10 NBA players off to a hot start

The NFL is the biggest and most-watched professional sports organization in North America each October and November. Nothing the NBA does will ever alter that reality. With that said, basketball diehards could legitimately claim the Association has been responsible for the better and more entertaining storylines between the two leagues since the start of the 2019-20 campaign. 

Stephen Curry is out indefinitely after suffering a broken hand in late October, and the Golden State Warriors plummeted to the basement of the Western Conference standings. LeBron James once again looks like the best overall player on the planet. The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t a complete disaster as of mid-November. Seemingly everybody has a take on load management and what it means for the NBA now and in the future. 

Association experts, observers and fans promised the most open and competitive season of the decade, and the league didn’t disappoint as Halloween decorations made way for Christmas lights and holiday music. Granted, not every player off to a hot start this fall will be in meaningful basketball games come April. Some even may be moved before the trade deadline. But at least a few are early contenders for honors such as Most Improved Player and Most Valuable Player, and a certain 24-year-old may finally be in the infancy of a long-awaited breakout year. 

Who is off to a hot start so far this season?

Trae Young 

Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young tallying five steals during a Nov. 8 loss to the Sacramento Kings was an aberration. To put it nicely, the 21-year-old remains a liability on defense and often appears disinterested with that aspect of playing. Young also made history, per Hawks PR, by becoming the first player to ever notch at least 38 points, nine assists and seven boards across his team’s opening two regular-season contests. He drained 14-of-28 three-point attempts in four October games, and he’s shooting over 46 percent from the field. With John Collins suspended for 25 games, Young is tasked with carrying Atlanta’s offensive burden more than at any previous point of his 90-game career.

Kyrie Irving 

Nobody who has followed Kyrie Irving’s career was shocked by the report from ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that claimed Irving lapsed “into a funk” and was responsible for an episode that left “everyone scratching their heads as to what precipitated it” during the Brooklyn Nets’ preseason trip to China. Irving likely will always be enigmatic off the court to those outside of his inner circle, but even his detractors located in Boston and Cleveland can’t ignore his scoring over the season’s first 10 games. Irving posted 29.7 PPG, roughly seven points better than his career average, over his first stretch of contests in Brooklyn colors. As Kristian Winfield of the New York Daily News wrote, Irving set a franchise record by accumulating 222 points through Brooklyn’s first seven games. The one-time champion who grew up in New Jersey says he’s happy living and playing in the Big Apple. Time will tell. 

Gordon Hayward

Basketball, like life, is often unfair. For the first time since Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome and horrific leg injury minutes into the 2017-18 season debut, the 29-year-old showed glimpses he had located his previous All-Star form. Hayward averaged 18.9 PPG and career-bests in REB (7.1) and field-goal percentage (55.5) over eight appearances. On Nov. 5, Hayward torched the Cleveland Cavaliers for 39 points while going 17-of-20 from the field. He was back. Then he suffered a broken hand on Nov. 9. That latest setback will sideline him for at least six weeks, according to Jimmy Golen of the Associated Press. 

Tristan Thompson 

Tristan Thompson and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t get the memo the team is tanking. Thompson finished Cleveland’s 10th game of the season third on the team in scoring, and he averaged career highs in PPG (16.5), REB (11.4) and BLK (1.4) over those outings. He’s even making threes for the first time in his pro career!
The 28-year-old is out of contract following the campaign, and the rebuilding Cavs have little reason to consider paying him beyond that deal. Thus, Thompson is auditioning for would-be contenders between now and Dec. 15 when offseason signees become trade-available.  
New Cleveland head coach John Beilein deserves praise for guiding a lackluster roster to a 4-6 start. The franchise nevertheless cannot exist in a state of denial. Thompson is currently worth more on the market than in the Cavs lineup. 

Thomas Bryant 

The Washington Wizards lost six of their first eight games en route to what is practically guaranteed to be a woeful season but center Thomas Bryant was one bright spot. The former Los Angeles Lakers castoff hit the 20-point mark in three of those eight outings, and he converted at least 60 percent of his attempts in three straight games from Nov. 4 through Nov. 8. Bryant began Nov. 13 averaging 2.3 BLK, 11.3 defensive rebounds and 14.8 total rebounds per 100 team possessions. If he can get back to his 33.3 percent three-point shooting from a season ago (he was at 26.1 percent after eight games), he can evolve into more than just a stat compiler for an awful team. 

