The All-Star Break is here so I want to take a look back at the first half of the season, which feels like an eternity. The first thing that comes to mind is the last few weeks of the season; the NBA has to look into an earlier All-Star break considering the level of play around the league. Guys are clearly tired and evidently need the break a little sooner. Rookies who are used to playing under 30 college games in a season have already played 50+ NBA games with much less rest. That’s a tough transition, and it’s arguably even tougher on guys who have been doing this for years and years — these guys need a rest earlier in the year.
Nonetheless, it was a great first half of the 2018 season.
A look at the East:
- Heading into the break, the Raptors are in first place in the Eastern Conference with a 41-16 record. This isn’t that surprising. The Raptors have been one of the more consistent teams in recent years, and they’re always in the mix. But nothing will change until they prove they can play in the postseason, and you can sense that urgency with them this season.
- The Celtics were remarkable to start the year, but they’re 6-9 since traveling to London to play the 76ers in early January. They are one of the teams that need this break the most, and I’m interested to see if they pick things up again in the second of the season and steal back that #1 spot in the East headed into the playoffs.
- The Cavs made drastic moves at the trade deadline and are now presumably favorites again to win the East after their new-look roster has already proven to look better than what they had prior to the deadline.
- The most exciting part of the East this year, in my opinion, is the emergence of the 76ers. All the tanking is finally paying off and they don’t even have their 2017 #1 pick playing. Embiid and Simmons have been remarkable, and the Sixers are in a good spot to sneak into the playoffs. All eyes will remain on the Fultz situation, which has been bizarre — if he can make a return this season and be productive, the Sixers are not going to be an easy out come the postseason.
A look at the West:
- The Rockets are heading into the break with the league’s best record, and it’s no fluke. Chris Paul has been an incredible addition, while James Harden is the league’s MVP thus far into the year. It’s them and the Warriors headed for a one-on-one battle to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, while there are multiple pesky teams waiting behind them.
- Those pesky teams: The Spurs, Thunder and Timberwolves. The Spurs are in third place in the West despite Kawhi Leonard missing most of the season. Pop has done an incredible job, and they are sneakily a championship contender assuming Leonard comes back into form heading into the postseason. The Thunder started off slow, but have been great since, while the Timberwolves are playing up to expectations themselves. The West playoffs should be outstanding.
First half MVP:
- The MVP race is deep this year, but Harden definitely leads the pack. He’s the best player on the best team, and he does it all. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving all have cases themselves, but I think it comes down to James and Harden with a slight edge to Harden.
First half ROY:
- I think this is the more interesting race. Ben Simmons seemed to have it locked up through the first couple months of the season, but Donovan Mitchell has been outstanding as of late, especially during Utah’s 11-game winning streak. Jayson Tatum also deserves a legit look. I think Mitchell continues to gain more confidence and ends up edging out Simmons.
All Star Predictions:
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Dunk Contest: Donovan Mitchell
3-point shootout: Klay Thompson