Marc Gasol

NBA midseason predictions

The NBA season has lived up to all the preseason hype that surrounded it.

Midway through the season, we have seen a triple overtime game, Klay Thompson break the NBA record for points in a quarter with 37, and so far the top three teams in each conference have never won a title, which could be a compelling story come playoff time. But with the season halfway done, lets look at some predictations: 

Eastern Conference

Before the season started, the biggest prediction fans had was that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls would clash in the Eastern Conference Finals. Fans and even analysts knew better than to say the Wizards or the Hawks (yes the Atlanta Hawks) would be the top two seeds in the conference come All Star break. So what is happening in the East?

Well, Cleveland struggled out of the gate. But to be fair, it isn’t easy starting the season with a rookie head coach, a reloaded roster, and the abundance of expectations the team faced. However, now that Lebron is healthy and J.R. Smith and Mozgov seem to have found their place on the team, the Cavs have won seven straight. Still in my opinion, they can’t win with this current roster. A big part of their problem is that Kevin Love doesn't fit in their roster. He seems misused and even lost at certain times.

On the other side, Chicago can’t seem to avoid the injury bug, but thankfully Derrick Rose is slowly looking to be back to normal. This season Noah, McDermott, and Dunleavy have continuously missed games due to injury.

However, if the Bulls can get healthy, they are still my favorite to win the East. They have a point guard in Rose that has veteran experience and they have the biggest frontline in the NBA in Noah along with a rejuvenated Gasol and a high energy Taj Gibson. With rookie Nikola Mirotic finding his groove in the rotation and Jimmy Butler a clear cut favorite for most improved player, this team can be dangerous come playoff time.

But wait, I almost forgot the top three teams in the conference. Atlanta has been a great storyline thus far. No superstar on the roster, and yet they are currently on top of the East riding a 17 game win streak. Sorry to break your hearts Hawks fans, but I don’t see this team representing the East in the Finals. Simply put, they don’t have a go to player. We haven’t seen a team without a superstar win since the Pistons did it in 2004. Next the Wizards. Again, this team has the pieces to be a contender in the next few years. They’re just too young right now. But the backcourt of Wall and Beal will continue to be one of the dominant duos in the NBA. As for the Raptors, there is just no big men on that team that can bang with the Hawks or Bulls come playoff time. So have fun during the regular season, because come playoff time your team will come just a bit short.

Western Conference

Lets just start off by saying the Oklahoma City Thunder sit at 10th in the Western and two games out of the 8th and final spot. That right there should tell you how crazy the West has been this year. Quite frankly, a three-game losing streak can drop you from third place to 7th place very easily. So how can I possibly distinguish who are actually contenders and who are just not there yet.

Well I’m going to start off by saying, the defending champ Spurs will be just fine. Kawhi Leonard is back and slowly they are finding their groove. And nobody is better than resting their players during the regular season to keep fresh during the playoffs than Gregg Popovich.

Next, the Golden State Warriors have been arguably the most impressive team this year. Stephen Curry is the leading candidate for MVP and Klay Thompson is cementing himself as a true star in this league. Not to mention, Steve Kerr has these guys playing stifling defense. Draymond Green has played himself into consideration for a max contract this offseason. Plus, having home court advantage throughout the playoffs can be huge for a Warriors team that is 21-2 at home.

Sitting at second is my pick to win it all. And here’s why. The Memphis Grizzlies might be the most balanced team in the NBA. They have the strongest frontcourt duo in the NBA with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Mike Conley is having a career year. With the addition of Jeff Green, they got a versatile player who can defend multiple positions and knows how to put the ball in the basket.  They have the league’s third best defense in points allowed. If they can acquire one more solid bench player near the deadline, they will be the team to beat come playoff time. Moving along, Portland unfortunately had its chances cut short when Lamarcus Aldridge injured his thumb which requires surgery. Even with him delaying surgery, there’s no telling how much his game will be altered while playing through pain.

Now the next few teams in the West, Clippers, Rockets, Mavericks, all have one flaw that scares me. They rely on the jump shot, way too much. Yes, Harden is playing at an MVP caliber but where has his “Robin” Dwight Howard been? Harden can’t and won’t do it alone. For the Clippers its simple, there’s no depth. The addition of Austin Rivers seems a bit bizarre with a team that needs much more help. And for the Mavericks, Rajon Rondo hasn’t been the missing piece. Actually he’s been the opposite. They are now 11-9 since acquiring him. Yeah that sure was a “blockbuster” trade, Cuban.

So in my prediction, we will be seeing the Memphis Grizzlies versus the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals this season. And the ultimate winner? The Grizzlies. Even after saying all that, what do I know? Except that there is plenty more basketball to be played, and so many more factors that can alter the playoff picture. But for now, this Memphis team looks poised to make a deep run.
 

Tony Parker appreciates San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich’s conservation plan.

During this condensed NBA season, Parker said Popovich is rarely allowing anyone to play more than 40 minutes, a strategy that contributed to the Spurs’ 89-84 victory Monday night over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Parker, playing 36 minutes, scored 21 points, and Tim Duncan added 19 points and a season-high 17 rebounds in 32 minutes.

“I think Pop tries to keep us fresh,” Parker said. “It’s rare that me, or anyone, plays 40 minutes. Over the course of the season, if you have to play 38 or 40 minutes a game, it’s tough. It takes its toll.”

Memphis, minus Zach Randolph indefinitely and Tony Allen the past two games, was forced to use starters Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley for 40-plus minutes. Gasol had 22 points to lead the Grizzlies, while Conley scored 19 and Gay 18.

Gay said the Grizzlies, who lost their third straight, expended their energy fighting back from a 14-point first-half deficit to take a six-point lead entering the final quarter.

“It was tough,” Gay said. “A couple of guys were fatigued from playing a lot of heavy minutes. It was one of those games that slipped away from us.”

The Grizzlies were outscored 22-11 in the fourth quarter. The 11 points represented a season low for a single quarter.

“We made some shots and got some stops [to rally],” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “Then in the fourth quarter, we couldn’t make a shot anymore.”

Memphis didn’t have an answer for Duncan in the second half. He scored 13 of his points after the half as the Spurs opened a nine-game road trip with a win, their fifth straight. The Grizzlies led 73-67 entering the final period, but missed their first nine shots to allow the Spurs to recover and take an 87-81 lead with 1:18 to go.

Duncan also had two key blocks in the closing minute as the Spurs clung to an 87-84 lead. He first blocked Gay’s layup attempt with 32 seconds left and followed with a block of Gasol’s close-range attempt 10 seconds later.

“He is somebody who is pretty special,” Popovich said. “The blocks were pretty good down the stretch. Those kinds of things are what he does.”

Parker said Duncan has been playing at a high level recently. It was Duncan’s second straight double-double. He had 13 points and 15 rebounds Saturday in a win over Oklahoma City.

“He’s feeling good,” Parker said. “His knee is doing well. Hopefully, he can stay like that. That’s a great game from Timmy — 19 [points] and 17 [rebounds].”

The Grizzlies trailed by 13 at 61-48 early in the third quarter, but rallied behind a 25-6 run to end the period. Memphis took its first lead of the second half, at 66-63, on O.J. Mayo’s 3-pointer with 2:11 to go in the third quarter.

Hitting five of seven 3-pointers in the first half, San Antonio led by as many as 14 late in the second quarter. Matt Bonner and Gary Neal connected on two 3-pointers apiece and Kawhi Leonard had the other.