Aron Baynes

During the 2019 FIFA World Cup , Boston Celtics salary cap casualty and Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes shot 52.4 percent (11-21) from beyond the arc while averaging 11.4 PPG and 5.5 REB. The 32-year-old carried that form over to the start of the NBA season. In 10 games, nine starts, Baynes averaged career-highs in PPG (16.2), REB (5.8), AST (3.1), BLK (0.9), three-point percentage (50.0), field goal percentage (59.0) and MIN (24.3). Guard Devin Booker is making those around him better en route to taking a necessary career leap, but Baynes is playing well enough to potentially keep Deandre Ayton a spectator once the 21-year-old serves his 25-game ban. 

Andre Drummond 

Can the Detroit Pistons win with Andre Drummond? The same question many within the basketball community asked on Oct. 1 hovers over the club in the middle of November. The 26-year-old center is good for 20 points and 20 rebounds whenever the mood strikes him. As of Nov. 13, nobody had scored more two-point field goals (reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo had played in two fewer games heading into that evening), and Drummond led the Association in offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, total boards, and total rebound percentage.  As Michael Pina of SB Nation explained, however, Drummond’s inconsistent efforts and obvious offensive limitations coupled with the fact the Pistons don’t have enough horses to make anything resembling a deep postseason run raise concerns about Drummond’s future. He can either test free agency next summer or exercise a player option worth over $28.7 million for 2020-21. As cruel as it is to suggest, the Pistons may require a top-tier team to lose a starter at Drummond’s position to move the big man before the trade deadline. Both player and club could benefit from such a transaction. 

Andrew Wiggins

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins was a punchline for much of his side’s season opener vs. the Brooklyn Nets, even though he made a couple of clutch shots during the overtime period. Few are laughing at the 24-year-old after 10 games. Wiggins is averaging career marks in PPG (25.5), AST (3.3), BLK (1.1) and field goal percentage (47.3), and as Danny Cunningham of SKOR North wrote, he also has drastically improved his shot selection, and the six-year pro is attacking the rim unlike at previous times during his underwhelming “empty points” periods.  Can this version of Wiggins last through the harsh winter months? Will he put forth more than half-efforts on defense minus the occasional solid outing? If “yes” is the answer to both questions, Wiggins will contend for Most Improved Player honors. 

James Harden

Houston Rockets guard James Harden heard your offseason jokes about his inability and unwillingness to share the ball with Russell Westbrook. Per Justin Kubatko of Statmuse and Basketball-Reference, the one-time regular-season MVP is only the third player in league history to average at least 37 PPG through the opening 10 games of a campaign. (Harden was at 37.3 at the start of Nov. 13.) The 30-year-old also scored the most points across 10 contests (373) than any player since Rick Barry tallied 381 points in the fall of 1966. Most frightening for opposing defenses is that several signs point to Harden heating up rather than peaking ahead of Thanksgiving. He shot under 13 percent from three-point land in three of his first five games before returning to form from long distance over the subsequent four outings. From Nov. 4 through Nov. 11, Harden averaged 40.25 PPG in four games. 

LeBron James 

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James turns 35 years old in December, but one wouldn’t know that by watching him this fall. USA Today, Alex Kennedy of Hoops Hype, Nemanja Vukasinovic of Fadeaway World and Forbes’ Tommy Beer all mentioned James as an MVP candidate in early November, and the King averaged 24.0 PPG, 11.0 AST, 8.2 REB and 1.1 STL in his first 10 games. He shot 47.1 percent from the field over that period.  James isn’t a fan of load management. “If I’m hurt, I don’t play. If not, I’m playing,” he told ESPN earlier this month. Lakers coach Frank Vogel should approach the situation differently. Los Angeles is built to win a title next spring. Limiting James’ involvement in relatively meaningless games this winter is vital to achieving that goal. 

Last season, the Toronto Raptors featured Kawhi Leonard in 60 regular-season contests. Leonard entered the playoffs fresh, and he was the Association’s top two-way player throughout the postseason. The Lakers require James’ best beginning next April, not in January. 


By: Zac Wassink

25 questions heading into the second half of the NBA season

1. Should the Pelicans trade Anthony this season or this summer?

The Pelicans are in 12th place in the Western Conference, and it’s time they start thinking about trading Anthony Davis. If they deal him this season, the Lakers might be willing to part with three of their four young assets (Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart). The 76ers might be willing to dangle Ben Simmons, too. Heck, the Warriors could even offer Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

If New Orleans waits until the summer, the Celtics will be eligible to acquire Davis (a provision in the CBA is preventing them from doing so this season without including Kyrie Irving) and could offer a package including Jaylen Brown and their war chest of valuable future draft picks. The Knicks could offer their unprotected 2019 first-round draft pick and Kevin Knox. The only downside to waiting for the summer is that if Davis demands a deal to a specific team, the Pelicans lose all their leverage. Lots to consider in the Big Easy, and none of it is all that promising.

