The NBA All-Star game is approaching, marking the mid-way point of the season, so it’s time to look back at the first half and point out the stars that have shined brightest.
It’s more of the same for this season compared to last; teams such as the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs are sitting atop the NBA. There are even some who think the Finals are already set in stone and believe we will see a rematch between LeBron James’ Cavaliers and Stephen Curry’s Warriors.
Both are dominating their divisions and lead their respective conferences. Golden State has the best record in the NBA, going 34-6 through their first 40 games. Chasing them in the Western Conference are teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers. San Antonio sits three games back of Golden State, according to ESPN.com with a 31-9 record and are lead by the two-time Defensive Player-of-the-Year Kawhi Leonard.
Only half a game back of the Spurs and 3.5 behind the Warriors are the Houston Rockets, who have been one of the more surprising teams this season. Even though they managed to slide their way into the playoffs last year, they had only finished with a 41-41 record. Just halfway through the season, they are only 10 wins away from tying last season’s win total. Their 32-11 record is due in large part to the play of MVP-candidate James Harden. In 43 games played, Harden has averaged 28.4 points per game, with a league-leading 11.7 assists per game, and adding 8.2 rebounds per game.
Teams like the Clippers, the Utah Jazz, and the Oklahoma City Thunder all sit seven or more games back of the Warriors, but are still in playoff positions. After Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors after losing to them in the Western Conference Finals, questions about Oklahoma City began to arise, and Russell Westbrook was there to answer.
Losing a four-time scoring champion in Durant is never easy, but Westbrook has put his name into the contention for MVP just as his ex-teammate Harden has. Westbrook has averaged a triple-double this season with 30.9 points, 10.5 assists and 10.7 rebounds per game. Westbrook leads the league in triple-doubles with 19, eight more than Harden, who’s second in the league with 11. Both Westbrook and Harden have carried their teams all season and are undoubtedly the two front-running candidates for MVP this season.
Filling in the last two spots of the Western Conference are the Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trailblazers. Memphis and the seventh-seed seems to be almost a lock even midway through the season. The Grizzlies have a 25-18 record, while Portland is 6.5 games back at 18-24. The eighth seed will be up for grabs; the Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets are only one game back of Portland and there’s plenty of season left.
Unfortunately, the Timberwolves are the fourth team behind Portland and the eighth seed in the West, but they only sit 3.5 games back of that eighth spot. Playoffs are in reach; it’s just going to take a lot of effort and more consistent play from the team as a whole. Head coach Tom Thibodeau has the Timberwolves playing good defense as of late and maybe Minnesota can regroup and turn their season around after the All-Star break.
Over in the Eastern Conference, Cleveland reigns supreme. The Cavaliers have had their ups-and-downs this season, but the second-half of the season could turn things around in a hurry. With a 29-10 record, the Cavaliers are 2.5 games up on the Toronto Raptors, who are in the second seed sitting at 27-13. The Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards round out the top five teams in the Eastern Conference. The Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls finish off the teams that are sitting in a playoff spot.
Much can change however from now until playoffs. Washington, Milwaukee and Indiana all share a 20-19 record, while the Bulls and Charlotte Hornets are only half of a game back of the Wizards in the fifth seed. Charlotte, at 20-20, is the last team above the .500 mark.
There is still a lot of basketball to be played and we could still potentially see a lot of movement in the standings from now, to the last game of the regular season. However, teams are starting to separate themselves and take on their mid-season form. We know the teams that are going to finish in the top few spots; what will be interesting to see is what shifting takes place in the lower seeds throughout the rest of the season.
The Western Conference seems to be the stronger conference once again. Golden State and San Antonio are the favorites from that conference, yet maybe the Rockets, Clippers, or even the Thunder can make some noise in the playoffs. Cleveland is really the only team in the East that has a chance at winning an NBA championship. It would not be wise however to sleep on Toronto. If Cleveland continues to struggle in finding their rhythm, anything could happen in the East. For the time being, most basketball fans are gearing up for a rematch between Golden State and Cleveland. There’s more basketball to be played, and all the more excitement for NBA fans.