One half down, one to go. It seems like the first half of this season has flown by, hasnâ€™t it? Didnâ€™t we just start the season a couple months ago? Checks schedule. Oh right, we did. Stupid lockout. Among other things, weâ€™ve already seen a first half of Miami bludgeoning opponents, an undrafted kid from Harvard taking over New York, the Clippers actually being relevant, and the worst dunk contest ever. Good times! With two months in the books, itâ€™s time to take a look at what the second half of the season will have in store for us. In my quest to be able to look back on these predictions in June and laugh at how absurdly wrong they are, here are five bold predictions for the second half:
Dwight Howard will remain with Orlando through the end of the season. Relying on Magic GM Otis Smith to make the right move and trade Dwight rather than letting him walk for nothing is a risky proposition. Unfortunately for Smith, there are not a ton of trades out there that make sense for both parties. The Lakers are not going to package both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol for Howard and Hedo Turkogluâ€™s albatross of a contract. Are the Lakers even a better team after that trade? You donâ€™t need the Trade Machine to tell you that they are not.
Who even becomes the Lakers third best player if they get Howard in that trade? New Jersey is another team linked to Howard, but they too would need to gut their team to land Dwight. Brook Lopez would obviously be the centerpiece of the deal, but there is roughly a $15 million difference in contracts between the two players and the Nets are already over the salary cap. Pairing Dwight and Deron Williams together is an alluring concept, but that is most likely to happen in Dallas in the offseason, not in Jersey by the trade deadline. A Golden State trade consisting of Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins for Howard? If there was more than a 1% possibility of Howard signing long term with the Warriors, I think Golden State would be open to this, but I donâ€™t see it happening. When all is said and done, the Magic will roll the dice and try to make a championship run in a season where everything is wide open. They wonâ€™t be successful at it, but theyâ€™re going to try it anyway.
Charlotte will not finish with the worst record in the league. Charlotte reminds me a lot of last yearâ€™s Cleveland team. They are absolutely excruciating to watch. Staring at their roster, you canâ€™t help but wonder, â€œSoâ€¦which of these guys is announced last during team introductions? Itâ€™s usually the spot reserved for the best player on the team.â€ The Cavs last year managed to pull off a 26 game losing streak and still not finish with the worst record in the league. Charlotte already has a 16 game losing streak under their belts and still has half of the season remaining. After starting the season with nine of their first 11 games against current playoff teams, the good news is that their second half schedule is considerably easier. They finish the season with a host of winnable games in April with Toronto, Washington (twice), Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans, and New York on the last day of the season when the Knicks conceivably could have a playoff spot locked up and be resting their starters.
When itâ€™s all said and done, the Washington Wizards will be left with the worst record in the NBA. Ernie Grunfeld has proven in the past that he has no qualms about dismantling a roster, and itÂ wouldn’tÂ surprise me to see him do it again. Aside from Rashard Lewisâ€™s ridiculous contract, no one on the Wizards makes over $6.5 million which means they have a slew of tradable assets that can be flipped for low level players and picks; basically, anyone not named John Wall on this team should be available. The combination of a dearth of talent and potentially changing team chemistry is going to be enough for the worst record in the league.
The Indiana Pacers will secure the 3 seed. Prior to the season, my assessment of the Pacers was that a 3 seed was their ceiling, 4-5 seed was most likely, and 6 seed or below would have been a failure of a season. After watching the first half, itâ€™s looking more and more like they are going to reach their ceiling and lock up that 3 seed. Not only do the Pacers have a ton of talent capable of playing in both well lit gyms and, as Paul George showed during the dunk contest, glow-in-the-dark facilities, they are the only Eastern playoff team that has cap room – $14,270,964 of cap room to be exact. This makes them a major sleeper to make a big move at the trade deadline since they really do not have to worry about coming close to matching salaries on a potential trade. Whether they choose to use up some of their cap room at the deadline or wait until the offseason to chase someone like hometown boy Eric Gordon remains to be seen; regardless, given Orlandoâ€™s instability, Philadelphiaâ€™s offensive woes, and the fact that under no circumstances should you ever trust the Hawks, Indiana will maintain its hold on the 3 seed heading into May.
Boston will not make the playoffs. If the fans of Boston have learned anything over the past six months, itâ€™s not to count their chickens before they hatch. A Red Sox team predicted to be one of the greatest of all time ended up not making the playoffs while the Patriots came into Indianapolis favored to win the Super Bowl and were defeated by the Giants. It seems unfathomable that a Celtics squad that many thought could take out the Heat last year could miss out on the playoffs a year later, but this is not your slightly older brotherâ€™s Celtics. The season started poorly for them with Jeff Green needing heart surgery, and it hasnâ€™t necessarily improved from there. The Big Three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett is a year older and looks every bit of it. There is not a defender in the league who respects Rajon Rondoâ€™s jumper enough to stay within four feet of him. Chemistry wise, the team still looks like they are reeling from the Kendrick Perkins for Green deal at last yearâ€™s trade deadline. In the long term, Ubuntu has proven to be a better operating system for computers than it has for a basketball team. The last game of the season for the Celtics has them hosting the Milwaukee Bucks. I see the Bucks going into Boston, sneaking out a win, and securing the eighth seed in order to set up an intriguing first round series with the Miami Heat, a team that Milwaukee has given fits to all season long.
San Antonio will beat Oklahoma City in the playoffs. From the â€œIf Something Seems Too Good to Be True, It Probably Isâ€ file, we have Oklahoma City as the favorites to come out of the West. The Thunder have been impossibly healthy this year with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins all playing in at least 33 of the 34 games for the Thunder this season. Meanwhile, San Antonio has, as usual, quietly been taking care of business down in Texas. They currently sit three games behind OKC in the Western standings, and this is after having Manu Ginobli only play in nine games so far this year. Gregg Popovich, more than anyone, knows how to prepare his team to compete with a shortened schedule. If that means resting his star players in exchange for a 40 point drubbing, heâ€™ll do it. This isnâ€™t Popâ€™s first rodeo, and just like 1999, the Spurs will have done just enough to sneak past OKC in a memorable seven game Western Conference Finals.
And now we wait. I have no clue how accurate my crystal basketball will turn out to be; I just know it’s going to be fun getting to June and seeing the rest of the season play out. Â Enjoy the second half everyone.