2. What does the Lakers starting lineup look like this spring?

The best-case scenario includes LeBron James and Anthony Davis. A lineup with those two could win the title. The next best scenario probably involves James, Bradley Beal and whichever two youngsters remain. This lineup could hang with any team in the league but is probably an underdog in the Conference Finals and Finals. The worst-case scenario would be if they make no major moves at the deadline because their current lineup likely has a Conference Finals ceiling and it’d be malpractice to waste a year of LeBron’s prime, like when the team has a number of trade chips.

3. Which teams mortgage their futures at the deadline?

Out West, the Pelicans are sure to be in the middle of everything, as they hold the crown jewel in Anthony Davis. Yet there’s a chance the Pelicans hold onto Davis and make a big trade of their own — we know they were in the mix for Jimmy Butler earlier this year. Everyone knows that the Rockets and Lakers will be looking for deals too. The Kings are desperate to make the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, so keep an eye on them as well.

Out East, any of the top five teams could justify pushing their chips in and try to capitalize on the Warriors’ perceived vulnerability. Also, keep an eye out for Pat Riley and the Miami Heat — they’ve straightened things out as of late and have been trying to land a blue-chipper ever since LeBron James left.

4. Does Michael Jordan deal Kemba Walker?

The conundrum of Kemba Walker: He means everything to the Hornets and wants to remain the face of the franchise, yet they can’t compete with him on their roster. He’s not quite elite enough to carry Charlotte deep into the playoffs, yet he’s too good to not carry the team to a .500 record. With no cap room (maybe you shouldn’t have maxed out Nic Batum, MJ!) and hardly any trade assets (maybe you shouldn’t have turned down four first-round picks to draft Frank Kaminsky, MJ!), Michael Jordan needs to seriously consider trading Walker for some future draft picks and/or cap relief if the Hornets ever want to quit toiling in mediocrity.

5. What do the Blazers do at the trade deadline?

The Blazers are having another solid season. They’re 25-17 and have an average offense and defense. They won’t miss the playoffs, but they probably won’t make it out of the first round if they don’t make a move at the trade deadline. Is this the year they break up the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt? How does the passing of owner Paul Allen impact the team’s previously unwavering loyalty to its dynamic backcourt? Would the Wizards ever consider a Bradley Beal for McCollum plus an unprotected 2020 first-rounder swap?

6. Which teams should blow it up at the deadline?

A couple of teams that are teetering on the brink of falling out of playoff contention should seriously consider blowing up their rosters by trading away assets for future draft picks and high-upside prospects. The most obvious team is the Washington Wizards. At 17-25, no John Wall for the rest of the year and no cap space, the team should absolutely be looking to trade Otto Porter and his massive contract, Markieff Morris and his abrasive attitude and even Bradley Beal if a team like the Lakers offers multiple prospects and draft picks.

Just above Washington in the standings, the Magic, Pistons and Hornets are all fighting for the eight seed. If any of them falter, they’d be obvious “tank” candidates. In the West, everything is still congested in the standings, but the Grizzlies and Pelicans will want to listen to offers for their respective stars if they’re on the outside looking in a month from now.

7. Do the Bucks have enough to compete for a title?

When LeBron James was 24 years old, he won his first MVP and led the Cavs to a league-best 66 wins. He was so transcendent that the team didn’t think it needed to improve a roster with Mo Williams as its second-best player at the trade deadline. Everyone knows how that worked out for Cleveland — the Orlando Magic caught fire in the Conference Finals and upset the Cavs.

Milwaukee Bucks fans should be scared to death of history repeating itself with Giannis Antetokounmpo this season. Giannis is also 24 years old and an MVP front-runner, and he’s leading a surprisingly good Bucks team to the top of the conference as the deadline nears. While the Bucks have better secondary options than the 2009 Cavs had, their current roster is probably another scorer and versatile forward away from being threats to win it all.

