We are at the half way point of the NBA season. There are several compelling stories that should unfold in the 2nd half. Below is The Sports Whisperer’s Top 10 Power Rankings for the National Basketball Association.
10) Miami Heat (28-21):
I am not a fan of Miami’s head coach Erik Spoelstra. Without LeBron James on his roster, Coach Spo, has never been passed the 2nd round of the playoffs. Since “King James” went back to Cleveland, the Heat have missed the playoffs two out of the last three years. The Heat have been competitive all year long but there is a disturbing trend over the past few weeks. Over the next three season Hassan Whiteside will make $23, $25, $27 million. The Center is only averaging 25 minutes per game this season. The Heat have been going with a smaller lineup in the second half of games which means the highest paid player on their roster…is getting fewer and fewer minutes.
9) Washington Wizards (27-22):
The Wizards showed great promise at the end of last season, but they have underachieved this year. The Wizards are 4-6 in their last 10 games and they have lost 11 games this season to teams that are under.500. That tells me that the leadership on this team and the coaching staff is not focused every night. Elite teams dominate the weaker clubs. Washington hasn’t done that in 2017-18. If they struggle after the all-star break, will they make a change with their head coach or a trade?
#8) Toronto Raptors (33-15):
Most Raptors fans will crucify me for having these team ranked so low. But say it out loud… I have them as the 8th best team in the NBA right now. Toronto is the Kansas City Chiefs of the NBA. They will always play well in the regular season but will come up short in the post-season. A Successful season for Raptors would be to get passed the first round of the playoffs, anything after that is gravy. As constituted, this roster will never get to an NBA final.
#7) Minnesota Timberwolves (32-20):
This is a team that has a ton of talent, but their starters have logged a lot of minutes, will that hurt them in the 2nd half of the year? Jimmy Butler has played in 46 games and leads the team in scoring (21.7 points) and 37 minutes per game. Karl Anthony-Townes (20 points per game) and Andrew Wiggins (18 point per game) have played in all 52 games. Coach Tom Thibodeau had a reputation in Chicago of overworking his players. It doesn’t seem like he’s evolved in that aspect. Come playoff time this team may not have a 2nd gear. They should get passed the first round based on talent alone but they will eventually have to play the Spurs, Rockets or Golden State.
#6) Cleveland Cavaliers: (29-19):
LeBron James has been to 8 NBA Finals with 4 different coaches. Mike Brown won coach of the year in 2009. Since that time he has been fired 3xs, twice by the Cavaliers one once bye the Lakers . David Blatt is now coaching overseas and Spoelstra has struggled in Miami since LeBron’s departure. I don’t know if Tyronn Lue is a good coach, but it appears that he is losing the locker room. Despite this team playing poorly James is having an MVP like season. He is averaging 26.8 points, 8.8 assists and 7.9 rebounds per game. Kevin Love has had a great season, despite being blamed for all of this team’s faults. The former UCLA Bruin has been a double/double machine. He is averaging 18 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. This team has too much talent to be playing this poorly. In ten games so far, Isaiah Thomas is shooting 39% from the field. I expect the Cavs to make some trades and to right their ship come playoff time. If not, James and Lue will not be in Cleveland next season.
#5) Oklahoma City Thunder (30-20):
Most people thought I was crazy when I had the Thunder(in pre-season) winning the Western Conference. But this team is getting better as the season goes on. They are now 8-2 in their last 10 games and coach Billy Donovan has figured out his rotation. This is not a “Big 3” It is a “Fearsome Foursome” Russell Westbrook is averaging 25 points, 9.5 rebounds and 10.1 assists per game. Paul George is averaging 2.2 steals and 21 points per game. Steven Adams is a force on both ends of the floor, he is averaging 14 points, 9 rebounds and 1 block per game. Carmelo Anthony is the 4th option on this team and that is why they are winning. Melo is averaging a career low 17.6 points per game but his is the best 4th option in the history of the NBA. The Thunder need to acquire one more three point shooter. I would look for them to call Cleveland to see if Channing Frye, JR Smith or Kyle Korver is available.
#4) Boston Celtics (35-15):
Kyrie Irving has been everything to the Celtics this year. He has played in 47 games and is averaging 24.8 points and 5 assists per contest. The problem with this team is they don’t have a legitimate number 2 scoring option. Al Horford is the 2nd best player on this team and that is not good enough. Horford leads the team in rebounds 7.9, assists, 5.2 and averages 1.1 blocks per game. Boston is a very good team but as the go deeper into the playoffs, Irving will miss not having Kevin Love or LeBron James.
#3) San Antonio Spurs (33-19):
The Spurs have kind of “hit the wall” of late going 5-5 in their last 10 games. But what Gregg Popovich has done this year has been amazing. Without arguably, the best two-way player in basketball, Kawhi Leonard the Spurs have won 33 games. LeMarcus Aldridge has been everything for the Spurs this season. He is averaging 22 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.2 block per game. He has led his team in scoring more than any other player in the NBA this year. Without Leonard, Pop has relied on young players like Byan Forbes, Dejounte Murray and Davis Bertans. Everyone on this roster has contributed. That will only help their confidence when Leonard comes back. Pop should win coach of the year. He is basically winning with one legitimate scorer and role players so far.
#2) Houston Rockets (35-13):
The Rockets have had a tremendous 1st 48 games. James Harden has dominated the regular season. He is averaging 30.9 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds. Center Clint Capela is averaging 14 points and 10.7 rebounds. Chris Paul is scoring 19 points and dishing out 8 assists per game. He has had chemistry with Harden from their very first game together. The problem here is Mike D’Antoni. The Rockets coach, only has one way to win and that is score. Come playoff time, your team must get stops, and the Rockets aren’t built that way. They will win 60 games this year but will not get to an NBA Championship.
#1) Golden State Warriors (40-10):
The Warriors “Big 4”of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are the only 4 players on their team that average double digits in scoring. David West is 5th on the team in scoring averaging 7 points per game. This team is so top heavy and their lack of depth doesn’t seem to hurt them at all. I thought free agents Nick Young and Omar Caspi would be a huge boost off the bench but the two are averaging 12 points combines and play about 15 minutes each. I full expect coach Steve Kerr to start resting his starters during the 2nd half of the season. The “Big 4” are all averaging over 32 minutes per game.
The Detroit Pistons are 1-9 in their last 10 games. Stan Van Gundy has been terrible running this organization. His record of the past 4 years, 32-50, 44-38,37-45 and 22-26.
DeMarcus Cousins is now out for the season. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs, look for Cousins to sign with another team as a free agent and Anthony Davis ask to be traded.
Look for Portland and Milwaukee to make a big-time playoff push in the West and East.
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