By Alex Thurmond
We’re just about at the halfway point in the NBA season, and by now you should be able to tell who’s going to contend for a playoff spot and who should be gearing up for a slot in the NBA Lottery. Notice how I said contend for a playoff spot instead of contend for a title, because everyone and their mother knows that we’re going to get a third straight Finals matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Anyways, the division races are probably more up for grabs, so let’s focus on those.
Let’s start with the Eastern Conference, specifically the Atlantic Division. Going into the season, the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors had the best odds at winning the division. The Celtics have been performing well but a recent loss to the Raptors seriously hurt their chances of taking the lead in the Atlantic. The one-two punch of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan make Toronto a force to be reckoned with and they might be the only team that could realistically stand a chance against Cleveland.
Speaking of Cleveland, we really don’t even have to talk about the Central Division. It’s going to the Cavs, so don’t even waste your time trying to talk yourself into anyone else surpassing them here.
At the start of the season, the Atlanta Hawks were the favorites to win the Southeast Division, but with some of the recent trades they’ve made, they seem to be going in the tanking direction. The Charlotte Hornets are a fashionable pick to eventually surpass the Hawks, and end up being the Southeast champs.
On to the Western Conference let’s go ahead and get the Pacific Division out of the way. Golden State has it in the bag with the Clippers six games behind them in second place.
The San Antonio Spurs have usually run away with the Southwest division for the better part of the last 20 years, but they finally have some competition in the Houston Rockets. The Spurs were the favorites at the start of the season and could still win the division. But, as of this writing, the James Harden-led Rockets are a game back from San Antonio and are playing as well as anyone in the league right now. The Rockets could actually be a better bet to win this division than the Spurs. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich could give his starters some days off during the rest of the season off to rest them up for the playoffs, like he’s done every year, which could provide enough wiggle room for the Rockets to sneak through.
Finally, we have the Northwest Division,where Utah Jazz currently sit atop the standings. Still, the one man show of Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City could spoil Utah’s fun. Westbrook is crazy and competitive enough to put OKC on his back and prove that he can succeed without Durant, so don’t count the Thunder out to win the Northwest.
The only two division winners that seem like locks are Golden State and Cleveland, but fans can feel confident about the rest of the predictions for the league’s division winners. We’ll just have to wait and see how the rest of the season plays out.