8. Are the Raptors finally a legitimate title contender?

These dinosaurs are legit. Unlike past years, they have a roster built for the playoffs. Kawhi Leonard is back to being the Kawhi Leonard of old (albeit, a little better on offense and a little worse on defense). Danny Green is having his best season in years. Same goes for Serge Ibaka, whose switch to small-ball center appears to have triggered a Benjamin Button-like reverse aging in his body. Kyle Lowry is second in the league in assists, too.

And who could forget Pascal Siakam — wow, where the hell did this guy come from? In his third season, he’s made the jump from solid defensive presence off the bench to potential All-Star and two-way terror on the court. He’s always sprinting, making offensive players uncomfortable on defense and pushing the envelope on offense — just making winning plays all over the court. He’s like Toronto’s own mutated version of Draymond Green. If you haven’t seen him play yet, you’re missing out on the best spin move in the NBA.

9. Are the Houston Rockets still contenders?

James Harden probably answered this one at Golden State last week where he put on one of the most impressive performances of his career. His three-pointer between the outstretched hands of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green was the climax point of an on-going, 15-game stretch in which he’s averaging over 40 points per game. We know Harden will keep stuffing the stat sheet, but we also know that he’s prone to wear down in the playoffs if another teammate isn’t there to lighten his load. Can Chris Paul get back on track once he returns from his hamstring injury? Does Houston trade for another shot creator at the deadline?

10. Are the Nuggets a legitimate title contender?

Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets’ meteoric rise to the top of the Western Conference has been one of the biggest surprises of this NBA season. Jokic is proving to be a one-man elite offense, as the Nuggets have been able to withstand significant injuries to a number of their key players, including Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Will Barton. Even if they sputter at some point during the second half of the season, they should finish with a top-four record in the West. The question then becomes what is their ceiling this season with a roster comprised mostly of players with little to no prior playoff experience? A safe bet is that they’ll win their first-round series and then lose a close battle in the second round to a more experienced team like the Warriors, Rockets, Thunder or Lakers. Regardless, the future is bright in Denver.

11. Have the Thunder quietly built a defensive machine to upset the Warriors?

With Paul George playing at a first team All-NBA level this season and Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder and Jerami Grant playing excellent two-way basketball, the Thunder might be the team best equipped to take down the Warriors. Notice I didn’t mention Russell Westbrook? That’s because the Thunder are often winning games in spite of Westbrook. While he is taking two fewer shots per game and has recommitted himself to defense (leading the league in steals), his shooting splits and shot selection are abysmal. He’s a key reason why OKC has the worst field-goal percentage in the NBA. It’s so frustrating because this team could absolutely steal some games from the Warriors in a series (they’re 3-2 vs. Golden State since acquiring Paul George) with its defense and overwhelming athleticism. However, Westbrook has to be a much more efficient player for the Thunder to take down Goliath.

12. Can the 76ers avoid a chemistry catastrophe?

There are layers to this one. For starters, the relationship between franchise cornerstones, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, is somewhere between “working partnership” and “icy.” It’s probably closer to the latter right now after their recent rebounding collision and Embiid’s subsequent freak-out. If that weren’t enough to worry about, Jimmy Butler is apparently already comfortable dressing down head coach Brett Brown in front of teammates about his role in the offense. Some teams can excel amid chaos like this; others fall victim to it. Will the Eastern Conference’s most talented team straighten things out for a long playoff run? Or will it implode from within?

13. Do the Pacers have enough offensive firepower to win the East?

It may come as a surprise to the casual fan, but the Indiana Pacers are a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference this season. They’re currently in third place and have the NBA’s third-highest rated defense despite missing their star, Victor Oladipo, for 11 games this season. Their defense and plethora of excellent role players will keep them in every game come playoff time, but can Oladipo carry their offense enough for them to make a deep run? Look for the Pacers to add some more scoring pop at this year’s trade deadline.

14. What is the Clippers’ ceiling?

How many players do you think a casual NBA fan could name on the Clippers? Three? Four? Despite having no star power, the Clippers are 24-16 and in fourth place in the loaded Western Conference. This is no longer a cute story about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts — this team is legitimately good. Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are all good players and have destroyed unsuspecting opponents this season.

How good are they? Can they win a playoff series? It’ll depend on the matchup and whether they pick up a better two-guard (Avery Bradley stinks now) and rim protector (Gortat isn’t cutting it). They could probably take down any team without an MVP-caliber player in a seven-game series, so if they play the Spurs, Blazers or Jazz in the first round, they’ll have more than a puncher’s chance to advance.

