Los Angeles Lakers and the 7 Teams That Will Step Up in NBA's 2nd Half
The second half of the NBA season will make or break every single team in the league.
With each team scheduled for at least 30 more games, a lot can change.
Some squads have overachieved, while others haven't played to their potential.
As each team tries to put together a run towards the finish line, here are seven teams that are guaranteed to improve from their first half of play.
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As All-Star Weekend makes its stop in Orlando, look for memories, highlights and good times to coalesce in the atmosphere.
Along with these festivities and their fifth-place standing, it’s pretty hard to complain about the Orlando Magic’s 22-13 record.
As the March 15th trade deadline approaches, look for clarity to arise from all the questions.
Whether he is traded or not, you would expect a burden to be lifted from the shoulders of his teammates and for the team to improve on an offense that is ranked 23rd overall.
Even if Howard doesn't finish the second half of the season in a Magic uniform, Orlando is expected to obtain a talented big man in return.
The current roster is loaded with experienced shooters, and coach Stan Van Gundy has a track record of finishing strong. Expect this year to be no different.
Look for Gallinari to lead the Nuggets
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The All-Star break could not have come at a better time for the injury-depleted Denver Nuggets.
At 18-17, Denver is currently half a game behind Portland for the last remaining playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The team has lost 12 of its last 16 games and was without starters Danilo Gallinari, Nene Hilario and Ty Lawson in its Thursday night loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Top reserve Rudy Fernandez also missed the contest due to a lower back strain.
While things don’t look good at the moment, you can expect a George Karl-led team to battle through adversity.
Without a superstar on the roster, it’s important that the Nuggets exercise their depth when it comes to playoff time.
As Corey Brewer, Jordan Hamilton and Kosta Koufos see extended playing time, the Nuggets are only solidifying their rotation and adding to their already tremendous depth.
When healthy, the Nuggets are one of the most exciting teams to watch. Their 103.4 points scored per game and 22.9 assists rank as second best in the league.
In the second half of the season, look for the team to get healthy and improve on a defense that ranks 29th, allowing 101.3 points per game.
While injuries are no excuse for mediocrity, hopes are still high, as Lawson believes:
When we get everybody back, they'll have rested legs. We should be ready to go. Everybody thinks we'll be at the bottom of the West, but I think we'll climb back up there.
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The Memphis Grizzlies are currently 19-15 and in seventh place out West.
Unlike Denver, the Grizzlies seem to be rolling just as they hit the midseason point.
As victors in seven of their last 10, including five of their past six, look for this trend to continue throughout the second half.
The Grizzlies are expecting former All-Star power forward Zach Randolph to participate in his first contact drills on Monday since suffering a knee injury in the team’s fourth game.
In his absence, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Tony Allen have led their team to a defense that ranks eighth in the league and allows only 92.2 points per game.
Marreese Speights has also proved to be a capable replacement for Randolph in the starting lineup, as he has averaged over 13 points, nearly nine rebounds and less than one turnover per game, while shooting over 55 percent from the field, in the past eight contests—six of which have resulted in victory.
The production of Speights will be imperative to the team, as they will have the freedom to ease Randolph back into the rotation and monitor his minutes.
After the All-Star break, look for Randolph’s return to coincide with the Grizzlies’ return to the playoffs.
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Although the Utah Jazz are currently 15-17 and two games out of the playoffs, there is still reason for optimism.
The team has suffered through a plethora of injuries, losing Raja Bell and Kyrylo Fesenko for extended periods of time, but is still in the playoff hunt.
For opponents, Salt Lake City remains one of the more difficult places to travel. At 12-6, Utah is the only non-playoff team with a home record that is comparable to the top eight.
After dropping eight of the past 10, look for the Jazz to rely more heavily on their interior duo of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. The two play extremely well off each other on the blocks, as both rank amongst the top 13 in Player Efficiency Rating.
As the team spends more time under first-year head coach Tyrone Corbin, expect the Jazz to improve their 3-11 road record.
New York Knicks
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As the dust settles from the storm of Jeremy Lin and Linsanity, the New York Knicks are a team with a mediocre 17-18 record.
They are clinging onto the seventh seed in the East and appear vulnerable at times. However, they have not always been themselves.
With Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis all missing at least six games apiece, the Knicks have had little chance to develop chemistry with Tyson Chandler, who signed with the team during the offseason.
With 11 players receiving starts, look for coach Mike D’Antoni to find a rotation he’s comfortable with during the second half of the season.
The sudden emergence of Lin and signing of free-agent J.R. Smith give New York the deepest guard rotation in the league.
If the team stays healthy for the rest of the season, there’s little reason to doubt why this team can claim a top-four seeding based off talent alone.
Los Angeles Lakers
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Under first-year head coach Mike Brown, the Los Angeles Lakers sit at the fifth spot out West and possess a 20-14 record.
Along with Kobe Bryant, who leads the NBA in scoring, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol have both seen an increase in minutes, yet the Lakers still only average 93.1 points per game.
Yet for all their inadequacies on offense, they still have the No. 6-ranked defense to fall back on.
As long as the Lakers continue to play stellar defense and lead the league in rebounding, there is no reason to believe Kobe can’t lead the team to more wins.
The second half of the season should feature a Lakers team with more understanding of the intricacies in Brown’s detail-oriented offense—which should translate into fewer pick-and-roll sets with Kobe.
This in turn should result in more road victories and less playing time for the 33-year-old veteran.
Garnett and the Celtics will be fighting for playoff positioning
Similar to their hated rivals the Lakers, the Boston Celtics excel at defense and struggle with scoring.
Boston’s 15-17 record can be accredited to their old age, the injury bug and their lack of continuity.
Of all playoff teams, the Celtics have the lowest average point differential at plus-0.9.
They’ve started 12 different players (a roster’s worth) throughout the season, while starters Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal and Ray Allen have rarely seen the court together.
The team is extremely top-heavy, and coach Doc Rivers seems to struggle at finding a successful rotation when his starters need rest.
The appeal with Boston is that it overflows with veteran leadership and has always relied on the principles of good defense.
Boston has a tendency to make midseason veteran free-agent signings. In the past, it's signed P.J. Brown, Stephon Marbury, Delonte West and Sam Cassell—some of whom were essential during its championship run.
This year should be no different.
With score-first players like Gilbert Arenas and Allen Iverson still available, it wouldn’t be unexpected to see the Celtics add one of these players to chase a championship.
An injection of offense is all that Boston needs to be feared and potent once again.