July 23, 2018 | 1:12 pm
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Mid-term predictions: Title contenders from the Eastern and Western Conference

The mid-way point in the 2017-2018 NBA season is upon us, and in just a few short weeks NBA All-Stars will be making their way to Los Angeles for the festivities of All-Star Weekend. While some are concerned with lobbying for their voting position with fans to be selected in the elite group, others are focused on the long-term plan–the NBA Finals.

The guys from Sports Betting Dime have been tracking the championship odds for all 30 teams since they became available, where you can easily spot which teams are the legitimate contenders as we reach the season’s true mid-way point. If fans are bored of seeing the same teams in the Finals year after year, there might be some relief on the way. Think of all the great headlines that would come out of Kevin Durant searching for his new chapter with whatever organization happened to take the cake!

This week, let’s break down who has a real shot at making their way to the top of the leader board from each conference.

Eastern Conference:

Cleveland Cavaliers

Okay, you’re right. LeBron James was the first one to start this whole super-team business, but I have to admit I’m pretty excited to see him and Dwyane Wade back at it on the court together. James is still playing with all of the strength and energy of his prime, but he’s added maturity and wisdom to his physical prowess making him virtually unstoppable on the court. The Cavs have dropped below the Toronto Raptors to third in the Eastern Conference standings, but I’m not buying it. I believe this is all part of a larger strategy to match-up against the teams they want in the East so they can keep their stamina through the post-season. Perhaps that’s just a conspiracy theory, but it’s undeniable that James is playing with increased tenacity and focus this season. The addition of Wade has allowed James to return to what he’s really good at–forcing his way to the rim and scoring.

 

 

The Raptors seem to be making a name for themselves as of late, but given their track record in past seasons I fully expect them to drop off in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. They’ve just shown they don’t have what it takes to go all the way. Cleveland will make their appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the next team I am going to list may give them a run for their money.

Boston Celtics

Admittedly, I’m a Celtics fan, but all bias aside they’ve had one amazing season so far. I was certain that losing Gordon Hayward would be a death sentence for their season, and I’m so glad I was wrong. Coach Brad Stevens kept on marching forward putting Kyrie Irving in a position to lead his team to victory after incredible victory. Irving is averaging 24.1 points per game at 48% from the field and 39% from three. Irving’s teammates have elevated to the next level playing alongside the former NBA champ, and with the first-ranked defense in the league the Celtics practically shut down the opposing offense every game.

Boston sits very comfortably at first in the Eastern Conference standings, and with a 7 game winning streak they’re showing no signs of slowing down. We will see Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals, and I also believe they will make a Finals appearance this season with a real shot at the crown.

 

 

Western Conference:

Houston Rockets

Of the four teams I’m listing here, I believe the Rockets have the least likely chance of making it to the Finals, but it’s no doubt that they are contenders this season. The addition of Chris Paul to the roster has done for the Rockets what the addition of Wade did for the Cavaliers. It put their star in the position to focus on what they’re truly best at, and that’s scoring. While James Harden is an excellent passer, and he’s often topping the leader boards for assists, he really isn’t a traditional point guard. Paul allows Harden to score the ball which is what he was made to do.

 

 

Houston sits behind the Warriors by a handful of games, and I expect we will see that continue for the remainder of the season. If the standings stay just the way they are now, the Rockets will match up against the Denver Nuggets in the first-round of the playoffs.  It’s hard to envision that the Rockets have the defensive presence to take on the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals and win. I’ve said this too many times, but the plan to simply bombard your opponent with baskets may work in the regular season, but they playoffs are a totally different ballgame.

Golden State Warriors

Although I’ve admitted that I want to see the Warriors lose the title this year, I’d be crazy if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that they are THE contender of contenders this season. They’re the defending champions, they’ve got enough fire power to arm a military, and they play pretty darned good defense to boot. Now that Stephen Curry is healthy again, the Warriors are back to dishing out blowout losses to their opponents, and as long as the core of the team stays healthy–world domination will continue.

 

 

I remain fully unimpressed with Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma City to move to the Warriors, but he seems to be completely in his element in Oakland. He doesn’t have to lead this team and is allowed to focus on other things like his defense where he’s tied for second in the league in blocks per game at 2.2.  The offense is still there of course as Durant is averaging 26 points per game at an incredible 40% from distance. Combine his scoring efforts with that of Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and the plethora of talented players off their bench, and the Warriors are a tough case to beat.

Upsetting the Warriors is a tall order but maybe the Celtics can defend their way to an NBA title. If there is any defense that can limit the Warriors, it could be Boston’s (in my opinion). Still, LeBron and the Cavs have the ability to turn “it” on when things matter most. We are only half way through…let’s see how the rest unfolds.

 

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