The NBA’s Second Half

Golden+State+Warriors+Stephen+Curry%2C+left%2C+and+Andre+Iguodala+celebrate+with+the+Larry+OBrien+Trophy+after+Game+6+of+basketballs+NBA+Finals+in+Cleveland%2C+Wednesday%2C+June+17%2C+2015.+The+Warriors+defeated+the+Cleveland+Cavaliers+105-97+to+win+the+best-of-seven+game+series+4-2.+%28AP+Photo%2FPaul+Sancya%29+ORG+XMIT%3A+OHMC1

AP

Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry, left, and Andre Iguodala celebrate with the Larry O’Brien Trophy after Game 6 of basketball’s NBA Finals in Cleveland, Wednesday, June 17, 2015. The Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-97 to win the best-of-seven game series 4-2. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) ORG XMIT: OHMC1

Matt Harris

Staff Writer

As the All-Star break came and went last weekend with Aaron Gordon and Zach Lavine dominating the dunk contest, Russ Westbrook winning All-Star game MVP again, and Paul George coming within one point of setting the All-Star game record for points scored in the game. Now that we’re getting back to actual basketball, let’s take a look at the teams who are poised to make a postseason run and who will start tanking.

The Eastern Conference:

Cleveland has been at the top all season despite firing coach David Blatt mid-season and relatively under-performing for the talent on their roster. However, they are almost a sure lock for the number one seed. They are the heavy favorites to be the Eastern Conference representative in the NBA Finals and you can never count out post-season Lebron James. Bron will be hungrier than ever to bring a championship to his beloved Northeast Ohio team. If anyone in the east can give the Cavs a run for their money, it is undoubtedly the Toronto Raptors. The One-Two punch of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will keep the Raps in the conversation, but when it comes time for the Eastern Conference Finals I fully expect the Cavs to take down Toronto. The rest of the east is mostly a non-factor. The Boston Celtics are currently the number three seed, impressive for a team without a true star player and a team that is supposed to be in “rebuilding” mode. As for the rest of the east, it is very similar. The eight seeded Chicago Bulls are just three games back from the three seeded Celtics so there could potentially be a lot of shifting between seeds three and eight between now and April when the playoffs start. Detroit and Washington are both still hypothetically in the east playoff race but I don’t see either getting higher than the number seven seed. That sets up a first round playoff date with either Cleveland or Toronto, almost guaranteeing an early playoff exit. Everyone else is playing out their schedule simply because they have to at this point.

The Western Conference:

Golden State headed into the All-Star break with a 48-4 record, the best 52 game start in NBA history. But a loss to Portland last week means that the San Antonio Spurs have pulled within three games of the Warriors. Although the Spurs are far and away the oldest team in the league, they are somehow off to the best start in franchise history. It is without dispute that Golden State and San Antonio are the two best teams in the league this year. This doesn’t include the Oklahoma City Thunder who have held about the same record as Cleveland all year. All three could make deep postseason runs and it’s crazy to think that at least one of them won’t make the Western Conference Finals. Behind Oklahoma City in the standings is the L.A. Clippers. The Clips were expected to do a little better than they have been this season, which has been marred by drama and injury. It all started last summer when Clipper free agent Deandre Jordan announced he would be signing with the Dallas Mavericks only to spur them and head back to L.A. after coach Doc Rivers and fellow teammates held him hostage at his house and convinced him to stay. After the whole Deandre Jordan saga, Blake Griffin injured his leg and right before he was set to return, punched an assistant in the face, breaking his left hand. This new injury is expected to keep Griffin out for at least a month and a half and he will serve a suspension following his return to the team, likely keeping him out until the playoffs begin. Not to mention that the Clippers shopped him around before the trade deadline which may cause even more controversy in the locker room. Outside of the top three teams in the west, I do not see any NBA Finals contenders. Perhaps the conference’s biggest disappointment is the Houston Rockets. Last year’s Western Conference runner up is just 28-28 this season and barely hanging on to a playoff spot. Dwight Howard is also expected to leave in the off season. If you aren’t the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, or Clippers, I would suggest tanking.

NBA Playoff Predictions:

The East is easy. Although they have much more depth this year than the usually dominant Western Conference, the East really only has two legit NBA Finals contenders. Everyone fully expects it to come down to Cleveland and Toronto. I think Cleveland beats Toronto in six games. I could see the Celtics maybe sneaking into the East Finals, but other than that I don’t see many upsets happening this year. The same goes for the West. Steph Curry has set the league on fire en route to what will likely be his second straight MVP campaign. The Warriors were also the only team with three all stars this season. The Spurs are a serious threat and I absolutely see them getting to the NBA Finals. However they are an old team, and Golden State only lost 4 of their first 52 games. It would take 4 Golden State losses in 7 games to knock them out of the playoffs and I just don’t see that happening. No drama this year.

My Prediction: Golden State beats Cleveland in the NBA Finals 4-2.