By Shaquille Hill, For The AfricanAmericanAthlete.com,
The new year kicks off with the second half of the season. The Celtics are well ahead in the East, the Raptors are second, and Cleveland is in freefall – especially in defense. The Warriors are holding the West – can anyone catch them?
1. Cavs In Disarray
The Cavs have lost six of their last eight games. They gave up 133 points to Toronto Thursday, 127 points to the Timberwolves and the Magic ,who they beat in overtime. It’s not offense that’s the problem – it’s the defense.
No one is giving any effort – not LeBron, not Tristian Thompson, not Kevin Love – no one. We witnessed a furious James in the Cavs huddle Thursday night. But James has to step up on defense too. You can’t continue to allow 120 + points a game and expect to win.
Is it lack of effort? Lackadaisical attitude? We’re used to seeing slumps from the Cavs in the mid-season. But this feels different – the East has closed the gap between the field and The King’s Men.
Ultimately, I still expect Cleveland to reach June. But they’ll have stiff competition from the Celtics and Raptors in the Playoffs. They need to straighten up -now.
2. Raptors Take The #2 Seed in the East
Toronto has elevated to number two in the East, three games behind Boston. They smashed the Cavs Thursday – minus Serge Ibaka and point guard Kyle Lowry. They’ve won six of their last seven games, only losing to the Heat by a point.
DeMar DeRozan scored 13 points Thursday, but he had more than enough help. Norman Powell and Pascal Siakam scored 14 points each.
CJ Miles led the way with 16 points.
The Raptors have beaten the Bucks, Bulls, Nets ,Heat and Cavs since New Year’s Day. DeRozan is averaging 25.0 points, 5.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds this season. He exploded for 52 against the Bucks Jan. 1st.
His three point shooting has improved drastically. DeRozan is 36.3 percent from three, and 48 percent from the field.
The Raptors play the Warriors Saturday night, and we could see how good they really are , possibly against a fully loaded Golden State team.
3. Boston Stays On Top
The Celtics continue their stranglehold on the East, 3 games ahead of Toronto and 6.5 games in front of Cleveland.
The Celtics dropped the Sixers , 114-103 in London Thursday, and have won seven straight since losing to Washington on Christmas Day.
Kyrie Irving is the main man of course, but his teammates have shown up as well. Jayson Tatum is averaging 13.9 points a game. Jaylen Brown is averaging 14 points per game. He scored 21 Thursday. Al Horford is still a fantastic veteran presence.
Not only is Boston offensively effective – 48.3 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from three- they’re a defensive team. Every man is willing to defend.
They have a 99.6 defensive rating according to NBA.COM, they average 7.6 steals a game, and they snatch 35.4 rebounds a game.
In other words, this team is balling on both ends. They could be a problem for the East come May And June – looking at you Cleveland.
4. Warriors Without KD and now, Steph Curry
The Warriors are still running the league. But this season feels different. While likely the favorites to win it all for the third time in four years, there have been some holes.
Kevin Durant recently returned from a calf injury, and now Steph Curry is missing time with an ankle injury. The Warriors lost a shocker to the Clippers Wednesday. They didn’t have Curry or Klay Thompson on the floor. They won’t have Curry in Milwaukee as he recovers.
No doubt, the Warriors are a juggernaut. But can they stay healthy and rested for the postseason? Could they encounter some roadblocks in the path of any dynasty?
While the Bay Area can certainly celebrate another title, the Warriors could be worn out by a possible Western Conference Finals. What if the first rounds takes five games rather than four? What if a healthy Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs push Golden State to six or seven games?
Remember, this is year four of an incredible race. But a long, 400 + game race toward NBA immortality. Can the Warriors finish it?
Golden State is running the league silly. But for how long?
5. NBA Trade Deadline
The trade deadline is Feb. 8. No major trades have taken place yet, but there has been speculation of DeAndre Jordan being traded to the Cavs. According to The Score, and multiple sources, Tristian Thompson of the Cavs is a an option.
Could the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis join a contender? Maybe Memphis deals Tyreke Evans in a fantastic year?
If the Cavs make a move, expect the first round pick from Brooklyn to go for a DeAndre Jordan, Tyreke Evans or another major name. They may need it for another opportunity at a second NBA championship.