seed in what is presumably the final year of the Kevin Garnett – Paul Pierce era. On that note, once they make the playoffs, the Celtics will be finally dismantled by…
2. The Chicago Bulls, Who Will Surpass the Miami Heat for 1st in the Eastern Conference
The Bulls have shown the resilience, toughness, and fight that is synonymous with coach Tom Thibodeau this season, but few fans expected them to be sitting a mere three games behind the Heat at 27-17. Add in the realization of this commercial and their mediocre home record will be a thing of the past:
I won’t pretend to see them immediately catapulting past the Heat, but expect them to have the #1 seed all to themselves when the dust settles on the regular season.
3. The San Antonio Spurs Will Drop to the 2nd or 3rd Seed in the West
This one, in my mind, is simple. Anyone who watched the San Antonio Spurs’ playoff run is privy to the old idiom that ‘the bigger they are, the harder they fall’, and head coach Gregg Popovich is no exception. Rather than riding a winning streak into the playoffs, look for him to intentionally let the Spurs dip as the playoffs approach – resting players, experimenting now and then, giving touches to the Coyote, etc. – so that they are alert and hungry to prove their timelessness once again come the playoffs.
4. Terrence Ross Wins the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest
This video says it all:
Now stop and think for a second. Can you name any other current young player who 1) isn’t prone to the I’m-established-so-I-won’t-dunk virus and 2) has the same hype surrounding his ups? The answer is no.
5. The Los Angeles Lakers Make the Playoffs
Kobe Bryant finally gets it. No, really. When you have more assists in your last 3 games than in the previous 8, you’ve made a concerted effort to change. You’ve realized that what you’re doing isn’t working for this team, and you’ve sucked it up and adapted. The Lakers still have plenty of issues to work out, including Pau Gasol’s benching – Mike D’Antoni needs to make adjustments of his own to find ways to let two of the game’s best bigs play together – and other minute adjustments to Kobe as facilitator, but they can fix all these things while winning. However, all will be for naught if they only manage the final playoff spot in the West because they’ll get swept by…
6. The Oklahoma City Thunder, Who Will Win Their First Title
I had the privilege of watching this team play against the Toronto Raptors – many thanks to my girlfriend for the tickets – and was thoroughly impressed not just by the basketball they played, which has been exceptional all year long, but the intangibles surrounding their team. Despite the Raptors’ strongest attempts to make the game look like a contest, the Thunder were so confident that they were going to win that even I was convinced that Toronto’s efforts were only delaying the inevitable. Throw in the considerably tougher path to the Finals through the East this year as Miami, Chicago, and New York all see themselves as legitimate title contenders, and the Thunder’s victory seems even more assured. Beyond the superb play of my MVP favourite, Kevin Durant – more on that in an article in the future, I’m sure – Russell Westbrook’s athleticism, Serge Ibaka’s offensive progress and Kevin Martin’s seamless assimilation, what makes the Thunder so great is that they have several players who put aside their ego and simply do what it takes to win games. Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha, and Nick Collison lead a contingent of hardworking cogs that do everything they can within their skill sets to help their team without demanding touches or glory. Their combination of talent and unselfish hard work make the Thunder my unquestioned pick to win the Larry O’Brien trophy this June.