It’s a new year and boy have I been proven wrong in many ways.
The NBA always has a way of bringing up and showcasing new and fresh talent into the league each and every year and the 2013-14 season has been no different from the norm.
Surprises like the Portland Trail Blazers, to the slow starts from the Knicks and Nets, to Derrick Rose injuring his (other) knee, the NBA season left a lot of people speechless and excited for the second half.
I made some bold predictions at the beginning of the season, some correct, but most not. Let’s take a look!
First, let’s look at my projected end of year standings from before the start of the season to where they are, now.
Prediction - Eastern Conference
1. Heat 2. Bulls 3. Nets 4. Pacers 5. Knicks 6. Bucks 7. Cavaliers 8. Pistons
Actual - Eastern Conference
1. Pacers 2. Heat 3. Hawks 4. Raptors 5. Wizards 6. Bulls 7. Pistons 8. Nets
Could I have been more wrong? I really don’t think I could have been. With zero correct spots predictions in the top eight of the Eastern Conference, I feel ashamed and embarrassed. It is hard to predict the East this year with the surprisingly low records of each team after Miami.
The Atlanta Hawks are the third squad to have a record over .500 in the East with a 20-18 record that would not get them into the playoffs in the West. The fourth and final team with an above .500 record in the Eastern Conference is the Toronto Raptors at 19-18.
However, the East is far more forgiving and, in truth, easier, which means many teams are going to be in this race for a few more months. Charlotte, New York, Boston and Cleveland are all within two and a half games of the eighth seed (AKA the first-round out seed).
Anyone can hit a hot streak and jump into that 8th spot for the playoffs in late May. I was most wrong about the Milwaukee Bucks and their star player Larry Sanders. Sanders went out with an injury early in the season, one he acquired after a bar fight broke his thumb.
There was a fear around the Bucks organization that Sanders, an increasingly talented low-post forward, would miss the whole season, but returned just a couple of weeks ago. However, I do not believe that if the Bucks had Sanders for the full length of the season to this point that it would have made a difference.
Brandon Knight has been average, John Henson has played well in Sanders' absence, scoring over twelve a game with eight boards and over two blocks per, but O.J. Mayo - the player brought in to score points - has not been doing so thus hurting the Bucks offense.
If no one can score, you’re going to lose a lot of games, 31 to be exact so far. Derrick Rose destroyed the hopes of Chicago just ten games in by tearing his right meniscus. With all of the hype around Rose, the season-ending injury was a blow to the fanbase and the organization of epic proportions.
With Rose gone, the Bulls went ahead and traded their second-best player Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Bynum and three draft picks. This trade saves them 20 million dollars and they acquire a first round and two second-round picks.
The Bulls will look to stay in the playoff race and somehow pull off a second-round advancement, after all, Rose hasn’t ruled out a comeback for the playoffs.
New York had an extraordinary amount of hype and pressure surrounding their two teams this season. In Brooklyn, Jason Kidd took control of a team constructed to win this year, with the right coaching and minute allocation.
At the beginning of the season, it looked like the Brooklyn experiment was a failed one. Kidd couldn’t seem to get the right lineups together, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, acquired from Boston, looked old, and Joe Johnson hadn’t taken any steps to get into the next highest realm of stardom.
Brooklyn’s horrendous start was topped-off by Kidd’s “sneaky” ploy to get a free timeout by making a player bump into his cup of water so that it would spill onto the floor, thus creating a stoppage in play while the liquid was cleaned. Who knows the outcome of the attempt had cameras not caught Kidd mouthing the words, “hit me” so obviously.
However, with the return of their all-star point guard, Deron Williams, the Nets have been looking like the team that most thought (including myself) would be atop the standings by now.
As the standings show, the Nets have found a winning formula and were able to turn their season around while quietly pulling into the eighth seed. Their record is below .500 (15-22) but have been on a good run lately. The Knicks are a half game behind the Nets at 15-23 and look in worse position than their in-state counterparts.
Tyson Chandler has finally come back from an injury that kept him out for over a month, but it hasn’t made much of a difference because it takes five people on the team to play defense at a time to be successful, not one. Carmelo Anthony hasn’t changed much and is still taking the majority of shots on the team while J.R. Smith was just fined $50,000 after untying a shoelace of Shawn Marion during a free throw and “recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct.”
They look like they are in worse shape than Brooklyn, but if they can learn to spread the ball better and, you know, play some defense they should be fine and be able to slip into the playoffs based on the fact that the Eastern Conference is horrible this season.
Going into this season, Indiana was looked at as the only team that could match up head-to-head with the two-time defending champions Miami Heat. Looking back, I couldn’t really tell you why I thought they’d only be in fourth place by the end of the season. I guess I thought they were somewhat of a fluke, or that Rose was going to stay healthy and lead the Bulls to a top spot.
Either way, I was wrong and the Indiana Pacers have proved many people wrong. A couple plays go the Pacers way in the Eastern Conference Championship last season and we might be talking about the Pacers as the favorite and the defending champs.
In the two games the Heat and Pacers have played this season so far, they have both won one and they both were classics. One glaring weakness for the Heat is their post game, or lack-there-of. Hibbert and West are ten-times better than any 4 or 5 position player the Heat are sending out there, unless you consider LeBron a Power Forward.
Greg Oden made his season debut last night scoring eight points in ten minutes, but it was his first game since 2009. That’s four years. I don’t know that Oden will be any kind of difference maker because I don’t think that he will keep his body intact for the remainder of the 2014 season.
Nonetheless, the Pacers are on top of the East and just added All-star Danny Granger back to their lineup after recovering from an injury, an addition that I find to be extremely underrated by the mass media.
