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Zwiller: NBA season 2nd half predictions

| Monday, March 15, 2021

With the NBA All-Star game come and gone, the first half of the season is in the books, and with the second half just underway, I think it’s time to make predictions about how the season will finish. 

 

The West

The Favorites

Utah Jazz: The Jazz were one of the biggest stories in the first half of the season, winning 22 of 25 like it was nothing. They’ve slowed to 5-5 in their last 10, but I see no reason to think they can’t hold onto the No. 1 seed. If Anthony Davis doesn’t return to full strength for the Lakers, they could quickly close out the West. 1-Seed

Phoenix Suns: In my column discussing the release of the NBA schedule start date, I had pegged the Suns as a playoff team, albeit a lower seed. They have beat my expectations and are looking like they could make a run at a Western Conference Championship. 3-Seed

Los Angeles Lakers: I’m still high on the Lakers, and I still think of them as the team to beat. I know they are currently 4-6 in their last 10 games, but those ten are without Anthony Davis. When Lebron and AD are both on the floor, the Lakers are +15 per 100 possessions. If AD continues to be injury-prone, the Lakers could lose in the second round. 2-Seed

Los Angeles Clippers: I know the Clippers lost four of their last five heading into All-Star Weekend, with three of those losses coming to teams who were .500 or below. However, the loss to Milwaukee was a close one, as were those to the surging Celtics and Wizards. I think the break came at the right time; they need to refocus if they don’t want to fall in the West. 4-Seed

 

The Contenders

Portland Trailblazers: I expect to see Portland fall off a little bit in the second half of the season. It’s not because I think they are a terrible team; I just see the Nuggets and Mavericks as better teams. Yes, Portland is just two games back on the Clippers, but they only have a half a game lead on the Nuggets. 7-Seed

Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets have been a hard team to get a feel for. Nikola Jokic has been incredible (31.6 PER) despite a lackluster start by Denver, but now is when I think they put it all together. 5-Seed

San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs are much like the Trailblazers; they have been good, but I think they will fall off in the second half. The bench players have been outstanding, but I don’t think that’s enough. 8-Seed

Dallas Mavericks: The Mavericks started the season slowly, and until recently, have been below .500. I think that they have improved their defense over the last few games, and I think they can keep winning. 6-Seed

 

The Hopefuls:

Golden State Warriors: Without Klay Thompson, I thought that the Warriors would struggle to be competitive. While they certainly aren’t a favorite, they are very much in the mix thanks to Steph Curry having a season reminiscent of his unanimous MVP year. Play-in Team

Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies sit at one game below .500, so their destiny is in their hands. They have a top-10 defense but lack the offensive firepower needed to win more games. They will likely be one of the play-in teams, just as they were last year. Play-in Team

New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson has been consistently healthy this season and has shown why he was the No. 1 pick in his draft class. Zion is ranked 4th in PER in the league, and the Pelicans are 7th in Offensive Rating. The problem is defense, and I think it will cost them. First team out

 

The East

The Favorites

Philadelphia 76ers: The 76ers started hot but have since cooled, allowing the Brooklyn Nets to pull within half a game of them. I expect to see that trend continue and think the 76ers could fall as far as the No. 4 seed. 3-Seed

Brooklyn Nets This team is a historically good offensive team and they are 9-1 in their last ten despite Kevin Durant being injured. This team should secure the No. 1 seed shortly and is my pick to come out of the East. 1-Seed

Milwaukee Bucks At first glance, the Bucks don’t look nearly as dominant as they were last year, but don’t let that fool you. They are overcoming COVID-19 issues and are trying to find new defensive schemes. I think they can challenge Brooklyn for control of the East. 2-Seed

 

The Contenders

Boston Celtics: The Celtics have struggled despite the amount of talent the team has. I think Kemba Walker’s injury has been the cause of the team’s troubles. When he was healthy, Boston was on a roll, and I expect them to pick back up where they left off. 4-Seed

New York Knicks: I honestly didn’t see this coming at all. The Knicks are good and above .500. It’s primarily due to defense; they rank fourth in the league behind the Lakers, 76ers and Jazz. If Derrick Rose’s acquisition helps like I think it will, the Knicks could be here to stay. 6-Seed

Miami Heat: The Heat seem to have finally gotten through their COVID-19 issues and are playing good basketball. Without Jimmy Butler, the Heat were 3-9. With him, they are a legitimate Playoff contender. 5-Seed

Charlotte Hornets Much like the Knicks, I didn’t see the Hornets being in the playoff hunt. This is due primarily to LaMelo Ball, who has played exceptional basketball for a rookie. I don’t know if I see them as a Playoff lock just yet, but the Hornets have a bright future. 8-Seed

Toronto Raptors: The Raptors are yet another team who have had virus struggles, so I think being sub .500 makes sense. I think they could turn it around and should make the Playoffs. 7-Seed

 

The Hopefuls

Chicago Bulls: The Bulls rank 16th in Offense and 21st in defense, so mediocre. If it weren’t for the play-in games, I would have them just missing the Playoffs. Play-in Team

Indiana Pacers: When the Pacers sent away Victor Oladipo for Caris LeVert, I felt like it was the right move. Oladipo had given clear indications he wouldn’t be returning to Indianapolis when his contract expired. No matter what they got back for him, the Pacers would still be worse off by making the right call, which is evident from their record. Play-in Team

Washington Wizards: When the Wizards traded away John Wall for Russell Westbrook, I thought it was merely going to be a trade to weaponize their cap. However, Bradley Beal has played out of his mind, and the Wizards have a shot. First team out

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Thomas Zwiller

Thomas is a freshman currently in attendance at Holy Cross College, and is a communications and business major. He is from Saint Joseph MI, and went to high school at Saint Joseph High School SB, playing both varsity football and hockey. Please feel free to contact him about all things NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB, particularly if you're a stathead.

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