We’ve made it all the way to All-Star break. This is usually a time when we have an idea of what might happen in the postseason. Just an idea, though. Many things can happen including injuries and turnarounds. I present to you my in-depth grades and predictions for each team. Keep in mind, these grades factor in the team’s position for the future and not solely performance.
Boston Celtics: B-
The Celtics are one of the most obvious teams tanking this year and they aren’t afraid to show it. The Rajon Rondo trade talk has quieted down a bit but there’s still a decent chance he’s traded. Boston is one of these teams whose roster may be completely different in a year or two.
Prediction: 27-55, 12th East
Brooklyn Nets: C
Overall, this season has been a disappointment for the Nets. Jason Kidd and the troops had high hopes coming into the season. The inconsistency and lack of daily effort has been hurting them quite a bit. On the other hand, it’s somewhat difficult to see Brooklyn finishing under .500.
Prediction: 43-39, 5th East
New York Knicks: D+
The fact that New York holds the tenth spot in the East at All-Star break is very discouraging. New York started to improve in the new year. However, they could not keep their momentum for some reason. Carmelo appears to be unsettled as the Knicks have no apparent future direction.
Prediction: 38-44, 8th East
Philadelphia 76ers: C
Philly is one of three Eastern Conference teams in full out tank mode. Michael Carter-Williams is no longer a surprise to us. The favorite to win Rookie of the Year is already becoming one of the game’s most well-rounded point guards. The Sixers should land a young star in the 2014 Draft.
Prediction: 22-60, 14th East
Toronto Raptors: A-
The Raptors have been a pleasant surprise in the Eastern Conference. Based on the current state of the East, Toronto should realistically hang on to that third seed. Their backcourt, paced by Kyle Lowry, is quietly one of the most efficient in the NBA. First-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan has transformed into a dependable wing scorer.
Prediction: 46-36, 3rd East
Chicago Bulls: B
The Bulls may be on the verge of getting stuck in mediocrity as Derrick Rose is out for a second straight year. Despite their shortage of talent, Thibodeau’s squad works hard every game and makes no excuses. A lottery pick would certainly help Chicago’s future stock. However, I don’t think it’s likely they drop out of the playoffs.
Prediction: 44-38, 4th East
Cleveland Cavaliers: C
The Cavs go into All-Star break with some relieving momentum. This is Cleveland’s first four-game winning streak since King James left town. The playoffs certainly aren’t out of the question. However, another lottery pick may be in this team’s best interest as they may have whiffed on one or two picks in the recent past.
Prediction: 32-50, 11th East
Detroit Pistons: D+
Simply put, the Pistons have been an absolute disaster. After signing Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, Detroit had high hopes. Making the playoffs seemed very likely. However, Detroit’s chemistry could not be much worse. This team is certainly capable of playing much better basketball. I’d say it’s a coin flip if they sneak into the playoffs or not.
Prediction: 35-47, 10th East
Indiana Pacers: A
Indiana goes into the break with the best home record (25-3). The Pacers are without a doubt the league’s most consistent team defensively. Their tremendous depth has given them a huge lift. The starters know their roles and usually execute very well. Bench players such as Danny Granger will be key as we approach mid-March.
Prediction: 63-19, 1st East
Milwaukee Bucks: D+
Milwaukee is pretty much guaranteed a big time player in the 2014 Draft. However, one player isn’t going to magically change the culture of this team. The Bucks need to find some way to attract more talent. Don’t discount the impact Larry Sanders’ injury problems have had, though.
Prediction: 17-65, 15th East
Atlanta Hawks: B
The Hawks really can’t be blamed much for their recent struggles. All hope was lost after Al Horford went down with a season-ending injury. Despite his absence, Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap have kept the Hawks competitive. What is Kyle Korver’s streak at now? Could it seriously last throughout the season?
Prediction: 39-43, 7th East
Charlotte Bobcats: B
It is All-Star break and the Bobcats are in the playoffs. You better believe they will be pushing as hard as anyone else in the league to capture a playoff spot.
The Bobcats are just a mediocre team at this point. However, they play with relentless hustle and desirable chemistry. Look out for a possible blockbuster trade before the deadline.
Prediction: 37-45, 9th East
Miami Heat: A
No reason to give Miami anything less than an “A.” Their flaws, such as subpar rebounding, are usually canceled out by LeBron James. The biggest issue when facing the Pacers will likely be their questionable depth of big bodies. Also, Dwyane Wade’s health is always a point of focus.
Prediction: 61-21, 2nd East
Orlando Magic: C
The Magic have quite a few very talented young players. Their upcoming pick should be the spark to the plug.
Orlando actually has the worst road record in the league at 3-23, but six Magic players average at least 12 points. This young, athletic team may be built to compete in a street ball league now, but they are one star away from bringing excitement back to Orlando.
Prediction: 25-57, 13th East
Washington Wizards: B-
Washington has had an up-and-down year thus far. They recently topped .500 for the first time in four years but quickly fell back under. The Wall-Beal backcourt is shaping up to be something special. The Wizards will continue to improve with more experience. This franchise finally seems to be moving in a positive direction.
Prediction: 41-41, 6th East
Dallas Mavericks: A-
After missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years last season, the Mavs have stormed back and played very respectable basketball. One concern I had for Dallas before the season was its lack of depth. However, Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis have been capable of carrying the team while playing heavy minutes. Therefore, health will be key for the Mavs post All-Star break.
