While we all have a keen eye for the obvious, let’s take a look at 10 things to watch for in 2017 (2nd half of the NBA season):
1: The Warriors Quest for 70
Almost every “expert” out there was quick to question chemistry and cohesiveness. The first thing that spewed from their mouths was that the Warriors would not break the 73 win regular season record they set last year. While that may be true, 70 wins was always a benchmark we should’ve taken a deeper look at. They’re currently on pace to get exactly that total. If the Warriors go 40-7 the rest of the way (extremely attainable barring injury/rest) this feat will be accomplished. Look out!
2: The Rockets Quest for 60
With James Harden at the top and Coach D’Antoni steering the ship, the lack of defense left everyone to believe this couldn’t be more than a 50 win team. But with sharp shooting and historical nightly performances by The Beard, the Rockets are on pace to win 61 games this season. Who saw that coming?
3: The Health of J.R. Smith
We all have discussed the ‘rest’ conundrum that seems to be taking over the league. Kyrie, LeBron and Love have all missed games thus far due to rest. However, the biggest missing piece may be JR Smith. Keep an eye on his timetable to return from injury and how well he eases back into the lineup. Say what you want, but his sharpshooting and ability to chase Curry and/or Klay in the finals will be vital to the Cavaliers success.
4: Free Agency/Trade Rumors surrounding the Raptors
Both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been playing lights out this season. There’s something about building that Olympic level confidence that does wonders for veterans. They reign at number 2 in the east above the others, but just can’t seem to figure it out versus those who matter most. The Cavaliers. Let’s see if they look to make any moves to help them get over the top, or if they keep faith in the current roster as is.
5: Free Agency/Trade Rumors surrounding the Celtics
As with the Raptors, the Celtics seem to have built cohesiveness and have accepted their identity. What they lack in name, they put forth in effort. Nevertheless, it appears that they need one big name to help them get over the top. They play defense, and they can score with the best of them. But no one has fear of anyone on that roster. Who do you legit walk into the arena and say “Oh no, I gotta guard this guy all night”. Isaiah Thomas? Al Horford? We’ll see if they make one more move.
6: Kawhi Leonard’s Confidence
Kawhi has put up numbers so far this regular season that no one expected him to do so quickly. Especially with Gasol and Aldridge down low both capable of scoring the basketball. Kawhi was able to lean on Duncan, Parker and Ginobili for veteran leadership and guidance. Now the onus is on him to lead the team to the promise land. He is the best player on the roster due to the inconsistencies at the other positions and his number will be called in crunch time. How will he respond this time in the post season?
7: Blake Griffin or Fake Griffin?
It’s actually sad how many times it seems like we’ve seen this story. I guess this time we literally disregard everything in the regular season and wait until he comes back for the post season. He must impose his athleticism and force in order to wreak havoc in the playoffs. We should give him a chance to right his shortcomings, but until then we wait patiently.
8: The Triple-Double Machine
What makes Russell Westbrook’s accomplishments truly amazing is that it seems effortless. There are times when you can see individuals or teammates intentionally trying to push for the triple double (and I understand that). But Russ’ trip dubs come within the flow of the game, and they’re almost necessary for the Thunder to be competitive. It becomes even more attainable now because his rebounding and assist numbers are almost more important that his scoring. The buckets come at will, but when he’s grabbing boards and getting his teammates involved, getting that double digit scoring is almost inevitable. Here’s to hoping he gets it done for the length of the season!
Let’s keep this simple. DeMarcus Cousins is the Kings best player on a nightly basis. The organization hasn’t done much to build the team around him and it’s obvious he wants out. I’m all here for a Wildcat reunion in the nation’s capital, and I’m sure John Wall is about that life. FREE BOOGIE!
10: Knick Expectations vs Knick Reality
Can they score? Sure. Can they defend home court? Sure. Are they somewhat competitive on the road? Sure. Can they play defense? Ehhhhhh. Now if that’s the answer to if they can play defense IN JANUARY, you have a problem. The ball does stop at times with Carmelo’s tendency to love the mid to high post isolation plays, but we’ve seen worse in years past. KP’s maturation along with Jennings’ distribution has been a beauty to watch. But they’re not stopping anyone. Giving up a 50 point triple double to The Beard on the road is one thing. Giving up 23 points to Jodie Meeks at home to lead all scorers? C’MON MAN! Let’s see if they gut it out for the second half, or make a move to gain some defensive traction.