15. Will Jaylen Brown or Gordon Hayward get back on track?

If someone told you that Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward were averaging only a combined 23.6 points per game, you’d probably assume that the Celtics were having the season from hell. Fortunately for Boston, the “Marcuses” (Morris and Smart) have stepped up their respective games and covered for Brown’s and Hayward’s struggles. The team is comfortably in fifth place in the top-heavy Eastern Conference and will always have a chance in any playoff series with Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and the Marcuses playing well. However, if the Celtics want to compete for a title, they’ll need at least one of Brown or Hayward to start playing better. Both have shown some signs of life recently, but an occasional good game won’t suffice come May and June.

16. Do the Jazz have another magical second half in store?

Quin Snyder has been a second-half miracle worker in his tenure as head coach of the Utah Jazz. Last season, after a 17-24 start to the season, the Jazz ripped off a 31-10 record the next 41 games and rode that momentum to a first-round upset over the Thunder. At 20-21 through 41 games this season, Snyder will need to once again work his second-half magic to get Donovan Mitchell and Co. back on track.

17. How does DeMarcus Cousins fit in with the Warriors?

As they attempt to three-peat and win their fourth title in five seasons, the Warriors are struggling with mental and physical fatigue. Even when they’re at full strength, they seem as vulnerable as they’ve seemed since Kevin Durant joined the team. That could all change when DeMarcus Cousins makes his debut. Will the Warriors be rejuvenated by their “new toy” and find new ways to throttle teams? Or will Cousins’ overwhelming but unnecessary offensive talent hurt the team’s on-court chemistry? Boogie’s commitment to defense could ultimately dictate this one.

18. Can Steph Curry really go 50-45-90 again?

Remember when Steph Curry won the first-ever unanimous MVP in 2015-16 and forced us to recalibrate how basketball was going to be played moving forward? That season he averaged 30.1 points per game and joined Steve Nash as the only players to ever join the 50-45-90 Club (FG percentage-3FG percentage-FT percentage). Well, he’s doing it again this season. Right now he’s averaging 28.9 points per game on 48-44-91 shooting splits. (And he’s been in a slump lately too.) Thanks to the equally ridiculous seasons guys like James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo are having, hardly anyone seems to be noticing how insanely well Curry is shooting this year.

19. Can we hand Luka Doncic the Rookie of the Year, already?

Barring injury, the answer is yes. Doncic has been a revelation in Dallas and is must-see television every time he steps on the court. He might even get voted in as an All-Star Game starter. And while he shouldn’t be an All-Star starter, nobody should have any issues with him making the team because he’s averaging 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game and absolutely has a case as being one of the 12 best players in the Western Conference this season.

20. Should the Knicks even bother bringing Kristaps Porzingis back this season?

If you recall, Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL just before the All-Star break last season. With a crappy roster in place and their sights set on Kevin Durant, the Knicks have been in no rush to get their young star on the court before he’s completely healthy. They are going to evaluate Porzingis in mid-February, but there’s a chance he doesn’t play at all this season.

Should he play? On one hand, it’d be nice to get him back on the court for about 10-15 games to help him get his rhythm and confidence back heading into the offseason — this is what the Pacers did with Paul George following his broken leg. On the other hand, with a shot at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, they might not want Porzingis winning games for them and screwing up their lottery odds.

Full 25

By Pat Heery

Pistons Will Trade No. 12 Pick For A Veteran

Written by Chris Barnwell at CBS Sports.com

The Pistons failed to meet expectations last season. Reggie Jackson never became the player they needed, Andre Drummond struggled to take the next step and Stanley Johnson got sent to the D-League at one point. Stan Van Gundy has his work cut out for him as he tries to build a winning team from current pieces.

One course would be to tear down and rebuild, but reports are that Van Gundy and the Pistons have no plans of doing that. They still believe they can win now and are willing to make the necessary moves. One of those moves includes trading their No. 12 draft pick.

One reason they be offering the pick is they truly believe this roster can win in the near future and want veterans to make that happen. However, the Pistons might just be unhappy with their options with the 12th pick and would rather have a veteran.

Detroit needs more consistent talent to make progress. Jackson has been a mixed bag and Drummond unreliable. It’s a little strange they would choose to pass on acquiring young talent at No. 12, but the upcoming class is a little top heavy.

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Piston Coach Stan Van Gundy Goes Off On President-Elect Trump

Written by Vince Ellis at Detroit Free Press.com

Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy noticed the quietness on this morning’s bus ride to Talking Stick Resort Arena.