The rich have only gotten richer and the Pacers look poised at 30-7 to secure a top-two spot easily this season. Watch out for the Heat, they might pick up Andrew Bynum who was waived by the Bulls after they acquired him in the Deng trade.
With a seven-footer down low, who knows how good the Heat can be. Well, one that is healthy, anyway.
Let’s look at the Western Conference now and how off my predictions were here!
Prediction - Western Conference:
1. Thunder 2. Warriors 3. Rockets 4. Clippers 5. Spurs 6. Nuggets 7. Grizzlies 8. Lakers
Actual - Western Conference:
1. Spurs 2. Trail Blazers 3. Thunder 4. Clippers 5. Rockets 6. Warriors 7. Suns 8. Mavericks
The Western Conference is a lot more interesting and competitive. No one knew that the surprise of the halfway mark would be the Portland Trail Blazers. At 29-9 and a game and a half out of first, Portland has shocked everyone with their outside shooting, post presence and the emergence of superstars in Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge.
Lillard, in his second year, has exploded onto the scene after his impressive rookie season last year. Lillard is averaging 21.6 points per game along with 5.7 assists to move him into the top of the point guard crop of not just the West, but in my opinion, the NBA.
Shooting is something Lillard does very well, averaging 44.5% from three-point range as well as 89.2% from the free-throw line. Improving his defense is a must for Lillard, as well as his 42% from the field, but he has shown that he will work hard for his team and when it matters most, he comes in clutch.
When you talk about the Trail Blazers, you cannot forget about Aldridge. His 23.8 a game and and 11.2 boards have given Portland a down-low presence that they had not had for years. Robin Lopez, the seven-foot center, has also helped Portland rebound the ball for second-chance opportunities.
Now, I don’t think I’m sold on the Cinderella Trail Blazers just yet. Their defense is suspect and I want to see them keep this streak over the second half of the year. My predictions for the Western Conference standings were not nearly as bad as my Eastern Conference standings. However, they were still off to an extent.
I did correctly pick the Clippers to be in fourth place. I think the Clippers can easily slide up a spot or two because they are so close with Oklahoma City and Portland. Obviously I had no chance of predicting the Trail Blazers to be second. In fact, I left them out of my top eight at the beginning of the season.
I over estimated the talent that the Golden State Warriors have, although they are playing very well as of late, and look poised to move up in the standings by the end of the year. If the Warriors can keep their team shooting percentage up as well as tightening up their defense (David Lee, we are looking at you), then they should be able to make some moves up the ladder.
San Antonio is always good, and I would like to apologize to Tim Duncan and the whole Spurs team for thinking they were too old. Duncan, while playing less minutes in a way only coach Greg Popovich can orchestrate, still is playing like Tim Duncan. Point guard Tony Parker is still playing at a high level and Kawhi Leonard has stepped up his game even more to be a great contributor for the Spurs.
So yeah, sixth place is a long way from first and S.A. shows no signs of slowing down. Warriors and Trail Blazers take notes on their defense.
Kobe Bryant was supposed to come back and be the savior for the fun-to-watch Los Angeles Lakers this season. When he came back, the Lakers didn’t play any better and soon after, Bryant broke a bone in his knee that has put him on the bench, once again.
I knew it was a stretch for me to place them in the eighth seed ahead of the likes of Dallas and Phoenix, but I believed in Bryant, not knowing he’d get hurt again. The season is only about half-way done and Bryant can still come back, but the deficit they have to make up to get the eighth spot is eight and a half games too much, in my opinion.
Now, with all of the standings explained along with my (awful) predictions, big stories and surprises all explained, I think it’s time to do it again for the first half! I will also give you my half-season awards. Here. We. Go.
MVP So Far Award: Kevin Durant
I think Kevin Durant is the MVP of the year so far because he is averaging a career-high in rebounds and assists and is coming extremely close to a career high in points per game.
With Westbrook out for a substantial amount of time, Durant has led the Thunder to the number three spot in the West while getting young guns like Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb into the flow of the offense and vital pieces to their puzzle going forward.
Defense Player of the (Half) Year: Anthony Davis
With three blocks per game, Davis is the best player on the New Orleans Pelicans with no questions asked. Davis also picks up one and a half steals a game while grabbing over six defensive rebounds and over ten total a game.
Most Improve Player Award: John Wall & Damian Lillard
I can’t choose which point guard has improved their game more. Wall has shown that he has stepped his game up, enough to get the Washington Wizards into the playoff hunt while averaging almost twenty points a game along with 8.6 rebounds and two steals a game.
On the other hand, Lillard has led the Trail Blazers to the second seed in the West with no signs of slowing down.
Both players’ percentage from the field could be higher, but both have elevated their games and their respective teams to new heights.
Rookie of the Year: Victor Oladipo
Oladipo has taken off this season. Out of Indiana University, Oladipo has shown everyone why he was selected second in the 2013 NBA Draft (and why he should have been first).
Oladipo is averaging 13.7 points a game, 4.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals per contest. His career high is 35, leading his Orlando Magic team into three overtimes, only to lose by three to the Chicago Bulls, 128-125 last night.
Coach of the Year: Terry Stotts
Stotts has shocked the NBA world this season by leading his Portland Trail Blazers to the second seed in the West. No one can say with a straight face they knew that Portland would be the second seed at this point, be first in points per game, second in rebounds and third in assists a game in the entire NBA.
Now for the part that everyone came here for, my East and West standings predictions!
West: 1. Thunder 2. Spurs 3. Trail Blazers 4. Clippers 5. Warriors 6. Rockets 7. Mavericks 8. Nuggets
East: 1. Pacers 2. Heat 3. Wizards 4. Nets 5. Hawks 6. Raptors 7. Detroit 8. Knicks
Until next time, thank you for reading! Stay Tuned!
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