Now that the All-Star break has concluded and the first half of the 2012-13 NBA season is complete, it’s time to take another look at division champion predictions for this year’s season. While I am staying with some of my picks made prior to the season, a few of my team projections look to have gone horribly wrong.
I knew the Philadelphia 76ers pick to win the Atlantic Division was going out on a limb, but I didn’t expect them to be seven games below .500 and four games out of the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference at the time of the All-Star break. The lack of the presence of the injured Andrew Bynum, who extended his time out indefinitely due to an apparent bowling injury, left the team struggling in the size department. Dedicated 76ers fans can look forward to the future of budding point guard, Jrue Holiday, who just made his first All-Star appearance on Sunday night.
Instead, my choice for the Atlantic Division title this year has been changed to the Brooklyn Nets. Currently in second place and 2.5 games behind the New York Knicks, the Nets have a great defense, only allowing 94.7 PPG, which is fifth in the league. The team’s All-Star center, Brook Lopez, is a key component in their first-half success and leads the team with 19 PPG. The typically under-the-radar Lopez is now being revered as one of the best centers in the game.
I am going to stick with my pick of the Indiana Pacers to capture the Central Division crown. They are currently in first place with a record of 32-21. Leading the NBA in PPG allowed with 89.9, the Pacers have one of the best defenses in the league. Paul George, making his first All-Star appearance this season, is leading the team in PPG with 17.6. The sneaky Chicago Bulls could give the Pacers a run for the division with the return of star point guard Derrick Rose in the second half. Rose has reportedly participated in 5-on-5 drills for the first time this season on Tuesday after tearing his ACL in the playoffs last year.
Without much surprise, I feel most confident in my Miami Heat pick to win the Southeast Division in the Eastern Conference. With the best record in the conference, they are at least four games ahead of every other team in the East. Lebron James is putting up video game numbers with 27.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 6.9 APG this season. Immediately before the All-Star break, James set an NBA record totaling six straight games with at least 30 points while shooting better than 60 percent.
My choice to win the Northwest Division in the Western Conference and to represent the west in the NBA finals remains to be the Oklahoma City Thunder. Considered to be the best pure scorer in the NBA, small forward Kevin Durant is currently leading the league in scoring with 29.2 PPG. Durant’s versatility is key in his scoring efficiency, as he is able to get to the lane for easy buckets and drain the trey, averaging .427 percent from the three-point-line. Point guard Russell Westbrook, also an All-Star, has become a true facilitator, leading the team’s potent offense, which is second in the league in scoring (106 PPG).
The high-flying offense from LA is still my pick to win the Pacific Division in the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Clippers, led by All-Star starters Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, are currently 39-17 and own the third best record in the conference. Paul put his handles on display in the All-Star game, mimicking an AND1 street player, and he earned the game’s MVP scoring 20 points and racking up 15 assists. If lob-city can stay healthy for the second half of the season (the team went 6-6 without Paul earlier this year and struggled at times without Griffin) they will be a true test for the reigning Western Conference champion OKC Thunder.
When viewing the Southwest Conference prior to the season, I completely overlooked the ageless Spurs. San Antonio has impressed me the entire season and currently own the best record in the NBA, going 42-12 in the first half of the year. The team’s experience is uncanny and is led by veterans Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Duncan was selected to his 14th All-Star appearance this season, which is third among active players, trailing only Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett who each have 15 appearances. The Spurs are first in the NBA in assists, which is a true testament to All-Star point guard Tony Parker, who leads the team in PPG (20.8) and APG (7.6).
I’ve been predicting since the start of the season that the NBA is going to have a repeat of the finals this year in June. From the Western Conference, the OKC Thunder are poised to return behind the scoring assassin and more intense Kevin Durant, who has a career high 10 technical fouls this season. With their experience in the playoffs, I think the Thunder will advance this season’s finals further than last year’s 4-1 series loss. However, I don’t see them, or any team for that matter, unseating King James and the defending champion Miami Heat as they are crowned again in game six of the finals.
By Bill Felo