With the All-Star break in place, this is the perfect chance to see what’s been going on in the NBA as teams prepare for the stretch run.
Thank God for the NBA All-Star break. I say this because the NBA season has been quite the roller coaster ride. Both emotionally and physically. I’ll get to the physical part in a sec.
Despite the devastating losses of Commissioner Emeritus David Stern and NBA legend Kobe Bryant, this season has been a breath of fresh air. With no Golden State in the way, the league is wide open this season. Also, I have to say that having LeBron James removed from the Finals for one year was also refreshing. Sorry, Bron.
However, these interesting aspects of the 2019-2020 season have also raised many questions. So let’s take a look at some of the storylines as we gear up for the playoffs.
Houston Rockets and their “Small Ball” commitment
While most teams still value size in an era of spacing and shooting, the Rockets just love being the “black sheep” of the NBA. Why do I say this? Let’s examine what happened at the trade deadline.
To begin, Houston traded away center Clint Capela in a four-team deal that sent him to Atlanta. The return package? Minnesota sends Robert Covington to Houston. The Rockets prized acquisition. To be fair, he has been a welcomed addition on both offense and defense. Now, I admit this is a small sample size, but the Rockets are 3-2 during this stretch. Two of those wins came against the Lakers and Celtics. Not a bad start.
The Rockets sit a number eight in steals per game with an average of 8.2 a game. That will likely improve as this small lineup causes havoc on the perimeter and clog the passing lanes up.
Another aspect that will improve is on the offensive end. Houston already poses a threat on offense, but with Covington added to James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, and Danuel House Jr. to name a few, these stats will also improve:
Pace: 2nd out of 30 at a rating of 103.6
Offensive rating: 2nd out of 30 at a rating of 113.7
And an improved defensive rating of 110.1 that now places them at 15th out of 30
In fact, this addition, and any other additions that will come via the buyout market, should also improve the teams 34% shooting from three-point range.
Speaking of improvement, how about that man Russell Westbrook. Since the center has been removed, Westbrook’s game has now been unlocked in Houston. The Rockets are seeing a confident player taking his midrange shots while punishing all players big and small in the paint.
In fact, take a look at his numbers over the last four games:
Westbrook: 34.5 points per game, 5.3 assists per game, 7.5 rebounds per game, on 52.8% shooting, 75% from the free-throw line, with 1.3 steals a game.
It will be tough, but don’t count this small Rockets team out. Their style of play fits for what’s popular. It will be a nightmare matchup for teams with bigger guys that have to come out and defend the perimeter. The only concern here is health. Especially for Tucker playing so much at center. Hopefully, a guy like Bruno Cabacolo can come in and play some good defense and shoot the three well enough to rest P.J. for extended stretches.
The Lakers and Clippers, polar opposites
This one was a guarantee. Of course, these two are opposites. The darlings of Hollywood, the franchise with 16 NBA titles, the famous purple, and gold, legends among legends glorified, this is the Los Angeles Lakers we are talking about here. Mind you they also did nothing at the deadline. Choosing to stand pat with their roster as constructed. A decision I believe will come back to haunt them in the postseason.
The Lakers rely on LeBron for playmaking and ball handling. But it has been proven in the past he can’t do it by himself. They desperately needed another playmaker on this team and they failed to go get one. That is their only glaring weakness.
However, their Staples Center rivals and co-tenants, Los Angeles Clippers added another rough rider to their gritty and blue-collar squad. That man is none other than Marcus Morris Sr. Another tough, able-bodied defender who is shooting a career-high 43.2% from downtown and averaging a career-best 19.0 points per game. Yeah, that guy.
The only questions I have with the Clippers are can Paul George and Kawhi Leonard stay healthy and be ready for the playoffs, and will their weakness in the middle cost them against big teams like the Lakers, Utah Jazz, and Denver Nuggets. Or, could it hurt them against fast-paced small teams like the Rockets?
We shall see when the postseason comes around.
Expectations for the second half of the season
While I acknowledge that it is the All-Star break and the All-Star game is the big talk right now, I’m ready to get this stretch run going. Like the players, I live for the competition and the grinding series that take place in the postseason en route to the NBA finals.
With that said, here a few predictions for the second half of the season.
For starters, the Rockets will be no higher than the three seed. It is too far in the season to try and catch LA or Denver. However, it won’t be detrimental to their title hopes. In fact, seeds one, two, and four will likely have the worst first-round matchups making for an interesting field out West.
So if the Rockets get to number three, their matchup will be tough, but not as tough as some of the other teams in play. Just avoid the four seed, really.
Next, the Lakers and Clippers will not meet in the conference finals. More likely is that they meet in the semi-finals. I only say this because the Clippers look like they will be in the four or three seed spot with the injuries to PG, and Kawhi’s load management. Is it possible they get hot and go on an impossible run, sure it is? This is the NBA, where a hot streak can guide you to wonders. It can also crash and burn in your face if you peak too early.
Nonetheless, in the NBA, it’s all about matchups. This is one matchup anyone would want to see regardless of when it happens. Boy, what time to be a fan in Los Angeles.
Finally, out in the East, it will be Miami and Boston giving Milwaukee headaches, not Toronto. No disrespect to the defending NBA champion Raptors, but Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, and Serge Ibaka are not enough to win it again. Kawhi isn’t walking through that door. I understand they are deep and well-coached, but the Celtics and Heat possess more star power and ultimately in this league, stars win.
Boston can throw Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown at you. While Miami has Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, and Bam Adebayo coming hard at everyone. Not to mention both teams are also extremely well-coached. The result will be a death match between the Bucks, Celtics, Raptors, and Heat to get to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Ultimately, I see Milwaukee and Miami battling it out in the East. With that said, don’t count out Erik Spoelstra and company. However, the Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. will come out to face the winner of the West. I can feel my excitement already.
In the Finals, it will be Clippers vs Bucks, with the Bucks winning in seven. That’s what I’m sticking to.
For more news on the NBA and other sports, stay tuned to NGSC Sports. Where we never stop.
Hardworking, loyal, and passionate. I love the people that surround me because they allow me to be who I am. A lover of sports, video games, and life itself. I am a son, a brother, an uncle, and a person who holds nothing but love in his heart. I do this for Rosa Maria Magana and Edward Magana. A.k.a my folks in heaven. Music and sports keep me alive and well.