He wondered whether his team was still thinking about its embarrassing 32-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers two nights ago. But backup center Aron Baynes let him know that wasn’t it. He told Van Gundy that the players’ thoughts were on Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election Tuesday night.

That result disgusted Van Gundy. In a six-minute diatribe today, Van Gundy unloaded on the unconventional candidate who rose from being an underdog in GOP primaries to occupying the most powerful office in the world.

“I don’t think anybody can deny this guy is openly and brazenly racist and misogynistic,” Van Gundy said. “We have just thrown a good part of our population under the bus, and I have problems with thinking this is where we are as a country.”

After he finished his rant, he said he didn’t feel like discussing the teams game against the Phoenix Suns.

“I didn’t vote for (George W.) Bush, but he was a good, honorable man with whom I had political differences, so I didn’t vote for him. But for our country to be where we are now, who took a guy who — I don’t care what anyone says, I’m sure they have other reasons and maybe good reasons for voting for Donald Trump — but I don’t think anybody can deny this guy is openly and brazenly racist and misogynistic and ethnic-centric, and say, ‘That’s OK with us, we’re going to vote for him anyway.’

“We have just thrown a good part of our population under the bus, and I have problems with thinking that this is where we are as a country. It’s tough on (the team), we noticed it coming in. Everybody was a little quiet, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe the game the other night.’ And so we talked about that, but then Aron Baynes said, ‘I don’t think that’s why everybody’s quiet. It’s last night.’

“It’s just, we have said — and my daughters, the three of them — our society has said, ‘No, we think you should be second-class citizens. We want you to be second-class citizens. And we embrace a guy who is openly misogynistic as our leader.’ I don’t know how we get past that.

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NBA Contenders and Dark Horses

Written by Tim Bontemps at Washington Post.com

For those of you who don’t feel the need to watch the NBA’s regular season, or don’t have an interest in following the ins and outs of the sport over the next eight or nine months, we have a solution: a full look into the future!

No, this isn’t quite like “Back to the Future,” where Biff Tannen gives his younger self a sports almanac with every outcome for a half-century listed in it.

Instead, it’s simply The Washington Post’s best guess as to how the season will play out, including order of finish for all six divisions, the playoffs in both conferences, and who will emerge as this season’s NBA champion:

Divisions (teams listed in order of predicted finish; * denotes playoff team)


Toronto Raptors*
Boston Celtics*
New York Knicks
Brooklyn Nets
Philadelphia 76ers

Toronto and Boston will likely find themselves competing not only for the top spot in the Atlantic this season, but also, along with Cleveland, for two of the top three spots in the Eastern Conference. The fact the Raptors and Celtics will each get 12 games against the hapless Knicks, Nets and 76ers should allow them to rack up a bunch of victories, helping both get over 50 wins for the season. If — and it’s a big if — the Knicks are able to stay healthy and get bounce back seasons from Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, that same advantage of getting eight games against the Nets and Sixers could wind up helping them squeeze into one of the final East playoff spots. The assumption here, though, is that those rosy scenarios of health and effectiveness for the Knicks don’t come to pass.

Cleveland Cavaliers*
Detroit Pistons*
Indiana Pacers*
Chicago Bulls
Milwaukee Bucks

Cleveland remains the class of the Eastern Conference, and even as the Cavaliers are expected to hold back in an attempt to be as healthy as possible for the playoffs, they should easily finish first in the Central. The Pistons potentially had the ability to move into the low 50s in wins and possibly challenge Cleveland if the Cavaliers did really start to coast, but losing Reggie Jackson for at least the first several weeks of the season because of knee tendinitis should kill the chances of that happening. Indiana remains one of the harder teams in the league to figure out, given how radically the team has changed this offseason, but the Pacers should have enough talent to slip into one of the final couple of playoff spots in the East regardless. Chicago and Milwaukee both could potentially push for one of those spots, as well.


Atlanta Hawks*
Washington Wizards*
Charlotte Hornets*
Orlando Magic
Miami Heat

Last season, three teams — Atlanta, Miami and Charlotte — tied with 48 wins, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if a similar scenario happened this year. Losing Al Horford and replacing him with Dwight Howard should wind up being more of a draw for Atlanta than many expect, and as a result Atlanta seems to be the odds-on bet to emerge from the regular season as the winner of the Southeast. It could just as easily be Washington, however, if John Wall and Bradley Beal can stay on the court for 70-plus games — and avoid getting angry at one another on a regular basis when they are out there together. The Hornets will likely make it back to the playoffs again, but will struggle to reach the heights they did last year after losing Jeremy Lin, Courtney Lee and Al Jefferson in free agency. Orlando has a roster full of ill-fitting pieces under new coach Frank Vogel that should be able to be effective defensively, but could be awful on offense, and the Heat essentially didn’t replace Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and there are rumblings of them moving on from Goran Dragic in an attempt to completely bottom out.

