With the holidays behind us, we now turn our attention to the start of a new year. And with this new year, many teams have set a goal to become the NBA champions.
As we approach the halfway point of the season, most teams are still in the playoff race. For the West, every team except the Phoenix Suns are in the race. That’s 14 teams fighting for only eight spots, so you know we’ll be in for a lot more excitement as the season heads into the second half. For the East, it’s still an 11 team race, but a lot has happened and it could quickly become a 10 team race, which I’ll explain later.
When you look at those teams on the hot and cold list, you’ll see similar teams from the last article before the holidays!
So there’s not much we missed, besides a few injuries that impacted teams.
One of those injuries was to Washington Wizards PG John Wall, who will likely miss the season with a heel injury. Teammates Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris are also dealing with injuries. The Houston Rockets are still playing without PG Chris Paul because of his hamstring injury. The LeBron led Lakers have had to play a few games without him and Rajon Rondo, who are both dealing with injuries. All these injuries have affected these teams, as you can see in standings below!
But these injuries aren’t the only news we got from the NBA over the past two weeks. The Los Angeles Clippers PG Patrick Beverley is back at it again. On New Year’s Day, Beverley and the Clippers took on the Philadelphia 76ers with Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid. It was a closely contested game all night, which started to get chippy late. We saw Clippers guard Avery Bradley and Jimmy Butler get ejected. Read the full story here.
There was also a trade that this time included Marshon Brooks. It was a trade between the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls that would send Brooks, Wayne Selden and two 2nd-round picks to the Bulls for Justin Holiday! Not sure if that’s a fair trade, but nonetheless, it was a trade that worked for both teams!
Let’s see where each of these teams stand as of right now in the standings.
1. Raptors (31-12) 1. Nuggets (27-12)
2. Bucks (28-11) 2. Warriors (27-14)
3. Pacers (27-13) 3. Thunder (25-15)
4. 76ers (27-14) 4. Clippers (24-16)
5. Celtics (24-15) 5. Rockets (23-16)
6. Heat (19-20) 6. Spurs (24-17)
7. Nets (20-22) 7. Blazers (24-17)
8. Hornets (19-21) 8. Lakers (22-19)
9. Pistons (17-21) 9. Jazz (20-21)
10. Magic (17-23) 10. Kings (20-21)
11. Wizards (16-25) 11. Timberwolves (20-21)
After looking at where each team stands in the playoff race, let’s turn our attention to the teams who are cold or hot, as well as other teams to watch for over the next few weeks.
Los Angeles Lakers
As a Lakers fans, this one really hurts to watch because they’ve been playing well, but with the injuries to Rajon Rondo and LeBron James it is no surprise. The Lakers’ young core has been led by these two guys all season, but James pulled his groin during the great win over the Golden State Warriors on Christmas day. Rondo has been dealing with injuries all season, but he has figured out a way to still help the growth on Lonzo Ball.
That’s what this season is all about for Rondo and James. Helping the young guys like Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and even Josh Hart. I don’t expect to see the Lakers on the cold list for long, as James returns and looks to get them back into the top four of the Western Conference.
I still don’t understand what’s going on with the Pistons. I know the East isn’t that good compared to the West, but they are barely in the playoffs and haven’t seemed to find themselves where they were earlier in the season. There has been recent struggles with PG Reggie Jackson, who says he’s in his own head. Hopefully, he can get out of his head and play the way we know he can alongside Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond.
The Mavericks don’t know whether they want to be hot or cold. But then again, they are still in the learning curve with the young guys like Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic trying to play together with the veterans like Dirk Nowitzki and DeAndre Jordan. I still believe Doncic will end up winning the rookie of the year award, like I said in previous articles, but can he and the Mavericks manage to get themselves into one of the playoff spots?
As you probably read above, the Wizards are suffering from a lot of injuries to different key players. It’s going to be a tough season for their fans, as they watch the Wizards likely fall further down and remain in the bottom four of the Eastern Conference. With Morris, Porter and Wall all out, coach Scott Brooks needs to find a way to motivate this team. Maybe turning to the next guy after Wall, Bradley Beal! I have said previously the Wizards need to break up their guard duo, but maybe it’s a good thing. Neither of them could stay healthy for the entire season, but they still manage to fight and claw their way into the playoffs. I’m not so sure this will be the case this season.
Unless they can make a run for the hot list next week. But that’s then, let’s see about the now and who’s on a hot streak!
This isn’t a surprise, the Bucks are one of the younger teams in the league with a lot of proven talent. They have been able to make the playoffs, but could never make it past the second round. I think this year will be different. Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing out of his mind and looking like a real candidate for MVP. He is my choice, and he should be yours too.
Victor Oladipo has returned from injury and has picked up right where he left off. That’s always a good thing for teams without their All-Star guard. However, the Pacers were still doing a decent job without him. I’ll be honest though, it’s going to be a five-team race to the top in the East, and Pacers will be one of them. Who are the other four? Well, just look at the standings. Those are the top five teams in the East and any one of them could win it.
The Rockets beat the Warriors 135-134 in an epic overtime game where the Rockets didn’t have Chris Paul. They certainly did “fear the beard,” as James Harden went off and carried his team to a huge win over the defending champions. He has helped lead the Rockets back to the top of the Western Conference. Okay, well not all the way yet, but they have gone from 13th to fifth in just one month. Most of these games have been without PG Chris Paul. It’s like Harden is trying to prove he is still the MVP until he says otherwise!
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers have suddenly gone from cold to hot, yet they haven’t moved a spot in the standings. That shows how competitive the Western conference will be this year. It does not surprise me to see the Blazers have another good season, as they look to stay in the hunt for one of the top spots in the playoffs. With both C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard playing extremely well, we should continue to see the Blazers have success and be on the hot list.
But let’s also take a look at the teams to watch as the season goes on.
Teams to watch
The Nets are surprisingly playing well. We might even see them in the playoffs. Yes, that’s the goal for the Nets this year. They are as capable as ever of making the playoffs in a weakened Eastern Conference. All the players on the team have played well together, as they continue to stay in the hunt for the playoffs and look to bring more excitement to the city of Brooklyn.
The Jazz are slowly climbing their way back into the playoff picture. We could see them there for the first time since October. They look like they are finally getting everything together the way it was last year. If that is the case, then we might be in for an exciting second half of the season for the Jazz.
The Magic are still in the hunt, but out of it right now. With the East being so weak, we might actually be able to see them in the playoffs. The last three spots in the East are open for the taking right now. I think it’ll be good for them to make the playoffs, even though they probably won’t have an chance of winning a seven game series against the top five teams. Just the fact that they make playoffs after so many years of struggle is great for the franchise.
The Kings are like the Nets and the Magic in the sense that they haven’t been in the playoffs in many years. Their chances of making it by seasons end will be a lot more difficult for them than it is for teams in the Eastern Conference. But the Kings have played exceptionally well this season. I am actually surprised in how well they are playing. Before the season, I thought they were going to have the worst record in the West, behind even the Phoenix Suns. You can see that here!
As we watch the league continue to play great basketball, we should also remember that voting for the NBA All-Stars has started! We should all make sure to vote for the best players in the league!
So I expect to see some more votes being cast for other guys like Steven Adams, Nikola Jokic and Damian Lillard. Come on guys, let’s get them in!