Prediction: 48-34, Tied for 6th West
Houston Rockets: A
Houston is doing pretty darn well for having a new core. But that’s how it should be when you have two proven superstars in Howard and Harden. One negative statistic is Houston being ranked 23rd in points allowed per game in the paint. However, their uptempo style of play is probably a big reason for that. The Rockets are the hottest team going into the break, having won seven straight.
Prediction: 56-26, 4th West
Memphis Grizzlies: C+
Despite being a game and a half out of the playoffs, Memphis has gone 16-6 in 2014. I think it’s fair to say the Grizz would probably hold a playoff spot if it weren’t for Marc Gasol’s injury. The former Defensive Player of the Year means so much to Memphis’ success. Not just on defense, but he’s a viable offensive weapon as well.
Prediction: 46-36, 9th West
New Orleans Pelicans: C+
Considering the Pelicans have two key starters out, they aren’t doing bad at all. Jrue Holiday has missed a bunch of games with a fractured tibia and Ryan Anderson more recently went out with a herniated disc in his neck. With a healthy roster, the Pelicans have really solid talent. Another lottery pick won’t hurt this promising franchise.
Prediction: 34-48, 12th West
San Antonio Spurs: A-
Gregg Popovich plays games unlike any other coach in this league. With the exception of serious injuries, Pop prefers to sit out key players when something minor is bothering them. The Spurs are all about being mentally and physically prepared for the playoffs. Guess what? They’ll be back, once again.
Prediction: 59-23, 2nd West
Denver Nuggets: C+
Don’t get me wrong. Being a decent team in the Western Conference can be painful. The Nuggets would be the sixth or seventh seed in the East. On another note, I’m not a fan of the way this team is constructed. It’s going to be tough to bounce back after losing their coach, their GM, and Andre Iguodala (last year’s best all-around player.)
Prediction: 37-45, 11th West
Minnesota Timberwolves: C
Injuries to Kevin Love and other top players have held back the Wolves for the past couple years. However, for much of this year, their core was injury-free. They stuck in newly acquired Kevin Martin with a healthy Love, Rubio, and Pekovic. Minnesota’s offense has been dangerous at times but they constantly fail to stop teams at the other end. The injury bug is now back with Martin and Pekovic being out.
Prediction: 39-43, 10th West
Oklahoma City Thunder: A
With Westbrook’s recurring knee injuries, Durant has been carrying this team and putting on a show night after night. As of right now, he is my unquestioned MVP. It’s not just his team he makes a big impact on. He’s making a huge statement league-wide. The shorthanded Thunder sit atop the West but Westbrook may be back next game.
Prediction: 64-18, 1st West
Portland Trail Blazers: A
The Blazers dropped down to fifth place? Oh well. It’s not as bad as it sounds- Oklahoma City basically set every other team aside. The second through fifth seeds are separated by just two games, so the Blazers are still very much alive. Not to mention, many expected Portland to be at home on the couch when the playoffs came around. However, that’s not the case. Aldridge and Lillard have been bad. Bad meaning good.
Prediction: 57-25, 3rd West
Utah Jazz: C+
Let’s temporarily throw this season out of the way and look at Utah’s future. They likely have a top 7 pick. Obviously, the higher pick the better. In my opinion, the Jazz already have a solid lineup set for the future: Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter. With one more All-Star talent in the mix, the Jazz could be on the rise quicker than expected.
Prediction: 28-54, 13th West
Golden State Warriors: C+
The Warriors aren’t having a bad season. However, I don’t think eighth seed is ideal for them. A first round matchup with the Thunder wouldn’t lack entertainment but I doubt Golden State has the steam to keep up with Durant and company. Golden State continues to heavily rely on the three point shot with the “Splash Brothers” backcourt. Sometimes it kills others and sometimes it hurts them.
Prediction: 48-34, Tied for 6th West
L.A. Clippers: A-
Ever since CP3 and Griffin joined forces, the Clipps have been a dangerous season team. Season…not playoffs. You could say Doc Rivers has made some important changes to the system and players have become more motivated. Both Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have shown clear improvement to their games. Hopefully the Clipps can carry positive momentum into the playoffs.
Prediction: 55-27, 5th West
L.A. Lakers: C
The Lakers will be back. It may not be next season- I’ll give them until the 2015-16 season to get back on track. It’s just meant to happen; the power of that franchise is undeniable. A top pick in this year’s draft will do them good. On top of that, they’re due to land some big free agents in the next two summers. Then everyone will forget about the Lakers losing Dwight for nothing.
Prediction: 25-57, 15th West
Phoenix Suns: A+
“A+” usually isn’t in my grade book but come on, now. First year coach Jeff Hornacek is doing an unbelievable job with this team. The over/under in Vegas was less than 20 wins. What does Vegas know? Nobody can predict hard work and excellent chemistry. Goran Dragic has brought the Suns this far. Best believe they are going to keep pushing.
Prediction: 47-35, 8th West
Sacramento Kings: C-
Last but not least, the Sacramento Kings. The Kings are desperate in the sense that they really need to get back to winning. This is another season well outside of the playoffs. However, management made some compelling moves that has Sacramento showing flashes of greatness. Rudy Gay may be the veteran the Kings have been looking for.
Prediction: 26-56, 14th West