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Cavs Sweep The Pistons

Written by Dennis Manoloff at Cleveland.com

Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 31 and LeBron James had 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists as the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Detroit Pistons, 100-98, Sunday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan. The Cavs won the Eastern Conference quarterfinal, 4-0.

Here is a capsule look at the game, which was televised by Fox Sports Ohio and TNT:

Domination when it matters: The Cavs franchise has won 12 consecutive playoff games against the Pistons, all with LeBron at the helm.

Biebs fans rejoice: The Cavs made sure that Justin Bieber will, indeed, play The Q on Tuesday night. Game 5 would have trumped Biebs.

Fun times in Michigan: The Cavs and Indians went 5-0 against Detroit opponents in a three-day span. The Tribe swept a three-game series at Comerica Park in Detroit and the Cavs won twice at The Palace.

Late in Game 4, Fox Sports Ohio play-by-play voice Fred McLeod said: “So the Cavaliers and Indians are trying to do their civic duty, leaving Detroit cleaner than when they arrived.”

Strange, and dangerous, formula: The Cavs allowed 52+ points in the first half of each game and still swept.

Game 1 in Cleveland: Trailed, 58-53, and won, 106-101. Game 2 in Cleveland: Led, 55-53, and won, 107-90. Game 3 in Auburn Hills: Led, 54-53, and won, 101-91. Game 4: Led, 53-52, and won, 100-98.

Credit where it is due: The Pistons overcame playoff inexperience and lack of star power to force the Cavs to work for each victory. They easily could have folded several times in the second half of Game 4 but kept clawing back. They are scrappy, physical and well-coached.

Finding a way: The Cavs prevailed in Game 4 despite a dreadful shooting performance by Kevin Love, who was 3-of-15 and scored 11. Love did grab 13 rebounds and secured one enormous jump ball.

KI on fire: Irving’s monster series featured point totals of 31, 22, 26 and 31. He shot 41-of-87 from the field; the 47.1 percent, while plenty good in a series such as this, carried additional weight because numerous makes occurred when the Cavs sorely needed a basket and Irving figured out how to provide it.

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Cavs Go HAM on Pistons, Look Ready for Deep Run

Written by Matt Moore at CBSSports.com

These are the Cavaliers you should be worried about, if you’re the rest of the NBA.

The Cavaliers have always had so much promise, just from a talent perspective. LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, the list goes on and on. But they never seemed to maximize it. Their regular season was marred with inconsistency and disappointing performances vs. the Warriors. Their playoff run last year was buoyed by a weak Eastern Conference and their injuries shifting their defensive identity.

There was serious concern for what kind of team they would be in the playoffs. Even in Game 1, the Cavs had to fight the whole way to beat the eighth seed. There were positive signs, like the fact that the Big 3 came through together at the same time for the first time in a playoff game, but there were still concerns.

Game 2, however, was Full Cavs. Peak Cavs. Omega Cavs.

The Big did their thing, combining for 65 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists between Love, James and Irving. The perimeter weapons were on full display, knocking down 20 3-pointers to tie an NBA record for a single playoff game with last season’s mighty Warriors. Those made 3s meant they could set their defense, and that helped contain the Pistons’perimeter game, holding them to 44 percent shooting. The weapons were everywhere.Matthew Dellavedova, hitting 3s and slicing to the rim. J.R. Smith launching over and over, and everywhere, everywhere, James.

James finished with 27 points, six rebounds and three assists.

James after the game described the Cavs as having “snipers” all over the floor and that he’s more of a “tank.” In reality, he’s more like a Navy destroyer, able to coordinate all the weaponry at his disposal. This is what James wants, also. Him with the ball, three shooters and a rebounder. Preferably four, but the Kevin-Love-at-the-five lineups weren’t as successful in Game 2 as they were in Game 1.

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Cavs Overcome Fiesty Pistons

Written by Jeff Zillgitt at USAToday

For a starting five with minimal postseason experience, the Detroit Pistons showed no playoff jitters against LeBron James and the top-seeded Cavaliers.

