With All-Star weekend festivities on the horizon, the stretch run of the season is gearing up to be a good one. It’s around this time that the good teams turn it on, playoff fates are decided and injuries become more revenant than ever.
Team in the best Spot: Cleveland
After a pedestrian start eerily similar to that of LeBron’s 2010 Heat, the Cavs seem to have found their groove. Since dipping below .500 (19-20), they’ve won 14 out of their last 15 games including a 12-game win streak. The Big Three seems like it’s finally starting to mesh and create chemistry, and if that’s the case, then the sky is the limit. Currently the fourth seed in the East and just a game back of third-place Chicago, if the Cavs can take down the Bulls in their last game before the break tonight then they put themselves in prime position over their last 27 games.
Team in the worst spot: Los Angeles Clippers
Big mouths, soft play and no defense. No, I’m not referring to Daffy Duck in Space Jam. The rest couldn’t come at a better time for Doc Rivers’ club. Before picking up wins vs injured Dallas and Houston, the Clippers dropped five out of six, including four straight. They gave up more than 100 points in every loss. On top of all that wonderful news, they’ll be without leading scorer Blake Griffin for what looks to be three weeks. Though the team can probably still put up points as Griffin recovers from surgery to remove a staph infection from his elbow, the defense is still a major issue. In back-to-back losses at Toronto and Oklahoma City, LA gave up a combined 254 points. Not to mention the team has something of a temper, or as Kevin Durant put it, “They cry too (bleeping) much.” LA leads the league in technical fouls and has three players, Matt Barnes (who leads the league in technical fouls), DeAndre Jordan and Griffin, that are all in the top 10 in the league in individual techs. In a loss at Cleveland last week, the Clippers had a sequence of four technical fouls in three minutes. A mentally and defensively soft team won’t last long in the post season. LA’s eternal JV squad needs to get its act together soon.
MVP: That’s a tricky question, but James Harden
As much I’d like to give this to Anthony Davis, who’s been on a whole different level this season (24.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game) it’s hard to make someone an MVP who’s on a team that at best will likely be an eight seed and might not make the post season at all. Just 21 years old, Davis will have plenty of other chances as the Pelicans continue to improve. Having said all that, I think James Harden, who has been nothing short of spectacular, will win it. Leading the league in scoring to go with seven assists and six rebounds a game, Harden’s stock will only go up if he can step up even more in Dwight Howard’s absence. Even if someone else on Houston fills those shoes for the time being, Harden is the best player on a team that will be close to 60 wins. Stephen Curry will be nipping at his heels, though, especially given the Warriors have the best record in the West. This race will be a fun one to watch.
Rookie of the Year: Andrew Wiggins
It hasn’t been a particularly special rookie class up to this point, and Jabari Parker going down for the year didn’t help that cause at all. Having said that, despite all of Minnesota’s struggles, Andrew Wiggins has played very well — well enough to draw praise from the likes of Kobe and LeBron. Averaging 15 points and four rebounds a game, the former Jayhawk has a bright future. As the Timberwolves continue to rebuild, it’s clear they have something to build around.
Finals Prediction: Cavilers vs Grizzlies
Although the Hawks and their four All-Stars are sitting pretty right now at 43-11, I stand by the popular school of thought: no superstar no championship. With the Cavs hitting their stride heading into the latter part of the season, they’ll be the team to beat.
As far as the West goes, even though the Warriors are sitting on top right now, long playoff series come down to defense. The Grizzlies, who beat Golden State earlier this season, are the best defensive team in the league. The Warriors will be a tough out with the deadly combo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but if anyone can stop them it’s Memphis.
LeBron came back to Cleveland for one reason: to win a championship for his home. If they can keep this rhythm and chemistry, then simply put the Cavs are just too talented to let this slip through their fingers. They’ll bring home Cleveland’s first pro sports title in 40 years. Cleveland diehards will finally be rewarded for their loyalty.
Follow David on Twitter @Dshug24 and listen to him on “The Blitz” on Wednesdays 10-11 a.m.