They didn’t care Cleveland was the one seed and didn’t think of themselves as an eight seed.

With the Cavs focused on stopping the Reggie Jackson-Andre Drummond pick-and-roll, the Pistons made 10-of-16 three-pointers in the first half, took a five-point lead into the third quarter and absorbed Cavs’ third-quarter push.

But the talented Cavaliers’ triumvirate — LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — had too much offense, too much playmaking and squeezed out a 106-101 victory Sunday in Game 1 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series at Quicken Loans Arena.

It is difficult to beat the Cavs when James, Love and Irving combine for 81 points. After missing his first four shots, Irving finished with 31 points on 10-for-24 shooting. Love had 28 points and 13 rebounds and James had 22 points, 11 assists and six rebounds.

“Our objective in this series is to be aggressive and attack,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “We don’t want to bail them out with jump shots. We want to attack, get downhill, get to the paint and then we can kick out for threes. The Big 3 did a phenomenal job of doing that.”

They scored 17 of Cleveland’s 18 points, and their performance illustrated just how important a healthy and productive Love and Irving are to Cleveland’s postseason success.

“We just could never get any of their three main guys under control,” Pistons coachStan Van Gundy said.

The Cavs outscored the Pistons 30-23 in the fourth quarter and were able to win despite shooting 44.3% from the field and 34.3% on threes.

Now, Cleveland needs to improve defensively after Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy’s spread-the-floor offense led to an onslaught of threes.

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Detroit trades Brandon Jennings to Orlando

Written by Noah Trister at NBA.com

With a playoff spot within reach this year, the Detroit Pistons made a trade they hope will benefit them both now and in the future.

The Pistons acquired forward Tobias Harris from Orlando on Tuesday in a deal that sent guard Brandon Jennings and forward Ersan Ilyasova to the Magic. The 23-year-old Harris gives Detroit another athletic young player, and he’ll be under team control for a while. Harris signed a $64 million, four-year deal to stay with the Magic last summer, when he was a restricted free agent.

“This is a move that can be looked at as a long-term move, as one that will fit with our core group of players, and we’ll be able to keep them together,” Detroit general manager Jeff Bower said.

Detroit, which is a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, gave up its starting power forward in Ilyasova. Jennings was the Pistons’ backup point guard, and they could afford to part with him after making a long-term commitment to starter Reggie Jackson.

Detroit hasn’t made the postseason since 2009. Bower said the Pistons were interested in Harris when he was a free agent, but his restricted status made acquiring him hard.

The 6-foot-9 Harris is averaging 13.7 points per game this season, down from 17.1 in 2014-15. His 3-point accuracy is down to 31 percent after he shot a career-high 36 percent a season ago.

Harris thanked the city of Orlando, coach Scott Skiles and his teammates in a post on Instagram.

“God closes one door to open up another,” the post said. “Though this is not the easiest time it’s part of life and part of the business of being a professional.”

The Magic are also hoping to make a push for the playoffs, but they have lost 16 of 20 and are now in 11th place in the East.

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No Need for Raptors to Make a Trade — They’re Winning

Written by Joshua Priemski at RaptorsRepublic.com

The NBA’s trade deadline is 15 days away, on Feb. 18, and we’re beginning to hear rumblings about players the Toronto Raptors might be interested in. Yesterday, two Phoenix Suns — Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker — were reportedly being targeted by the Raptors, coincidentally just one day after the two teams played each other. To me, that raises questions about the validity of those reports, but they’re from people far more intelligent and connected than I, so I’m inclined to believe them.

However, it also raises another question: Do the Raptors even need to make a trade this season?

The Raptors currently sit at 33-16 in the Eastern Conference, they’re 9-1 in their last 10 games and 12-3 in their last 15. Those wins came without the team’s major offseason acquisition, DeMarre Carroll, and while a good number of those wins came against bad teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic, the Raptors also beat some fairly good teams, like the Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons.

The Raptors have exceeded preseason expectations by a significant margin, and they’ve already made me look like a fool. Earlier this season, I pondered whether or not they’d even get homecourt advantage in the playoffs. Clearly, they will, and I’m humble enough to admit that I was wrong. (Modesty, on the other hand, is not something I’m known for.) Then again, most of us were wrong. The Raptors have persevered through injuries to key players and beat the teams they’re supposed to beat. Players we were worried about, like Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson, have come around and are now key contributors to a winning team.

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